Philadelphia Too Oppressive for Personal Injury Suit (PA)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently affirmed a trial court’s ruling regarding the transfer of venue from Philadelphia County to Somerset County in Pennsylvania.  In Timothy Watson v. Nick J. Capo and National Delivery Systems, Inc., No. 983 EDA 2018 (PA. Super.), Watson sued Capo and Natl. Delivery Systems following a motor vehicle accident that occurred on the PA Turnpike in Somerset County.  Watson was driving a tractor trailer truck with a passenger, Cindy Weaver; and Capo was driving a tractor trailer owned by Natl. Delivery Systems.  Watson sustained various injuries and was taken to an emergency room in Somerset County.  Officers from Pennsylvania State Police, Somerset County investigated the accident scene and authored a report.

Watson commenced a lawsuit in Philadelphia County.  In response, Defendants filed preliminary objections to transfer the venue to Somerset County based on forum non conveniens.  Both Watson and his passenger reside in Maryland, Capo resides in Fayette County, PA; and Natl. Delivery Systems has a principal place of business in Ellicott City, Maryland as well as a Philadelphia Terminal in Philadelphia, PA.  Defendants argued that Philadelphia constituted an oppressive or vexatious forum because the accident occurred in Somerset County, police from Somerset County responded to the scene and drafted the report, Watson was treated at Somerset County Hospital, Somerset County Courthouse is 237 miles away from City Hall in Philadelphia, and the police officers as well as defendants would have to incur significant expenses for travel, lodging and missed work in order to appear in Philadelphia.  In opposition, Watson argued that Philadelphia was an appropriate venue for litigation and also attached an affidavit from Weaver stating that she would be more inconvenienced by having to travel to Somerset County rather than Philadelphia.  The trial court granted Defendants motion to transfer to Somerset County based on forum non conveniens.

On appeal, Watson asserted that the trial court erred and abused its discretion.  The Superior Court articulated the appellate standard of review for an abuse of discretion and stated that the trial court’s ruling must be reasonable in light of the peculiar facts and also that the lower court’s decision must stand if there exists any proper basis for the trial court’s decision to transfer venue.  The court further explained that, determining whether a forum is oppressive requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances and while distance between the two forums and disruption of the parties’ personal and professional lives are part of the equation, no one factor is dispositive.

The Superior Court agreed with the trial court’s determination that Defendants had met their burden of demonstrating that Philadelphia was an oppressive and vexatious forum.  In support of its decision, the Court cited the fact that Somerset County, where the accident took place and where the officers and initial medical treatment facility were located, was over 200 miles from Philadelphia.

In addition, the court noted that neither Watson nor the Defendants were from Philadelphia County, potential witnesses (including Capo and the responding police officers) suffered a greater hardship traveling to Philadelphia as opposed Somerset County, and the sole connection with Philadelphia is the fact that Natl. Delivery Systems occasionally conducted business in Philadelphia.  Thus, the trial court had a proper basis to grant Defendants’ motion to transfer and did not abuse its discretion.  This case illustrates the importance of utilizing the procedural tool of preliminary objections in Pennsylvania civil practice; as Defendants were successfully able to remove the case from the notoriously ‘plaintiff-friendly’ jurisdiction of Philadelphia County to a more conservative forum like Somerset County.  Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions

 

 

Foreign Country Ruled The Appropriate Forum For Damages Sustained in Dubai (NY)

In Boyle v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., New York’s Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the granting of defendant’s motion to dismiss the action on the basis of forum nonconveniens. The Appellate Division explained that the doctrine of forum nonconveniens allows a court to stay or dismiss an action when, although there may be jurisdiction, it is determined that there is another forum with closer ties to the case. In Boyle, plaintiffs are residents of the United Kingdom and France. The complaint alleges that plaintiffs contracted a disease during separate stays at defendant’s hotel in Dubai. The sole connection to New York in this case was defendant’s principal place of business.

The trial court granted defendant’s motion, noting that the action had closer ties to the United Kingdom, France or the United Arab Emirates. The Appellate Division conditioned the order on the the defendant accepting service in any new action and waiving any defenses, including statute of limitations, that were not available when suit was initially filed in New York. Both modifications provided that the new action  should be commenced within 30 days after defendant provided plaintiff with a signed stipulation.

When filing a motion to dismiss based upon forum nonconveniens in New York, make sure that you are comfortable with the jurisdiction you believe is proper for the case because you will be required to agree to the alternate forum’s jurisdiction should your motion be granted.

Thanks to Alison Weintraub for her contribution to this post. If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com

New Jersey Court Favors New York in Coverage Dispute

In Certain Underwriters At Lloyd’s , London, v. Books for Less, LLC et al, New Jersey’s Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of this case on the basis of forum non conveniens. Lloyd’s commenced an action in New Jersey seeking a declaratory judgment against defendant Books For Less. One week later, Books For Less commenced an action against Lloyd’s and its insurance broker in New York and sought the dismissal of the New Jersey action based upon forum non conveniens. Books For Less was a New York limited liability company and its broker was a New York Corporation. The Lloyd’s policy insured a Books For Less warehouse in New Jersey and an office space in New York. Lloyd’s sought policy rescission after the warehouse sustained over $270,000 in damages and it learned that the warehouse had previously been damaged in 2009, which was not disclosed on insured’s application for insurance.

The trial court held that the majority of the parties were companies with deep roots in New York. Moreover, in addition to the New Jersey warehouse, the policy also provided coverage to premises in New York and the policy was negotiated in New York. In addition, the broker refused to submit to New Jersey’s jurisdiction and the trial judge reasoned that the broker was a necessary and indispensable party.

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision as a reasonable exercise of its discretion. Moreover, it disagreed with Lloyd’s argument that the “first filed rule” favored retention of jurisdiction in New Jersey.

Books for Less provides an excellent examination of doctrine forum non conveniens. Actions will be directed to jurisdiction with the most significant interests and where most of the parties, witnesses, and evidence are located.

Thanks for Alison Weintraub for her contribution to this post. If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.