Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Forum Non Conveniens Standard of Review Tweaked by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

In its recent decision in the case of Bratic v. Rubendall, No. 21 EAP 2013 (Pa. Aug. 18, 2014) (Op. by Eakin, J., with Castille, C.J., Baer, J., Todd, J., and McCaffery, J. joining)(Saylor, J., concurring), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court essentially widened the discretion of trial court to grant a transfer of venue under the forum non conveniens doctrine when witnesses hail from distant counties.  

In so ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reaffirmed the standard set forth in the case of Cheeseman v. Lethal Exterminator but noted that the “showing of oppression needed for a judge to exercise discretion in favor of granting a forum non conveniens motion is not as severe as suggested by the Superior Court’s post-Cheeseman cases.”   

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court went on to note that “[m]ere inconvenience remains insufficient, but there is no burden to show near-draconian consequences.”

In the Bratic case, the trial court had been persuaded to transfer venue from Philadelphia to Dauphin County by the fact that eight of the witnesses were located in Dauphin County.  On appeal, the Superior Court held that the Defendant did not provide enough information to properly demonstrate that the original venue in Philadelphia was oppressive.  

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court responded by indicating that the standard for showing that a Plaintiff’s chose of venue is “vexatious and oppressive” as outlining the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Cheeseman case should not be read to require Defendants to provide detailed specifics about the venue change would impact the parties.  

More specifically, Justice Eakin wrote that “[t]he witnesses need not detail what clients or task will be postponed or opportunities lost in order for the judge to exercise common sense in evaluating their worth; indeed, no one can foretell such detail.”  

The court went on to state that “[o]ne hopes a judge may comprehend the existence of relevant general disruption from the allegations in the affidavit, sufficiently to rule on the issue.” 

The court admitted that it was “unsure what extra detail must be enumerated” but noted that “interference with one’s business and personal life caused by the participatory demands of a distance law suit is patent.”  The distance that parties or witnesses would have to travel was deemed to be an important consideration in this analysis.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the Supreme Court's Opinion in Bratic may click this LINK. 

 
Source:  Article by Max Mitchell:  “High Court Widens Trial Judges’ Prerogative to Transfer Venue,” The Legal Intelligencer  (August 22, 2014).

 

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