Friday, February 5, 2016

Pennsylvania Superior Court Revisits Forum Non Conveniens Doctrine

In its recent decision in the case of Fessler v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc., 2015 Pa. Super. 274 (Pa. Super. Dec. 30, 2015 Jenkins, Mundy, Fitzgerald, J.J.)(Op. by Jenkins, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed current status of Pennsylvania law on the doctrine of forum non conveniens relative to a matter involving a consolidation of appeals in two separate cases.

The Superior Court noted that conveniens, not the pursuit of verdicts in Plaintiff-friendly venues, is the reason why Plaintiffs have the initial choice of venue.   The court stated that, under Pennsylvania law, the Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens is a necessary counter balance to the Plaintiff’s first choice in this regard. 

The Superior Court reiterated that, under the Cheeseman and Bratic Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions a determination of a forum non conveniens motion presented to the court requires a consideration of the totality of the circumstances.  

Generally, the court agreed that the possibility of oppressiveness with regards to the forum selected by the Plaintiff grows with each passing mile that a witness must travel to reach the courthouse.  The Superior Court noted that a need to travel 100 miles nears the level of oppressiveness addressed in the law.  

With respect to one of the cases at issue in this matter, the court noted the York County transfer, while adequately supported in the record, was filed too late as it was filed two weeks before trial.  The court also noted that the request was that the case be transferred to York County which had the largest backlog of civil cases in the Commonwealth which would result in a substantial delay of a trial in a matter that was set to be tried in two weeks at the time the motion was filed.  The court also noted that the motion was filed after the allegedly inconvenience witnesses had already come to the Philadelphia area for their depositions without objection.   With trial already scheduled, the Superior Court thought that it was an abuse of discretion to grant this last minute motion. 

As such, the trial court's transfer of the matter out of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas was reversed in both cases as the Superior Court found that a trial of the matter in Philadelphia County would be, at most, inconvenient, but not oppressive.

Anyone wishing to read this Fessler decision may click this LINK

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