Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Superior Court "Constrained" To Reverse Trial Court's Decision Transferring Venue Out of Philadelphia

In the case of James v. Walmart Distribution Center, No. 856 EDA 2023 (Pa. Super. Feb. 2, 2024 Dubow, J., McLaughlin, J., and King, J.) (Op. by Dubow, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court noted that it was constrained to reverse a trial Court Order transferring venue of this slip and fall case from Philadelphia to Lehigh County based upon the doctrine of forum non conveniens, as provided in Pa. R.C.P. 1006(d).

This matter involves a slip and all incident that occurred in Bethlehem, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. The Plaintiff received her medical care in Lehigh County after the incident.

However, the Plaintiff filed her lawsuit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against the various Defendants. The Defendants filed Answers to the Complaint.

Thereafter, the Defendants filed a Motion to Transfer Venue based upon the doctrine forum non conveniens. The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff’s choice of forum in Philadelphia was oppressive because the case had no connection to Philadelphia County and because the litigating in Philadelphia would create a hardship for representatives of the Defendant.

The court noted that, while the Defendants provided affidavits to the trial court in support of a contention that the four (4) hour roundtrip commute to Philadelphia from the parties’ home would be oppressive because it would severe affect the individuals’ personal life and ability to perform their jobs, the Superior Court noted that the affidavits provided did not identify the Defendant’s defense and/or the evidence that these affiants would provide that was key to the defense as required by the applicable standard of review.

As noted above, the trial court had entered an Order transferring the case to Lehigh County based upon an application of doctrine of forum non conveniens under Pa. R.C.P. 1006(d)(1). The Superior Court reversed.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court noted that the courts have interpreted Rule 1006(d)(1) to require, as a threshold matter, that the Defendant identify its defense and provide a general statement that identifies the witnesses who will be inconvenience by traveling for trial to the Plaintiff’s chosen forum and the relevancy of those witnesses’ testimony to the Defendant’s defense.

Here, although the trial court noted that it found that the defense had credibly argued and presented supporting facts through affidavits and depositions that the hardship to the witnesses’’ family and work life were no mere inconvenience, this Superior Court noted that the trial court made its hardship analysis without even knowing the Defendant’s defense and whether the witnesses who provided affidavits would even testify at trial.

The Superior Court noted that, while the Defendants had alleged in their Answer and Affirmative Defenses that someone else had caused the spill that caused the Plaintiff to fall and that the Defendants lacked notice of the spill, the court stated that these were mere allegations and noted that the affidavits and depositions on the venue issue did not address the manner in which the testimony of the witnesses at issue supported these defenses. Rather, the information provided by the Defendant’s affidavits merely address the hardship associated with the travel to testify in Philadelphia.

The Superior Court noted that the trial court had erred in assuming that the witnesses were key witnesses as there was no evidence to support such a finding. As such, the Superior Court found that the trial court had abused its discretion by failing to hold the Defendants to the proper burden of proof relative to the doctrine forum non conveniens. As such the Superior Court found that the trial court erred in overriding the deference which it was obligated to provide to the Plaintiff’s choice of forum. As such, the trial court ordered transferring venue based upon a doctrine of forum non conveniens was reversed.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Dale Larrimore of the Philadelphia law firm of Larrimore & Farnish, LLP for bringing this case to my attention.

Source of image:  Photo by Trev Adams on

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