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A “Snapshot” of a Case Can Determine Venue (PA)


February 8, 2017 at 9:40:02 PM

On February 3, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania overruled the lower court’s decision to transfer venue in <a href=""><em>Burgess v. Clark Electrical Contractors, Inc., et al</em>.</a> The case arises out of a worksite accident.  On December 12, 2012, James Burgess (“Burgess”) was working on a drill rig when a light fixture fell from the rig and struck him, rendering him a quadriplegic.  The accident occurred in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.
In December 2014, Burgess commenced a lawsuit in Philadelphia and brought claims for negligence, recklessness, and loss of consortium.  Several defendants and companies were named as defendants and third-party defendants.  The incident spawned several different lawsuits, which were later consolidated by the court.  A few of the defendant companies were located in Philadelphia.
On August 27, 2015, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas issued an order granting the defendants’ preliminary objections as to improper venue and to transfer the case to Susquehanna County.  In July and October 2015, the Philadelphia defendants were dismissed from the case.  Burgess then filed an appeal of the trial court’s decision.
In Pennsylvania, the decision to transfer venue is within the discretion of the trial court, and presumption is in favor of the plaintiff’s original forum choice.  Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, an action against two or more defendants may be brought against all defendants in a county where venue may be laid against any one of the defendants.
The Superior Court reasoned that a question of improper venue is answered by taking a snapshot of the case at the time it is initiated.  If it is proper at the time of the snapshot, then it remains proper throughout.  At the snapshot of the instant case at its initiation, there were several defendant companies located in Philadelphia, and thus, venue was proper in Philadelphia when the suit was filed.
This case demonstrates the interplay of rules of civil procedure with the desire to remove cases from plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions, like Philadelphia.  Though it is always good to look at issues like federal removal, improper venue, or forum non-conveniens, local rules and other rules of civil procedure can, in some instances, disallow removal, rendering the ensuing motion practice an exercise in futility.  Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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