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Close Call on Change of Venue, So the "Ruling on the Field" Stands (PA)

July 24, 2018

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a trial court’s decision to transfer a case involving a motor vehicle accident based on the location of the accident and the address listed in the affidavit of service for the defendants.  In <em><a href="">Collins v Maragelis</a>, </em>No. 3256 EDA 2017 (Pa. Super. Jul. 23, 2018), Amanda and Wayne Collins alleged that George and Panagiotis Maragelis were negligent when their motor vehicle collided with the Collins vehicle on Interstate 95 near the Commodore Barry Bridge in March of 2015.  The defendants were served in Newtown Square, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
The case was originally venued in Philadelphia County, however Maragelis filed preliminary objections to transfer the case to Delaware County. In support of their preliminary objections, Maragelis relied on the fact that the accident occurred near the Commodore Berry Bridge, which is located in Delaware County, and also that the defendants resided in Delaware County; not Philadelphia.  Following a hearing on the preliminary objections, the trial court in Philadelphia transferred the case to Delaware County in August 2017.  Collins appealed the order transferring the case.
In support of their appeal, Collins argued that the court erred in sustaining the preliminary objections because it essentially relied on “the bare allegations of the objecting party,” and did not secure any additional facts or evidence that the venue in Philadelphia was in fact improper.  Collins also asserted that the trial court failed to hold Maragelis (the objecting party) to their burden of proving that venue in Philadelphia was improper, as Maragelis did not provide any additional affidavits or evidence beyond the location of the accident and the address listed on the proof of service.  While Collins conceded that the court did not err in taking judicial notice that the location of the accident (the Commodore Berry Bridge) was indeed in Delaware County, they argued that the proof of service only indicated that venue was <em>proper </em>in Delaware County; it did not however, establish that venue was <em>improper </em>in Philadelphia County.
The Superior Court articulated that the standard of review was whether the trial court’s decision to transfer venue was reasonable in light of the facts presented.  The court also explained that, pursuant to Pennsylvania case law, if there was any basis to affirm a trial court’s decision to transfer venue, the decision must stand.  Finally, the court concluded that, the trial court’s decision to transfer venue from Philadelphia to Delaware County was reasonable in light of the facts that the accident occurred in Delaware County and the defendants were properly served in Delaware County.  Thus, the Superior Court affirmed the lower court’s transfer of venue to Delaware County.
While this may seem relatively minor, it is a reminder for defense attorneys in Pennsylvania that it is worthwhile to engage in the initial analysis of whether to file preliminary objections before Answering a plaintiff’s complaint.  In this instant case, the removal of a case from the notoriously plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction of Philadelphia, to the markedly more conservative Delaware County could very likely have a real impact in the overall framing and value of the case.
And, much like in the NFL, the "ruling on the field" stood, and the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision based upon the standard of review.  Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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