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Pennsylvania Superior Court Finds Choice of Forum to be More Than a Matter of “Mere Inconvenience” (PA)


April 9, 2020 at 5:13:10 AM

<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiffs within the Philadelphia area generally file suit in Philadelphia County, believing the forum to be more advantageous for their claim.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>However, as determined by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, a plaintiff whose alleged injury and eyewitnesses were within a short distance of the Bucks County Courthouse, Philadelphia County may not be the appropriate forum.<span class="Apple-converted-space">   </span></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In<i> <a href="">Powers v. Verizon Pennsylvania, LLC et. al</a></i>, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment for Verizon on its petition to transfer venue to Bucks County from Philadelphia County.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>The underlying incident occurred in Bucks County when Appellant stepped through the lid of a cable box located between the property line between his residence and that of his neighbor injury his foot.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>Appellant filed suit in Philadelphia County alleging negligence by the Verizon Defendants, as well as the local homeowners’ association, Oxford Lane Community Association, also located in Bucks County.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>Subsequent to the filing, Oxford Lane filed a joinder claim adding Appellant’s neighbor to the suit.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>Appellant sought venue in Philadelphia County on the basis that Verizon conducted business there. <span class="Apple-converted-space">   </span></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Verizon then filed a Petition for <i>Forum Non Conveniens</i> seeking transfer of the suit from Philadelphia County to Bucks County.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>In its petition, Verizon asserted that the matter had no real connection to Philadelphia County as the incident occurred in Bucks County and all eyewitnesses to the accident resided in Bucks County.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>Verizon further noted that the travel times for these witnesses to the Philadelphia County Courthouse would exceed an hour in contrast to a fifteen commute to the Bucks County Courthouse.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>The Appellant disagreed, arguing that Verizon’s petition should fail for failure to show more than mere inconvenience.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>The trial court disagreed with Appellant and granted Verizon’s petition. <span class="Apple-converted-space"> </span></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to transfer venue from Philadelphia to Bucks County.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>Specifically, the Superior Court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in examining the totality of the circumstances in support of Verizon’s petition.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>As noted by the Superior Court, the doctrine of <i>forum non conveniens</i> “addresses the issue of plaintiffs bringing ‘suit in an inconvenient forum in the hope that they will secure easier or larger recoveries or so add to the costs of the defense that the defendant will take a default judgment or compromise for a larger sum.” (<i>Quoting</i> <i>Wright v. Consolidated Rail Corporation</i>, 215 A.2d 982 (Pa. Super. 2019)).<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>The Superior Court further noted that, as ruled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the party seeking transfer must show more than mere inconvenience.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>The party seeking transfer must show that the chosen court is oppressive or vexatious.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span><i>Bratic v. Rubendall</i>, A.3d 1 (Pa. 2014) (finding, in part, that travel between Philadelphia and the surrounding counties to be mere inconvenience and that oppressiveness increases with travel distance).<span class="Apple-converted-space">   </span></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In applying that standard, the Superior Court found that although the distance involved in this implied “mere inconvenience” it noted that the record in this matter warranted a finding of oppressiveness.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>As stated by the Superior Court, oppressiveness can be shown through evidence that another forum would provide better access to witnesses, other sources of proof, and site visits.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>In this matter, Verizon provided evidence, not disputed by Appellant, showing that its witnesses, the relevant parties, and, more importantly, the location of the incident were all close to the Bucks County Courthouse.<span class="Apple-converted-space">  </span>The Superior Court agreed with the trial court that this evidence warranted a change in venue. <span class="Apple-converted-space"> </span></p>
Thanks to Benjamin G. Ferrell for his contribution to this post.  For questions or comments, please contact <a href="">Vincent Terrasi</a>.

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