Supreme Court Clarifies Forum Non Conveniens

A common issue facing defendants is the prospect of being forced to try a case in a venue far from where the incident happened and where witnesses and evidence are located. Usually, the forum was only chosen by Plaintiff for purposes of verdict-maximization and negotiation leverage.

On August 18, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue of venue and forum non conveniens in Bratic v. Rubendall, No. 21 EAP 2013 (Pa. Aug. 18, 2014) (Op. by Eakin, J.).  The decision affirmed the Court’s seminal ruling in Cheeseman v. Lethal Exterminator, Inc., 701 A.2d 156 (Pa. 1997), (a petition to transfer venue should be granted only if the defendant “demonstrates, with detailed information on the record, that the plaintiff’s chosen forum is oppressive or vexatious to the defendant.”)  However, Bratic gives a trial court greater latitude to grant a forum non conveniens motion.

In Bratic, the trial court was persuaded to transfer venue from Philadelphia to Dauphin County because eight of the witnesses were located in Dauphin County.  On appeal, the Superior Court held that the Defendant did not provide enough information to properly demonstrate that the original venue in Philadelphia was oppressive.   The Supreme Court reversed and upheld the trial court.  More specifically, the Court held that “the witnesses need not detail what clients or task will be postponed or opportunities lost in order for the judge to exercise common sense in evaluating their worth; indeed, no one can foretell such detail.”   The distance that parties or witnesses would have to travel was deemed to be an important consideration.  The Court noted that the standard for showing that a Plaintiff’s chose of venue is “vexatious and oppressive” from Cheeseman should not be read to require Defendants to provide detailed specifics about the venue change would impact the parties.

The Supreme Court did not specify what “extra detail” is needed to support a transfer, but noted that “the interference with one’s business and personal life caused by the participatory demands of a distant lawsuit is patent.” Distance alone between the current and the proposed venue is not dispositive but is part of the equation. The Bratic matter found that the 100 mile distance between two venues was oppressive.

The Court affirmed the Cheeseman standard, but held the showing of oppression needed for a judge to exercise discretion in favor of granting a forum non conveniens motion is not as severe as suggested by the Superior Court’s post-Cheeseman cases. The Bratic Court noted that “[m]ere inconvenience remains insufficient, but there is no burden to show near-draconian consequences.”

David R. Friedman

Office: King of Prussia, Philadelphia
Phone: (610) 977-4106
Practice Areas: Commercial Litigation, Coverage, Fraud/SIU, General Liability, Premises Liability, Products Liability, Third Party, UM/UIM