Serving the Interest of Justice with Material Events
Ex parte April Steele Benton: When suit may be properly filed in more than one venue, the interest of justice prong of the forum non conveniens statute gives great weight to the county where material events occurred.
Facts of the Matter
On December 4, 2014, April Steele Benton (Bibb County resident) and Amir Alan Ebrahimi (Shelby County resident) were involved in a collision in Shelby County. Ebrahimi was injured in the accident, and filed suit in Bibb County against Benton and her husband John Benton (owner of the vehicle April was driving), and State Farm (for underinsured motorist benefits).
For Argument’s Sake
The Bentons moved to transfer the action from Bibb County to Shelby County on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, pursuant to Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-21.1. The Bentons argued that Shelby County had a stronger nexus to the case for the following reasons: (1) the accident occurred in Shelby County; (2) the accident was investigated in Shelby County; (3) the plaintiff Ebrahimi received medical treatment in Shelby and Jefferson Counties; and (4) Bibb County’s only connection to the case was that the Bentons resided there. State Farm joined the motion to transfer venue, and Ebrahimi did not file a motion in opposition. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the defendants’ motion to transfer venue, and the defendants then filed a petition for writ of mandamus. Ex parte April Steele Benton, et al. [Ms. 1151181], — So.3d — (Ala. Dec. 2, 2016).
We’ve Got Issues
The defendants contended that the trial court abused its discretion in denying their motion to transfer venue to Shelby County under the “interest-of-justice” prong of the forum non conveniens statute, because all the material events giving rise to the plaintiff’s claims occurred in Shelby County. Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-21.1 reads in pertinent part:
“With respect to civil actions filed in an appropriate venue, any court of general jurisdiction shall, for the convenience of parties and witnesses, or in the interest of justice, transfer any civil action or any claim in any civil action to any court of general jurisdiction in which the action might have been properly filed and the case shall proceed as though originally filed therein.”
As such, a party moving for venue transfer under the forum non conveniens statute has the initial burden of showing that the transfer is justified based on the convenience of the parties and witnesses, or based on the interest of justice.
There is no question that venue is proper in both Bibb County and Shelby County. When venue is proper in more than one county, the plaintiff’s choice of venue is generally given great deference. The issue before the court then is whether the interest of justice overrides the deference given to the plaintiff’s choice of forum.
The prior rulings of the Supreme Court of Alabama have shown that it construes the interest-of-justice prong to give great weight to the fact that the accident occurred in Shelby County and no material events occurred in Bibb County. In fact Bibb County’s only nexus to the case is the fact that the Bentons reside there. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Alabama found no need to burden Bibb County with the matter, with its weak connection to the case, simply because it was the county of residence of the Bentons.
 See Ex parte Masonite Corp., 789 So.2d 830, 831 (Ala. 2001).
 See Ex parte Perfection Siding, Inc., 882 So.2d 307, 312 (Ala. 2003).
 See Ex parte J & W Enters., LLC, 150 So.3d 190, 194 (Ala. 2014).
 See e.g., Ex parte Wayne Farms, LLC [Ms. 1150404, May 27, 2016], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016); see also Ex parte Manning, 170 So.3d 638 (Ala. 2014); Ex parte Autaga Heating & Cooling, LLC, 58 So.3d 745 (Ala. 2010); Ex parte Mitchell, 690 So.3d 356 (Ala. 1997).
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