Ex parte Tier 1 Trucking, LLC – In determining the proper venue under the forum non conveniens statute, heavily weighed factors include the location of the incident and investigation, and the counties of residence of parties and witnesses.
Jimmy Lee Mixon was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a tractor-trailer owned by Tier 1 Trucking and operated by James Gray. The accident occurred in Conecuh County, Alabama, on November 3, 2014, and was investigated by the Castleberry Police Department in Conecuh County. Mixon is a resident of Wilcox County, Alabama. Tier 1 Trucking is located in Jay, Florida.
On December 8, 2015, Mixon and his wife (“the Mixons”) filed suit against Tier 1 Trucking and Gray (“the Defendants”) in Wilcox County. On January 13, 2016, the Defendants moved to transfer venue to either Escambia County or Conecuh County, arguing that Wilcox County was not the appropriate venue “for the convenience of parties and witnesses, or in the interest of justice,” under Alabama’s forum non conveniens statute, Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-21.1(a). Conecuh County was the site of the accident and its investigation. Escambia County is only 14 miles from Jay, Florida, and Tier 1 Trucking conducts a substantial amount of business in that county.
The Mixons responded arguing that the Defendants had waived the forum non conveniens argument by not raising it in their initial pleadings and by providing affidavits of witnesses (including the investigating office) stating that the witnesses would not be inconvenienced by the trial being held in Wilcox County and asserting that Mixon would be inconvenienced due to his deteriorated physical condition.
The trial court denied the Defendants’ motion to transfer venue and retained the case in Wilcox County. The defendants petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate its denial of the motion for change of venue and to enter an order to transfer the case to Conecuh County. Ex parte Tier 1 Trucking, LLC, and James Martin Gray, Jr. [Ms. 1150740], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016).
Forum Non Conveniens Statute
The pertinent portion of Alabama’s forum non conveniens statute reads: “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.” Ala. Code (1975) § 6-3-21.1(a).
Among their arguments, the Mixons asserted that because the Defendants had not asserted the doctrine of forum non conveniens in their first pleading seeking to have venue transferred, the Defendants had waived this basis for transferring venue. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this argument, finding that it has previously rejected other similar arguments. “A defendant may move the court for a change of venue based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens even when this ground is not raised in the initial pleading.” Ex parte Harper, 934 So.2d 1045, 1048 (Ala. 2006).
Weighing Factors to Determine Proper Venue
On the issue of whether the case should be transferred under the forum non conveniens statute, the Alabama Supreme Court has established that the venue where the accident occurred, where a party resides, and where other witnesses reside will have a much stronger connection with the action than where the only connection is that party resides in a particular county or a defendant occasionally does business there.
The Supreme Court of Alabama found in the present case that the only connection to Wilcox County was that the Mixons resided there and Tier 1 had conducted business there, though none related to the subject accident. Whereas concerning Conecuh County, it was the location of the accident; one of the parties lived there; and the investigation was conducted there. These are factor the Court gives great weight under Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-21.1(a). As such the Defendants had demonstrated a right to a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court of Wilcox County to transfer the case to Conecuh County.