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Venue - Forum Non Conveniens

Ex parte Moore, [Ms. 1170638, Aug. 17, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2018). Because of recusals pursuant to Canon 3.C of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, a specially convened Court comprised of randomly selected retired justices and judges and active circuit judges was called upon to review a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore which sought transfer of venue of an action against Judge Moore brought by Leigh Corfman alleging defamation against Moore and his campaign committee Judge Roy Moore for US Senate. The special Court, with Supreme Court Associate Justice William B. Sellers serving as Acting Chief Justice, unanimously denies the petition upon concluding the Montgomery Circuit Court did not exceed its discretion in denying Judge Moore’s and his campaign’s motion to transfer venue. (Sellers, Acting Chief Justice and Mendheim, and Special Associate Justices Christopher F. Abel, Hewitt L. Conwill, Jenifer Collins Holt, Claud Dent Neilson, and James Harold Roberts, Jr., JJ., concur).

The Court first rejects Moore’s and the Committee’s reliance upon the interest-of-justice prong of the forum non conveniens statute, § 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975, which is described,

“The ‘interest of justice’ prong of § 6-3-21.1 requires ‘the transfer of the action from a county with little, if any, connection to the action, to the county with a strong connection to the action.’ Ex parte National Sec. Ins. Co., 727 So. 2d [788] at 790 [(Ala. 1998)]. Therefore, ‘in analyzing the interest-of-justice prong of § 6-3-21.1, this Court focuses on whether the “nexus” or “connection” between the plaintiff’s action and the original forum is strong enough to warrant burdening the plaintiff’s forum with the action.’ Ex parte First Tennessee Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 994 So. 2d 906, 911 (Ala. 2008).”

Ex parte Indiana Mills & Mfg., Inc., 10 So. 3d 536, 540 (Ala. 2008).

Ms. *5-6.

Rejecting the petitioners’ contentions, the Court reiterates

“... to compel a change of venue under the ‘interest of justice’ prong of § 6-3-21.1, the county to which the transfer is sought must have a ‘strong’ nexus or connection to the lawsuit, while the county from which the transfer is sought must have a ‘weak’ or ‘little’ connection to the action.’”

Ms. *7-8, quoting Ex parte Elliott, [Ms. 1160941, Dec. 22, 2017] ___ So. 3d ___, ___ (Ala. 2017). The evidence reveals that Corfman suffered her defamation injury in Montgomery County where the allegedly defamatory statements were made by Moore and members of his committee. “[T]he location of the injury is ‘often assigned considerable weight in an interest-of-justice analysis.’” Ms. *8, quoting Ex parte Wachovia Bank, N.A., 77 So. 3d 570, 573-74 (Ala. 2011). While the allegedly defamatory statements were also made in places other than Montgomery County, “[w]hen venue is appropriate in more than one county, the plaintiff’s choice of venue is generally given great deference.’” Ms. *9-10, quoting Ex parte Perfection Siding, Inc., 882 So. 2d 307, 312 (Ala. 2003). Under the standard of review, whether the transfer in action based upon forum non conveniens is an issue “addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge.” Ms. *10, quoting Ex parte Ben-Acadia, Ltd., 566 So. 2d 486, 488 (Ala. 1990). Because of the deference owed to the trial court , the specially convened Supreme Court could not say “that the trial court acted arbitrarily and capriciously in determining that this action has more than a ‘little’ or ‘weak’ connection to Montgomery County” such that the Court “cannot say the trial court erred in determining that the interest of justice does not require the transfer of this action to Etowah County.” Ms. *10.

The Court also rejected Moore’s and the Committee’s contention that venue should have been transferred based upon the convenience of the parties and witnesses. The Court reiterated that “[t]he transferee forum must be significantly more convenient than the forum in which the action was brought ... to justify a transfer” under the “convenience of the parties and witnesses” prong of § 6-3-21.1. Ms. *10, quoting Ex parte Swift Loan & Fin. Co., 667 So. 2d 706, 708 (Ala. 1995) (underlined emphasis in original). Again, considering the standard of review, the Court concludes “the trial court did not exceed its discretion in denying the motion for a change of venue” on this basis. Ms. *12.

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