Ala. Code § 6-3-21.1(a) Venue - Transfer in the Interest of Justice


Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C., [Ms. 1171102, Dec. 21, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2018) (Bryan, J.; and Stuart, C.J., and Bolin, Parker, Shaw, Main, Wise, Sellers, and Mendheim, JJ., concur). The Court grants Maynard, Cooper & Gale's petition for writ of mandamus and directs the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate an order denying the law firm's motion for a change of venue from Jefferson County to Madison County on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

The law firm was sued in Jefferson County by clients asserting a claim of legal malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Medical Legal Services Liability Act, § 6-5-570 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. After conducting extensive discovery concerning the issue of venue, the law firm moved the Jefferson Circuit Court to transfer the action to Madison County, invoking both the doctrines of interest of justice and convenience of the parties and witnesses afforded by § 6-3-21.1(a), Ala. Code 1975. The Court first notes that it is undisputed that both Jefferson County and Madison County are proper venues for the plaintiff's action pursuant to § 6-3-7(a) and (b). Ms. *17. " 'When venue is appropriate in more than one county, the plaintiff's choice of venue is generally given great deference.'" Id. (quoting Ex parte Engineering Design Grp., 200 So. 3d 634, 642 (Ala. 2016)). Second, the law firm, as the party moving for a change of venue, has the burden of showing that the transfer is required in the interest of justice. Ibid. (citing Ex parte Indiana Mills & Manufacturing, Inc., 10 So. 3d 536, 539 (Ala. 2008)).

Reviewing the conflicting facts, the Court concludes it is "abundantly clear that this action has a very strong connection to Madison County." Ms. *19. All legal work complained of occurred at the law firm's Huntsville office; the plaintiff's management and headquarters are located in Huntsville; the entity allegedly improperly created by the law firm which created a conflict of interest is located in Madison County; and the plaintiff's alleged injuries occurred where its headquarters are located, i.e., Huntsville. Id. Further, the Court rejects the circuit court's findings of the relative strength of the connection between the acts complained of in Jefferson County, concluding that the connection with "Jefferson County is weak and does not 'warrant burdening the plaintiff's forum with the action.' " Ms. *24. The Court expressly concludes that the law firm's presence in the plaintiff's chosen forum does not, in and of itself, present a strong connection to the forum. Ms. *25.

The Court concludes the law firm carried its burden of showing that Madison County's connection to the action is strong, while Jefferson County's connection to the action is weak, such that the circuit court exceeded its discretion in refusing the law firm's motion to transfer the case to the Madison Circuit Court in the interest of justice. Accordingly, the petition for writ of mandamus is granted and the Jefferson Circuit Court is directed to transfer the plaintiff's action to the Madison Circuit Court.

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