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Venue - Ala. Code § 6-11-23.1 Transfer for Convenience of Parties and Witnesses and in Interest of Justice

Ex parte KKE, LLC, [Ms. 1180074, Sept. 13, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2019). The Court (Mitchell, J.; and Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Shaw, Wise, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Sellers, J., concurs specially) denies a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking a transfer of venue from Bibb County to Chilton County in a wrongful death case arising from a collision of an automobile with a logging truck.

The Court first notes that Bibb County is an appropriate venue for the action because the individual defendant is a Bibb County resident and the corporate defendant’s principal place of business is in Bibb County. See §§ 6-3-2 and 6-3-7, Ala. Code 1975 (setting forth rules governing venue in actions against individuals and actions against corporations). Ms. *5. Further, because the collision occurred in Chilton County, Chilton County would be an appropriate venue as well. However, “[w]hen venue is appropriate in more than one county, the plaintiff’s choice of venue is generally given great deference.” Ms. *5, (quoting Ex parte Perfection Siding, Inc., 882 So. 2d 307, 312 (Ala. 2003).

The Court next rejects the defendant’s contentions that transfer was required pursuant to § 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975, both “for the convenience of parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice.” Citing Ex parte New England Mut. Life Ins. Co., 663 So. 2d 952, 956 (Ala. 1995) (Ms. *7), the Court explains that the burden of proof for a movant under § 6-3-21.1 must show the transferee forum to be significantly more convenient than the forum in which the action is filed by the plaintiff. Noting that no party lived in Chilton County and neither side identified any potential witnesses from Chilton County, the Court rejects the contention that transfer was warranted because investigating Alabama State Troopers resided in Montgomery County, which was closer to Chilton County than Bibb County. Ms. **8-10.

Citing its recent decision on rehearing in Ex parte Tyson Chicken, Inc., [Ms. 1170820, May 24, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2019) (Ms. *11), the Court reiterates that “[t]o compel a change of venue [in the interest of justice], the underlying action must have both a ‘strong’ connection to the county in which the transfer is sought and a ‘weak’ or ‘little’ connection to the county in which the case is pending....” Id. Relying upon Ex parte J&W Enterprises, LLC, 150 So. 3d 190 (Ala. 2014), the Court holds it significant that the defendant driver resides in Bibb County and that the driver and his employer were sued for negligence in hiring, training, and supervision of that driver which all occurred in Bibb County. Ms. **13-16. The Court again emphasizes that following Tyson Chicken, the evidence must demonstrate both that the intended transfer venue has a strong connection to the underlying action, while the plaintiff’s chosen forum has a “weak” or “little” connection. Because the trucking company’s driver did not show that Bibb County’s connection to the action was weak, the interest of justice prong of the forum non-conveniens statute did not mandate a transfer of venue from Bibb County to Chilton County. Ms. **16-18.

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