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Venue in Multi-Plaintiff Action - Forum Non Conveniens

Ex parte Johnson & Johnson, et al., [Ms. 1190423, Dec. 31, 2020], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2020). In an action filed by 17 hospitals located throughout the State seeking damages for losses sustained as a result of the opioid epidemic, in a plurality opinion, the Court (Bolin, J.; Wise, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Parker, C.J., and Bryan, J., concur specially; Shaw and Sellers, JJ., dissent; Mitchell, J., recuses) denies the pharmaceutical defendants’ mandamus petition challenging venue in Conecuh County and seeking to transfer venue to Jefferson County.

The opinion explains

To establish that venue is proper in Conecuh County, the plaintiffs have to demonstrate, pursuant to § 6-3-7(c)[Ala. Code,1975], the following conditions

1. the17 plaintiffs assert a right “to relief jointly, severally, or arising out of the same transaction or occurrence”;

2. a substantial number of questions of law or material fact common to all those persons will arise in the action;

3. the common questions of law or material fact will predominate over individualized questions pertaining to each plaintiff;

4. it is more efficient and economical for all parties that all the plaintiffs’ claims are tried together, rather than separately; and

5. joinder of the parties in one action is in the interest of justice.

Ms. *33.

After noting that the Defendants conceded conditions 4 and 5, the opinion rejects the Defendants’ contention that Plaintiffs were required to present evidence as to conditions 1-3 and concludes

Here, common issues of fact and law predominate because they impact every plaintiff’s burden regarding its establishment of liability and entitlement to damages. Additionally, although the fraud claims are reliance-based and reliance usually requires individual inquiries in the class-action context, see Compass Bank v. Snow, 823 So. 2d 667, 676-77 (Ala. 2001), in the joinder context, because each plaintiff proves its own case, the individual issues presented in the fraud claims do not spoil the cohesion. ... The materials before us indicate that the plaintiffs established that they had satisfied the exception-triggering conditions for venue to be proper in Conecuh County as to all plaintiffs. Thus, the trial court did not exceed its discretion in this regard ....

Ms. *42.

Turning to Defendants’ argument that the forum non conveniens statute, § 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975, mandated transfer to Jefferson County, the opinion concludes “the trial court did not exceed its discretion in denying the Defendants’ motion for a change of venue. The Defendants did not clearly identify with specificity the evidence that they maintain will be inaccessible if the underlying action proceeds in Conecuh County.” Ms. *50. The opinion goes on to note that “[i]n a multiparty case where venue is proper in numerous counties, the burden of demonstrating that a transferee venue is significantly more convenient for the parties and the witnesses is great.” Ms. *51.

The opinion also concludes that transfer to Jefferson County is not mandated by the interest of justice because “both Conecuh County and Jefferson County have strong connections to this litigation.” Ms. *57.

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