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Ex parte Tyson Chicken, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alabama

November 30, 2018

Ex Parte Tyson Chicken, Inc., and Charles Gregory Craig
v.
Tyson Chicken, Inc., and Charles Gregory Craig In re: Lisa Burke Huffstutler

          Marshall Circuit Court, CV-18-900113

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          SELLERS, JUSTICE.

         Tyson Chicken, Inc. ("Tyson"), and Charles Gregory Craig petition this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying Tyson and Craig's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Cullman Circuit Court. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On November 29, 2017, a vehicle driven by Lisa Burke Huffstutler collided with a tractor-trailer driven by Craig, an employee of Tyson. The collision occurred at the intersection of County Road 747 and County Road 1609 in Cullman County. Emergency responders, including state troopers and medical personnel, investigated the accident, treated Huffstutler for her injuries at the scene, and then transported her to Cullman Regional Medical Center for further medical treatment.

         On March 6, 2018, Huffstutler sued Tyson, Craig, and multiple fictitiously named defendants in the Marshall Circuit Court alleging wantonness, negligence, negligent and/or wanton supervision or training, and negligent and/or wanton hiring, retention, and entrustment. Tyson and Craig jointly moved for a change of venue to the Cullman Circuit Court under Alabama's forum non conveniens statute, Ala. Code 1975, § 6-3-21.1. After the trial court denied that motion, Tyson and Craig filed this mandamus petition.[1]

         Standard of Review A petition for a writ of mandamus is the "proper method for obtaining review of a denial of a motion for a change of venue in a civil action." Ex parte National Sec. Ins. Co., 727 So.2d 788, 789 (Ala. 1998). "A writ of mandamus is appropriate when the petitioner can demonstrate '(1) a clear legal right to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) the properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.'" Ex parte Kane, 989 So.2d 509, 511 (Ala. 2008)(quoting Ex parte BOC Grp., Inc., 823 So.2d 1270, 1272 (Ala. 2001)). When reviewing a mandamus petition challenging a ruling on a change-of-venue motion on the basis of forum non conveniens, this Court must determine whether the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting or denying the motion. Ex parte Fuller, 955 So.2d 414, 415 (Ala. 2006). "Our review is limited to only those facts that were before the trial court." Ex parte Kane, 989 So.2d at 511.

         Discussion

         Alabama's forum non conveniens statute provides:

"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."

§ 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975. Tyson and Craig concede that venue is proper in the Marshall Circuit Court; however, Tyson and Craig argue that the action should be transferred to the Cullman Circuit Court in the interest of justice and for the convenience of parties and witnesses.

         Our analysis under the interest-of-justice prong of the forum non conveniens statute does not involve a "simple balancing test weighing each county's connection to an action." Ex parte J & W Enters., LLC, 150 So.3d 190, 196 (Ala. 2014). Instead, "[t]he '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 Indiana Mills & Mfg., Inc., 10 So.3d 536, 540 (Ala. 2008)(quoting Ex parte National Sec. Ins. Co., 727 So.2d at 789).

         "This Court has held that litigation should be handled in the forum where the injury occurred." Ex parte Fuller, 955 So.2d at 416. The Court has also noted that a key factor to consider in its venue analysis is "the interest of the people of a county to have a case that arises in their county tried close to public view in their county." Ex parte Smiths Water & Sewer Auth., 982 So.2d 484, 490 (Ala. 2007). The following factors are significant in evaluating the propriety of a transfer of the underlying action to Cullman County: (1) the accident occurred in Cullman County; (2) the accident was investigated in Cullman County; (3) Huffstutler was treated at the accident scene by employees of Cullman Emergency Medical Services, based in Cullman County; (4) Huffstutler was transported from the accident scene to Cullman Regional Medical Center to receive additional medical care and treatment; (5) Tyson maintains a facility in Cullman County where the truck involved in the accident is registered; and (6) Huffstutler is employed in Cullman County and owns a house there.

         Tyson and Craig contend that the location-of-the-accident factor is especially noteworthy in this case because, they say, the terrain near the scene of the accident may have been a contributing factor.[2] Tyson and Craig's original motion for a change of venue included an affidavit from an expert in accident reconstruction who stated that, in his opinion, a viewing of the scene of the accident would aid the fact-finder in understanding the evidence presented in this case. Furthermore, Tyson and Craig claim that, in addition to much of the evidence surrounding the accident itself and the resulting injuries, all the documentary evidence pertaining to Craig's employment with Tyson is located at Tyson's facility in Cullman County.[3] Cullman County then, in addition to being the site of the accident, is also the location of records that would be relevant to Huffstutler's claims of negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, supervision, and retention.

         Huffstutler argues that Marshall County's connection to the case is not so weak as to justify a transfer of the action to Cullman County. She points out that both she and Craig are residents of Marshall County and that Tyson operates a facility in Marshall County.[4] Huffstutler also asserts that, because Craig works at Tyson's facility in Marshall County, it is likely that Tyson employees from that ...


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