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Ex parte Burgess

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 10, 2020

Ex parte Tania Burgess
v.
Jonathan Aaron Stephens and Patti Mollica In re: Tania Burgess

          Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-19-902041

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          SELLERS, JUSTICE.

         Tania Burgess petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order transferring the underlying action to the Shelby Circuit Court. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On April 22, 2019, a vehicle driven by Burgess collided with a vehicle driven by Jonathan Aaron Stephens; the accident occurred in Shelby County. Burgess sued Stephens and Patti Mollica in the Jefferson Circuit Court, alleging as to Stephens negligence and wantonness and as to Mollica negligent entrustment of her vehicle to Stephens and seeking damages for her accident-related injuries. Burgess, Stephens, and Mollica are all Jefferson County residents.

         On Friday, July 26, 2019, Stephens and Mollica (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the defendants") filed a joint motion for a change of venue under Alabama's forum non conveniens statute, § 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975, requesting that the action be transferred to Shelby County in the interest of justice.

         On Monday, July 29, 2019, the Jefferson Circuit Court entered an order transferring the case to the Shelby Circuit Court. On Wednesday, July 31, 2019, Burgess moved the Jefferson Circuit Court to set aside its transfer order and to set the matter for a hearing so she could respond to the defendants' motion for a change of venue. The Jefferson Circuit Court set the matter for a hearing on August 22, 2019;[1] however, the case had been docketed in the Shelby Circuit Court on August 5, 2019, divesting the Jefferson Circuit Court of jurisdiction. Burgess timely filed the instant petition asking this Court to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order transferring the case to the Shelby Circuit Court.[2]

         Standard of Review

"The proper method for obtaining review of a denial [or grant] of a motion for a change of venue in a civil action is to petition for the writ of mandamus. Lawler Mobile Homes, Inc. v. Tarver, 492 So.2d 297, 302 (Ala. 1986). 'Mandamus is a drastic and extraordinary writ, to be issued only where there is (1) a clear legal right in the petitioner 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) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.' Ex parte Integon Corp., 672 So.2d 497, 499 (Ala. 1995). 'When we consider a mandamus petition relating to a venue ruling, our scope of review is to determine if the trial court [exceeded] its discretion, i.e., whether it exercised its discretion in an arbitrary and capricious manner.' Id. Our review is further limited to those facts that were before the trial court. Ex parte American Resources Ins. Co., 663 So.2d 932, 936 (Ala. 1995)."

Ex parte National Sec. Ins. Co., 727 So.2d 788, 789 (Ala. 1998).

         Discussion

         Burgess argues that the Jefferson Circuit Court exceeded its discretion in transferring the underlying action to the Shelby Circuit Court under the interest-of-justice prong of § 6-3-21.1(a). Section 6-3-21.1(a) 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."

         It is undisputed that Jefferson County and Shelby County are both proper venues for the underlying action. See 6-3-2(a)(3), Ala. Code 1975. "When venue is appropriate in more than one county, the plaintiff's choice of venue is generally given great deference." Ex parte Perfection Siding, Inc., 882 So.2d 307, 312 (Ala. 2003). Thus, this Court must determine whether the interest of justice overrides the deference due Burgess's choice of ...


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