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Supreme Court Rules In Venue Matter Determining That Interest Of Justice Overrides Initial Selection Of The Forum

Stephen Hrobowski (“Hrobowski”) was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Montgomery County, Alabama in 2015 wherein his vehicle collided with a vehicle being operated by Kevin Ledyard (“Ledyard”).  The impact of this collision caused Ledyard’s vehicle to strike a vehicle being operated by Roosevelt McCorvey (“McCorvey”).

At the time of the subject accident, McCorvey and Ledyard were residents of Montgomery County, Alabama.  Hrobowski’s driver’s license indicated that he was a resident of Lowndes County, Alabama.

McCorvey filed suit against both Hrobowski and Ledyard in Lowndes County Circuit Court.  Hrobowski, who lived in Montgomery County at the time of the accident, filed a Motion for Change of Venue from Lowndes County to Montgomery County, seeking forum non conveniens under Ala. Code 1975 § 6-3-21.1(a) arguing that the only connection to Lowndes County was his alleged residence.  McCorvey argued in response, that Hrobowski had not demonstrated that Montgomery County was either significantly more convenient or that the interest of justice would be served by the transfer.

On August 30, 2017, the trial court denied Hrobowski’s Motion for Change of Venue, and Hrobowski filed a Motion to Reconsider attaching thereto, an affidavit testifying that he was not a resident of Lowndes County, but of Madison County, Alabama.  Therefore, Hrobowski argued, Lowndes County actually had no connection to this case. 

Hrobowski also filed a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus regarding this issue arguing that under the “interest of justice” prong of § 6-2-21.1(a), the case must be transferred to Montgomery County, Alabama, and writ was issued.

In explaining the application of § 6-2-21.1 and the “interest of justice” prong under § 6-2-21.1(a), the Court noted that “litigation should be handled in the forum where the injury occurred” and that where the action occurred should be given considerably more weight than other factors.  Ex parte Hrobowski, 2018 WL1024718, quoting, Ex parte Fuller, 955 So.2d 414,416 (Ala. 2006);  see also, Ex parte Autauga Heating & Cooling, LLC, 58 So.3d 745 (Ala. 2010). 

The Court found in the present case that the subject accident occurred in Montgomery County and that the investigation of the accident occurred in Montgomery County, by law-enforcement personnel based in Montgomery County.  Moreover, both McCorvey and Ledyard resided in Montgomery County and that while Hrobowski may have resided in Lowndes County that did not outweigh the forum where the accident occurred for purposes of the “interest of justice” prong of § 6-2-21.1. 

Accordingly, based on the fact that the subject accident occurred in Montgomery County as well as other undisputed facts regarding residency, the Court concluded that that the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying Hrobowski’s Motion for Change of Venue.  The Court granted Hrobowski’s Petition and issued a Writ of Mandamus directing the lower court to vacate its previous Order denying Hrobowski’s Motion and to enter an Order transferring the lawsuit to Montgomery County, Alabama instead.