Jon Campisi Dec. 20, 2013, 7:47am


A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge has overruled defense

preliminary objections in a personal injury case against Hatfield Quality Meats and others.

Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson, in a Dec. 18 order, ruled that James C. Levering’s case against the food processing company can play out in Philadelphia County Court, despite objections that had been lobbed by the defendants that venue was improper.

Levering is suing Hatfield, Clemens Food Group, Pleasant Valley Packing, Clemens Family Corp. and others over a June 9, 2012, incident in which the plaintiff, who was a business invitee at the Clemens Food Group processing plant in Hatfield, Montgomery County, crushed his hand while operating the defendants’ elevator.

The defendants subsequently filed objections asserting that the matter should be transferred to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas because it would be more convenient for the parties involved, the record shows.

The defendants, however, were unable to persuade Massiah-Jackson during a Dec. 6 hearing as to why the litigation should be sent out of Philadelphia.

“The Hatfield Defendants were not able to demonstrate by detailed averments, affidavits or argument why Philadelphia is vexatious or burdensome,” the judge wrote.

Citing appellate court precedent, Massiah-Jackson wrote that there is a “vast difference” between inconvenience and oppressiveness, and traveling from Montgomery County to Philadelphia for the case is not a hardship.

The defendants had also argued that they do not regularly conduct business in Philadelphia, but supplemental discovery and exhibits “make it clear that these Hatfield Defendants successfully and strategically market themselves by providing Philadelphia services, Philadelphia foods and regularly engage in Philadelphia business,” the judge wrote.

One example the judge offered was the Hatfield Quality Meats Partnership Agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies for 2010 through 2016 that provides the defendants with exclusive rights to the hot dog concessions at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia.

Massiah-Jackson went on to write that when deciding whether a corporation regularly conducts business in a county, a court makes an assessment both as to quality and quantity of contacts.

In this case, the defendants send sales representatives to Philadelphia at least once a month.

Furthermore, she wrote, Clemens Food Group submitted documents that show nearly $3 million in sales in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to Philadelphia wholesalers, and nearly $6 million in annual sales to Sysco’s Philadelphia location for distribution in the tri-state, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware area.

“The defendants vigorously suggest that $9 million of annual Philadelphia business is but a fraction of their nearly $1 billion annual gross sales, thus, rendering venue improper in Philadelphia,” Massiah Jackson wrote. “Under the circumstances presented, this Court does not agree.

“Venue is triggered when there is a continuous, although small amount of business activity with Philadelphia,” the judge continued. “A corporation may engage ‘regularly’ even though the acts make up a small part of the total activity and enterprise.”

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