Attorney for woman suing Milton Hershey School: keep trial in Philadelphia

By Jon Campisi | Feb 15, 2012

An attorney for a woman who is suing the private Milton Hershey School over what she argues was the school’s denying her son admittance due to his HIV-positive status has asked a judge to let any future trial play out in Philadelphia, not in federal court near Hershey, Pa.

Attorney Ronda B. Goldfein, of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, who represents the plaintiff in the case, who identified in the complaint only as “Mother Smith,” filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the defendant’s motion to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Goldfein filed her memorandum Feb. 13 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is where she filed suit back on Nov. 30, 2011, on behalf of Smith, who is suing on behalf of her son, “Abraham Smith,” 13, who claims his HIV-positive status prevented him from being accepted into the upscale Pennsylvania boarding school founded by the heirs of the chocolate company of the same name.

The plaintiffs want the case to play out in Philadelphia because it’s close to their home.

The school desires to have any future trial held closer to it.

“Its [the defendant’s] chief rationale for requesting transfer to the Middle District of Pennsylvania is to reduce the commute time of a still-to-be determined group of its employees to the courthouse, at the expense of Abraham, his mother, and his health-care providers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” Goldfein’s memorandum reads.

“In arguing for a transfer, however, the School fails to meet its heavy burden necessary to overcome the substantial weight afforded to a plaintiffs’ choice of forum, especially, as here, where Plaintiffs reside in the forum and the proposed transfer forum is less than one hundred miles away.”

In the memorandum, Goldfein argues that Milton Hershey School, due primarily to its financial state and vast number of employees, could afford to make the trek to Philadelphia during any future trial.

“There is no question that MHS is in a better position to bear any inconvenience associated with the commute,” the memorandum states.

In requesting a venue transfer, the school has argued that in order to fully understand the institution’s “unique” environment, it would behoove jurors to see the school during trial time.

Goldfein counters by saying that the concept of a boarding school is “not so unusual,” and that the defendant would surely be able to explain its residential setting to the jury through testimony and other evidence.

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