Phila. judge requests decision to grant venue transfer in workplace injury case be upheld by appeals court

By Jon Campisi | May 31, 2012

A Philadelphia judge is requesting that his decision to grant a motion to transfer venue to an out-of-county court in a workplace injury case be affirmed in the appeals stage.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Allan L. Tereshko filed an opinion May 24 that seeks to have his Oct. 6, 2011 decision to grant a defense motion to transfer a civil suit to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas upheld by state appellate judges.

The case was initiated in the spring of 2010 when Anthony Johnson, who was employed by REM Staffing as a laborer, and was assigned to and working at Verdelli Farms, processing and packing produce, sued REM, Verdelli and others after an alleged incident two years prior in which he was struck, and seriously injured by, an Ingersoll Rand Overhead Zimmerman Rail System.

The system’s hoist and drum components fell, striking Johnson, and allegedly causing him serious injury.

Johnson’s original complaint, filed March 12, 2010, contained five separate claims against Ingersoll Rand PLC, Omnitech Sales Company and Stainless System Service.

The counts included negligence, strict liability and breach of warranties.

On August 10, 2010, defendant Stainless System Service filed a Joinder Complaint against Verdelli Farms Inc., Verdelli Farms East Inc., Verdelli Holdings LLC, Fresh Express Inc., Fresh Express Incorporated, Chiquita Brands International Inc. and REM Staffing Inc., referred to in court papers as the “additional defendants.”

In early September 2011, the additional defendants filed a motion to transfer venue based on forum non conveniens.

The additional defendants argued that trial in Philadelphia County would be “oppressive and vexatious” to the witnesses and other defendants involved in the case because those who may be called to testify reside in or work near Dauphin County and because the defendants may request a jury view of the area in question.

On Sept. 9, 2011, Omnitech, one of the original defendants, also filed a Joinder Motion to transfer venue to Dauphin County.

The plaintiff, however, opposed the moves to transfer venue, arguing that the various defendants had not met the proper standard to transfer venue.

Johnson argued that venue in Philadelphia is neither oppressive nor vexatious because witnesses would need to take off work regardless of where the trial is held, Philadelphia is easily accessible for them, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas would “guarantee a quick case management track,” both parties’ attorneys are based in Philadelphia, discovery was held in Philadelphia and a site visit would not be necessary.

On Oct. 6, 2011, despite arguments by the plaintiff, the trial court judge granted the defense motions to transfer venue to Dauphin County.

Johnson subsequently appealed Philadelphia Judge Tereshko’s decision to allow a venue transfer.

The issue to be addressed on appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion or committed an error of law when it granted the venue transfer.

In his opinion, Tereshko wrote that his granting the motion to transfer venue was proper because the defendants “sufficiently stated” how trial in Philadelphia would be oppressive and vexatious.

The opinion states that, for example, it would be difficult for Michael Turns, who was employed by Fresh Express at the time of the plaintiff’s accident, and who was responsible for the maintenance of the equipment involved in the incident, to travel the nearly two hours to Philadelphia because he has a child with special needs and a wife with medical ailments, and having to attend a trial in Philadelphia would hamper his ability to care for and support his family.

Affidavits by others who would become involved in the trial also showed why venue in Dauphin County would be more appropriate, Tereshko’s opinion states.

Also, the additional defendants would require a site visit for the jury, Tereshko wrote, which would be more convenient for a Dauphin County jury as opposed to one from Philadelphia.

“In the present case, Additional Defendants demonstrated with evidence on the record, precisely how defense witnesses and their corresponding duties would be unduly impacted,” Tereshko wrote. “Trial in Philadelphia County would be oppressive and vexatious for the Additional Defendants. Therefore, transfer to Dauphin County was not an abuse of discretion.”

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