Forum non conveniens is a judicial doctrine (now incorporated into the Alabama Code) that permits either:
1. The dismissal of a lawsuit pending in Alabama, so that the same lawsuit can then be filed in a court in another state (Ala. Code § 6-5-430); or
2. The transfer of a lawsuit pending in Alabama from one county to another (Ala. Code § 6-3-21.1).
The purpose of forum non conveniens is to minimize the resulting inconvenience to the parties and witnesses and to further the interests of justice.
The application of forum non conveniens begins with the defendants to a lawsuit filing either a Motion to Dismiss the case with the court in which it is pending or a Motion to Transfer Venue to another county.
If granted, the lawsuit either must then be refiled in another state or it is transferred to another county that is deemed to be more convenient.
Consider the following fact situation: The plaintiff lives in Madison County, Alabama, and is involved in a car wreck in Florida while he is on the job. His employer is based out of Madison County, Alabama. The plaintiff files suit in Madison County, Alabama, against the other driver and includes a claim for workers’ compensation benefits against his employer. The defendant driver lives in Georgia. The defendant files a Motion to have the case dismissed and then re-filed in Florida, where the wreck occurred.
In deciding whether to grant the Motion, the Court must consider the following factors:
1. Where the facts giving rise to the lawsuit occurred. It is likely that this factor for consideration will be undisputed. In the context of the prior example, obviously the wreck occurred in Florida. However, if the plaintiff received the majority of his resulting medical treatment in Madison County, Alabama, this should also factor into the court’s evaluation.
2. The convenience of the witnesses. To support this factor for consideration, the defendants likely will submit affidavits from various witnesses. In considering the weight to be afforded the affidavits, the court is to consider not just the number of affidavits or where the witnesses are located, but also the substantive content of them. Therefore, even a dozen affidavits from “witnesses” (all of whom live in the county and state where the wreck occurred), but who were not present when the wreck occurred, probably will not meet the burden of showing that the location where the wreck occurred is a more appropriate venue.
3. The convenience of the parties. This factor takes into consideration the location of the parties to the lawsuit. If most of them are from the county and state where the wreck occurred, it is likely that the case will be dismissed and then need to be refiled in that county and state. In contrast, if none of the parties to the lawsuit either live or have lived in the county and state in which the wreck occurred, this factor should not support dismissal and refiling in another state.
4. The interest of justice. Although admittedly somewhat vague, this factor for consideration takes into account aspects of the case such as how the case would be handled if only a portion of it was dismissed and then refiled in another county and state. In the example above the plaintiff was on the job at the time the wreck occurred. How would it work if only a portion of the lawsuit was dismissed and then had to be refiled in another county and state? The plaintiff could be faced with pursuing two lawsuits in two different states involving the same set of facts.
Although an Alabama court is required to consider each of these factors, it is within the trial court’s discretion to decide whether the case must be dismissed and then refiled in another state. Such a ruling will only be overturned on appeal if it is determined that the trial court abused its discretion.
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