Reviews Forum Non Conveniens Analysis
Ex parte Tyson Chicken, Inc., and Charles Gregory Craig
On November 29, 2017, a vehicle driven by Lisa Burke Huffstutler (“Huffstutler”) collided with a tractor-trailer driven by Craig, an employee of Tyson Chicken, Inc. in Cullman County. Huffstutler filed suit in the Marshall Circuit Court against Tyson and Craig alleging wantonness, negligence, negligent and/or wanton supervision or training, and negligent and/or wanton hiring, retention, and entrustment. Tyson and Craig jointly moved for a change of venue in the Cullman Circuit Court under Alabama’s forum non conveniens statute. The trial court denied the motion and Tyson and Craig filed a petition for a writ of mandamus. Tyson and Craig argued that, while venue was proper in the Marshall Circuit Court, the action should have been transferred to the Cullman Circuit Court in the interest of justice and for the convenience of parties and witnesses.
The Alabama Supreme Court noted the interest-of-justice prong of the forum non conveniens statute requires the transfer of the action from a county with little connection to the action to a county with a strong connection to the action. The Court also noted that the statute does not involve a “simple balancing test weighing each county’s connection to an action.” A key factor to consider in a venue analysis is the interest of the people of a county to have a case that arises in their county tried close to public view in their county.
The Court found the following factors significant in evaluating a transfer of the underlying action to Cullman County: (1) the accident occurred in Cullman County; (2) the accident was investigated in Cullman County; (3) Huffstutler was treated at the accident scene by employees of Cullman Emergency Medical Services, based in Cullman County; (4) Huffstutler was transported from the accident scene to Cullman Regional Medical Center to receive additional medical care and treatment; (5) Tyson maintained a facility in Cullman County where the truck involved in the accident is registered; and (6) Huffstutler was employed in Cullman County and owned a house there. The Court emphasized that although Tyson maintained a facility in Marshall County, it was not Tyson’s principal place of business. The Court also found significant that the terrain of the accident scene may have been a contributing factor and that a majority of evidence pertaining to hiring was located in Cullman County. The Court stated that the citizens of Cullman County had more of an interest in the outcome of the case than the citizens in Marshall County.
Ultimately, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the trial court exceeded its discretion when it denied Tyson and Craig's motion for a change of venue and that it was in the interest of justice that the underlying action be transferred to the Cullman Circuit Court.