Forum non-conveniens motions are hard for a defendant to win. The issue begins with the proposition that a plaintiff’s choice of forum should rarely be disturbed and is entitled to great weight and deference. To overcome this hurdle, the defendant must show that the chosen forum is oppressive or vexatious, not merely inconvenient. However, in Doe v. Bright Horizons Children’s Center, the Superior Court upheld a Philadelphia trial court decision moving a case from Philadelphia to Berks County after defendants filed a forum non-conveniens motion.
The plaintiffs originally filed in Philadelphia on January 16, 2020 alleging that their son suffered sexual abuse perpetrated by the defendants at their daycare center in Reading, Pennsylvania. The daycare center argued that Philadelphia would be oppressive as a venue and provided an affidavit in support of that position. The defendants’ affidavit stated that if four or more staff members had to be at court at the same time, the daycare center would fall below a Pennsylvania mandate for minimum teacher-to-student ratio. Testimony in Philadelphia would require an all-day commitment from the staff whereas a trial in Berks County would be only 10 to 15 minutes from the daycare center. The trial court noted the daycare center’s affidavit that it had 30 employees. Of those 30 employees, nine teachers were named in the Third Amended Complaint and 20 of the teachers worked with the victim of the abuse. Therefore, the court accepted the defendants’ argument that it would take “a dynamic feat of scheduling to comply with the minimum staffing requirement. Also significant to the trial court was that when these events were investigated by the Berks County District Attorney, it required only “a 10-to-15-minute drive” between the courthouse and the daycare center.
The Superior Court opinion does not change the law on forum non conveniens. However, the opinion lays out a roadmap for defendants in trying to obtain a transfer of venue. Clearly, a fact specific affidavit from the defendants is the key point in the motion. It remains to be seen whether this is an isolated case or indicates a trend either in Philadelphia or in the Superior Court.
For any questions or input feel free to reach out to Steve Bruderle at Margolis Edelstein. He can be reached at 215-931-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.