Where the automobile accident giving rise to the suit occurred in Alabama; the plaintiff and nonparty witnesses were all in Alabama and Alabama law likely applied to the matter, the suit was transferred to the Northern District of Alabama.
On Sept. 1, 2021, while driving in Lawrence County, Alabama, Darrell Eads Jr. allegedly failed to yield to a stop sign and crashed into Michael Foster’s vehicle. Eads’ co-worker, Amber Raschen, was allegedly a passenger in the vehicle during the collision.
At the time of the collision, Foster alleges Eads was acting within the scope of his employment as an employee of Casey Industrial Inc. On April 13, 2022, Foster filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia alleging negligence and reckless and wanton conduct resulting in the car accident from which he sustained injuries.
Eads filed an answer on June 10, 2022, and Casey filed an answer on June 30, 2022. On Sept. 28, 2022, plaintiff moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of Alabama.
Courts within the Fourth Circuit must conduct a balancing test to determine whether the transfer is permissible under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). This balancing test weighs four factors: (1) plaintiff’s choice of forum; (2) witness convenience and access to sources of evidence; (3) convenience of the parties and (4) the interest of justice.
Choice of forum
The first factor supports transfer. Plaintiff filed this motion to transfer venue to the Northern District of Alabama, so plaintiff’s venue preference is clear. Furthermore, plaintiff is a resident of Lawrence County, Alabama, which is where the events at issue took place, making that forum both substantially related to the cause of action and where plaintiff resides.
Second, the nonparty witnesses live in the Northern District of Alabama. This includes responding officers as well as plaintiff’s physicians and healthcare workers. Raschen also resides in Alabama. The residence of Eads’ supervisor is not known to the court, but he worked in Alabama at the time of the collision and likely resides in or close to Alabama. These nonparty witnesses residing in Alabama bears heavily on the Northern District of Alabama being a more convenient venue than the Eastern District of Virginia.
Furthermore, this court has no subpoena power to compel these nonparty witnesses to appear and testify in the Eastern District of Virginia, as they live more than 100 miles outside of the district. Additionally, any documentary evidence relevant to the issue is likely in Alabama, where the collision took place.
Third, the court must consider whether the transferee venue is more convenient for the parties to the action. Casey is incorporated in Oregon and its principal place of business is in Colorado. However, the Casey jobsite that Eads was working on was in Alabama. This court fails to see how Virginia is any more convenient to Casey than a venue in Alabama.
Although Eads is domiciled in Virginia, he is a resident of Wythe County, Virginia. Wythe County is a great distance from Richmond, Virginia, so Richmond would not be a particularly convenient venue for him either. Because Eads has already retained counsel in Virginia and his counsel is not licensed in Alabama, nor are any attorneys at their firm, he may face some difficulty retaining counsel in Alabama. While less definitive than the other factors, there is still significant weight in favor of transfer when evaluating the convenience of the forum for the parties to this suit.
Interest of justice
The event at issue took place entirely in the state of Alabama and the alleged injuries were suffered exclusively by a citizen of Alabama. Other Alabama residents have an interest in evaluating how businesses and employees of those businesses conduct themselves while working in Alabama. Likewise, a car collision that occurred hundreds of miles away pertains less to the citizens of Virginia. Furthermore, Virginia residents should not be subjected to serve as jurors on a matter that does not implicate them or members of their community.
Furthermore, in a multi-state tort action, Virginia applies “the law of the place of the wrong.” Because the accident occurred in Alabama, Alabama law would apply. Alabama courts are more familiar with Alabama law than Virginia courts, so justice would be better served if this case were transferred.
Plaintiff’s motion to transfer granted.
Foster v. Casey Industrial Inc., Case No. 3:22-cv-221, Oct. 25, 2022. EDVA at Richmond (Hudson). VLW 022-3-482. 8 pp.