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The Original Court in which a Suit is Brought is Not Always the Final Venue – Consider Whether a Change is Possible to Benefit Your Case

Thomas W. Hartmann, The Hartmann Law Firm LLC TheHartmannLawFirm.com; [email protected]; 908 769 6888

New Jersey's federal courts are among the busiest in the nation. However, this does not mean that simply because a plaintiff sues here, the case should stay in New Jersey federal courts. A defendant may have the ability to change the location to benefit his case.

Venue - or the place where a suit is brought - is usually the option of the plaintiff. The plaintiff must select a venue where any defendant resides (if all defendants reside in the forum state), or where a substantial portion of the relevant events occurred or the property in question is located, or where any defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court has identified a number of factors to consider in determining the proper venue, including where a substantial part of the events or omissions occurred, the availability of witnesses and other relevant evidence, the convenience of the defendants, the interests of justice, the public interest and the application of the forum state's substantive law in a diversity matter. Cottman Transmission Sys. v. Martino, 36 F.3d 291, 294 (3d Cir. 1994).

The goal of the venue statutes is to "prevent the waste of 'time, energy and money' and 'to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense.'" Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964) (quoting Continental Grain Co. v. Barge FBL-585, 364 U.S. 19, 26-27 (1960)).

While a plaintiff's choice of forum carries weight in determining questions of venue, where the plaintiff has selected a forum other than its home district, that choice is given less deference. NCR Credit Corp. v. Ye Seekers Horizon, Inc., 17 F.Supp.2d 317, 321 (D.N.J. 1998). When the central facts of the lawsuit also occur outside of the forum state, the plaintiff's selection is entitled to even less deference. Santi v. Nat'l Bus. Records Mgmt., LLC, 722 F.Supp.2d 602, 607-609 (D.N.J. 2010).

Thus, in the recent case of Lai Chen v. ENN Solar Energy Co. Ltd, et al., Civil Action No. 3:13-cv-06579-JAP-LHG, Order, November 20, 2014, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that New Jersey was the wrong venue for the case and transferred it to the Northern District of California. In this case, neither defendant resided in New Jersey. One defendant was a California corporation with its principal place of business in San Jose, California. The alleged report of unlawful business practice by plaintiff, the allegedly wrongful act and the allegedly retaliatory termination all occurred when plaintiff worked in San Jose, California, or when he worked at home in Virginia. Plaintiff was a resident of Virginia, not New Jersey. All major sources of evidence would be found and produced outside of New Jersey. Not a single event, fact, witness or document was sourced in New Jersey.

Venue can be extremely important in defending a case, as it impacts the availability of witnesses and evidence, close contact with counsel, ability to get to the court physically. Do not automatically assume that because you have been sued in a particular place, that that venue is fixed -- particularly if another venue is more convenient and more effective for your defense of the case.

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