Deciding the best place to try a case – forum selection – is important in many ways to a lawsuit. How long it takes for a case to conclude, the likelihood of victory and the amount of damages awarded by a judge or jury can be vastly different, depending on the county where the case is heard. As a result, lawyers on both sides of the case carefully scrutinize the places where a lawsuit can be filed so as to determine the best location for handling the case.
The fact that venue is important means that lawyers often maneuver for the best judicial forum for their clients even before the trial begins. In a case of first impression, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals has clarified the law on the question of whether a trial court’s denial of a request to transfer a lawsuit before trial has begun can be immediately appealed.
Relying on what had been written about the issue in lawsuits dealing with other matters, the appeals court said it was persuaded to refuse Aleksey Kulikov’s attempt to immediately appeal the court order denying his request to take his case to another court.
The issue began with a motorist-pedestrian accident. On June 2, 2011, Kadija Baffoe-Harding was crossing Friendship Boulevard in Chevy Chase, Montgomery County, Maryland when Kulikov made a left turn and struck her with his car. Baffoe-Harding filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County alleging negligence. In response, Kulikov filed a motion to dismiss or to transfer the case from Prince George’s to Montgomery County. Kulikov said he lived in Montgomery County and did not work or carry on a business in Prince George’s County. Kulikov also noted that the accident occurred in Montgomery County. As a result, he said that venue was only proper in Montgomery County. The trial court denied Kulikov’s motion. Kulikov appealed.
Kulikov told the appellate court that he recognized that a trial court’s grant of a motion for improper venue and a motion to transfer because of an inconvenient forum are immediately appealable as final judgments, but that the denial of the motions was not immediately appealable. However, he argued, both the grant and the denial should be immediately appealable. He told the appeals court that denial of his request had the “harsh result” of depriving him of the right to be sued in the county in which he resided and that the decision forced him to “defend himself in a foreign county . . . .”
But, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court disagreed. In declining to change the law as Kulikov had requested, the court explained that piecemeal appeals are to be avoided because they hinder judicial efficiency as repeated applications to the appellate courts interrupt the trial court process.
The appeals court pointed out that its most recent case on the subject of an appeal of a motion for transfer and/or for improper venue is Smith v. Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, Inc. In that case, the plaintiff brought a medical malpractice and wrongful death action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, Inc. The defendant filed a motion stating that Baltimore City was an inconvenient forum and asked the court to transfer the case to Baltimore County. The trial court granted the motion. On appeal, the court reaffirmed the principle that, although the denial of a transfer of venue is not immediately appealable, the granting of such a motion is.
The appeals court noted that the Court of Appeals had pointed out that an order transferring a case from one circuit court to another is a final judgment and, thus, immedately appealable. At the same time, an order denying a motion to transfer is not an immediately appealable final judgment becuase the litigation can continue in the court issuing the order.
Baltimore, Md.-based Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has several years of experience dealing with matters of venue and forum selection. Call us at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultation and let us help you.