Maryland Court of Appeals Limits Deference to Plaintiff’s Choice of Venue
June 1, 2018 By Matthew J. Gannett
Maryland Rule 2-327(c) provides that a court may transfer a case to any other circuit court where venue is proper “if the transfer is for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and serves the interests of justice.” It has long been held that plaintiffs have the right to select between proper venues and that trial courts must give deference to a plaintiff’s choice of forum when ruling on a motion to transfer venue. Thus, the party seeking to transfer venue must establish that the convenience of the parties and interests of justice weigh strongly in favor of transfer. Moreover, plaintiffs frequently argue that the Court should not consider which venue is more convenient to the plaintiffs when weighing the convenience of the parties because the plaintiffs either waived their convenience or made their own convenience determination when selecting the venue. In University of Maryland Medical Systems Corporation v. Kerrigan, 456 Md. 393 (2017), the Court of Appeals found that the deference afforded to plaintiffs’ choice of venue wanes when the plaintiffs do not reside in the selected forum, and is further diminished where the choice of venue has no meaningful ties to the controversy. The Court further found that deference to plaintiffs’ choice of venue should not be considered when weighing the convenience of the parties, and that the convenience of the plaintiffs must be considered even when it weighs against their choice of venue.
In Kerrigan, plaintiffs Brandon Kerrigan and his parents, who resided in Talbot County, Maryland, brought suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against seven defendants for medical malpractice. Four of the seven defendants resided or were based in Talbot County. Kerrigan’s claim arose out of medical treatment he received in both Talbot County and Baltimore City. Kerrigan visited a Talbot County physician for shortness of breath. After some testing he was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. Five days later he was admitted to the emergency room at Shore Medical, where examination revealed potential heart failure. Kerrigan was transported to the University of Maryland Medical System. Four months after his admission, he received a heart transplant. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted defendants’ motion to transfer venue pursuant to Md. R. 2-327(c). The Court of Special Appeals reversed finding that the balance of factors did not weigh strongly in favor of transfer.
The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals. The Court noted that while deference must be afforded to a plaintiff’s choice of venue, such deference “may face significant diminishment to the point of non-existence, depending on the circumstances.” Id. at 408. Where the plaintiffs were not residents of the venue in which the plaintiffs filed suit, plaintiffs’ choice of venue “has minimal value.” Moreover, where the plaintiffs’ selected venue had no meaningful ties to the action, such deference was further minimized. The Court found that the trial court properly gave some weight to the plaintiffs’ choice of venue but concluded that the other factors weighed strongly in favor of transfer.
Moreover, the Court of Appeals rejected two common arguments asserted by plaintiffs opposing motions to transfer venue. When plaintiffs select a venue in which they do not reside, they frequently argue that the Court should not consider the convenience of the plaintiffs because (1) they waived their own convenience or (2) their choice of venue should be determinative of the venue that is convenient for the plaintiff. The dissent in the Court of Appeals apparently agreed with the latter argument and stated that “when plaintiffs select a venue, they presumably make determinations of convenience for themselves. A trial court should not ignore the plaintiff’s choice when weighing convenience.” Id. at 425. However, the majority rejected these arguments. First, the Court explained that Rule 2-327(c) requires the trial judge to weigh the convenience of all parties, even when the convenience of the plaintiffs weighs against the plaintiffs’ choice of venue. Second, the Court stated “we have previously adopted deference to the plaintiff’s choice of venue as an additional factor to weigh, separate from the convenience of the parties, in the overall analysis.” Thus, the venue selected by the plaintiffs is not determinative of the venue that is convenient for the plaintiffs. Therefore, the Court found the trial court properly considered the convenience of the plaintiffs and did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the convenience of the parties weighed strongly in favor of transfer.