Water’s Edge Dermatology, LCC v. Christopherson
6/7/23, Judge Forst
Ms. Christopherson is a plaintiff who sued her dermatologist and the provider LLC. A year after treating with Doctor Montie, Christopherson (“Plaintiff”) discovered that she had skin cancer. She sued in Broward County for medical negligence/malpractice and against the LCC for vicarious liability.
The Plaintiff resided in Indian River County, but she alleged that Broward County was a proper venue because one or more of the defendants and their officers were in Broward. Dr. Montie actually resided in Martin County, which, like Indian River County, is located in the 19th Judicial Circuit. Broward County is the only county in the 17th Judicial Circuit, and its principal judicial complex is 120 miles sound of the LLC’s Vero Beach office.
Dr. Montie and the LLC moved to transfer venue to the 19th Judicial Circuit, arguing forum non conveniens. Dr. Montie argued that Broward was inconvenient because neither the doctor nor his staff resided in or practiced in Broward. All of Plaintiff’s treatment occurred in the Vero Beach office in the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit. Defendants later amended the motion to specify Indian River County as the preferred county within the 19th Judicial Circuit. After Dr. Montie died, his estate became the substitute defendant, and his widow attested that the case remaining in Broward County would pose a hardship to her as the single parent of a young child.
Plaintiff countered the motion with six affidavits from friends and family and her oncologist who swore that testifying in Broward County would not be inconvenient for them, though none of the affidavits stated that Broward County was connected to Plaintiff’s treatment.
The trial court denied the motion to transfer, citing “insufficient evidence.” Defendants appealed. Nonfinal orders that “concern venue” are appealable under Rule 9.130(a)(3)(A), Fla. R. App. P.
The DCA noted case law that states that a plaintiff’s selection of venue will not be disturbed as long as it is justifiable under the venue statute, but then the DCA stated that courts should consider, under section 47.122, (1) the convenience of the parties, (2), the convenience of the witnesses, and (3) the interests of justice, with the convenience of the witnesses being the most important. The DCA also cited caselaw that stated that the plaintiff’s selection of venue “is no longer the factor of over- riding importance.”
The DCA then stated that while the standard of review is abuse of discretion, a trial court abuses its discretion in denying a transfer of venue based on forum non conveniens where “there is only an attenuated connection to a venue that bears no relation to the lawsuit’s critical events.” The DCA held that Indian River County was the “more appropriate and convenient venue over Broward County” because all of the Defendants, staff, and treatment occurred there. The only connection to Broward was that the LLC “transacts business there, but its business in Broward County bears no relation to Patient’s treatment by” the LLC or the doctor. Plaintiff’s law firm was located in Broward, but “the convenience of the attorneys ‘is usually accorded very little, if any, weight.”
The DCA also noted that in terms of the “interests of justice” prong, the avoidance of a crowded docket and the imposition of jury duty on an uninvolved community could be taken into account. The DCA seems to have taken judicial notice, not viewed any record evidence, to conclude that, based on a quote in a prior case, “Broward County is a larger, more populous county, has crowded dockets, and the community has virtually no connection to the case.” Thus, the DCA held that the “interests of justice strongly favor change of venue to Indian River County.”
(NOTE: The unspoken issue in the case is that Broward County tilts heavily in favor of registered Democrat voters1, while Indian River County tilts heavily in favor of Republican registered voters, which may have resulted in the plaintiff’s attorneys assuming that Broward was a more plaintiff-friendly venue than Indian River).
The DCA found that the Defendants met their burden to show that the venue was inconvenient and that the plaintiff did not meet her burden to show that Broward County was proper. REVERSED AND REMANDED with instructions to grant the motion.