The outcome a Maryland trial can be pre-ordained depending on where the plaintiff attorney files the lawsuit. That is because jury pools vary significantly in Maryland. Obviously, a Western Maryland (e.g Hagerstown) Jury is going to have much different life experiences than a Baltimore City Jury. This week the Court of Special Appeals issued a well written opinion summarizing the law of forum non-conveniens in Maryland. Forum Non-Conveniens Motions are based on Maryland Rule of Procedure 2-327 (c).
The rule provides that:
(c) Convenience of the Parties and Witnesses. - On motion of any party, the court may transfer any action to any other circuit court where the action might have been brought if the transfer is for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and serves the interests of justiceIn Smith v. Johns Hopkins Community Physicians the plaintiffs filed suit in Baltimore City (a preferred plaintiff's venue--in other words known for plaintiff verdicts and jury outcomes that fairly and properly compensate injured plaintiffs). It is a Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Case. The Defendants then filed a motion to transfer venue based on forum non-conveniens asking the Court to transfer the case to Baltimore County (a preferred defendant's venue---in other words, known for defense verdicts and low verdicts). The Trial Judge in Baltimore City Circuit Court---Judge Cannon-reviewed the motion, the opposition to the motion and ruled without a hearing that the case should be transferred to Baltimore County because the plaintiff lived there.
The Plaintiffs filed an immediate appeal to Maryland's Court of Special Appeals. It is important to note that most trial court orders are not immediately appealable (you have to wait until the trial is over to take an appeal). However when a judge grants a motion to transfer based on forum non-conveniens the aggrieved party is entitled to an immediate expedited appeal. That is what happened here.
Maryland law required that the Court of Special Appeals review the trial judge's decision to transfer the case from Baltimore City to Baltimore County on an "abuse of discretion standard." What that means is that the Court must uphold the trial judge's finding unless it determines that the trial judge abused her discretion. This is a difficult legal standard to overcome---and as a practice note----trial lawyers know that if they lose the transfer of forum issue at the trial court level, getting the issue reversed on appeal is highly unlikely.
The bottom line is that the Court of Special Appeals ruled that the trial Judge (Judge Cannon) did not commit error and her transfer of the case to Baltimore County was upheld. The Court opinion concluded by saying
"Substantively we see no error. Baltimore County was far and away a more convenient forum than Baltimore City. A forum conveniens is always to be preferred over a forum non conveniens. Procedurally we see no error. Judge Cannon did everything she was required to do and she did it impeccably well."This medical malpractice case is going to be decided by a Baltimore County jury rather than a Baltimore City jury. Frankly, this reduces the settlement value of the case.