Pennsylvania Cases To Watch In 2014

January 1, 2014

Courts across Pennsylvania are poised to address a number of key cases in 2014 that could significantly change forum selection rules in civil cases, lead to the adoption of updated tort laws, strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and more clearly define defenses that contractors can use in workplace injury suits. Here are some of the cases winding their way through the state and federal court systems in Pennsylvania that attorneys will be watching closely in 2014.

Alexander Bratic et al. v. Charles Rubendall et al.

In a case that could upend Philadelphia’s reputation as a plaintiff-friendly venue, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to rule on how state judges should deal with forum non conveniens motions, a tactic defense attorneys use to transfer cases to different venues by arguing the plaintiff’s choice of forum imposes an unfair burden.

Attorneys say a ruling making it easier for defendants to transfer cases out of a plaintiff’s  original venue could set a precedent that would result in product liability, personal injury and  other high verdict- yielding lawsuits moving out of Philadelphia, which has long been known as a  favorable venue for plaintiffs.

“I think it has the potential of changing litigation in general,” said Joseph Podraza, an attorney with Sprague & Sprague representing the plaintiffs. “If the standard is relaxed, it would be the  first time in jurisprudence throughout the country where the plaintiff’s forum could be changed  based on convenience rather than a higher harassment or oppression standard.”

“Forum non conveniens would become routine,” he added. “The greatest concern I have is that it  could be manufactured with boilerplate affidavits that any entity could generate.”

The case before the justices stems from a bid by Keefer Wood Allen & Rahal LLP to transfer a suit it was facing in Philadelphia County to Dauphin County. The firm was sued, alongside attorney Charles Rubendall and two insurance companies, in 2009 by Alexander Bratic and Joseph Proko, who  alleged wrongful use of civil process and abuse of process. The suit was a response to an earlier  case in which the insurers, Residential Warranty Corp. of Pennsylvania and Integrity Underwriters  Inc., represented by Keefer Wood, unsuccessfully targeted Bratic and Proko for tortious interference.

After a Philadelphia County judge and a three-judge Superior Court panel agreed that the case should be transferred to Dauphin County, the home of all four defendants, an en banc Superior Court panel  ruled that moving the case based simply on affidavits claiming that hearing the suit in Philadelphia would be “disruptive” ran counter to legal precedent.

Regardless of how the court rules, a decision should clarify the standards that parties need to meet when making venue decisions, often a hotly contested issue in civil litigation, said Chip Becker, an attorney with Kline & Specter PC in Philadelphia.

“Bractic is important because it will govern details of the venue-change analysis – the evidence needed to permit a venue transfer and trial court discretion over the transfer issue,” he said.

The case was argued in November.

Rubendall is represented by Jeffrey Lerman of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP and Stephen Kurens of Sirlin Lesser & Benson PC.

Bratic is represented by Joseph Podraza and Richard Sprague of Sprague & Sprague, Lloyd Parry of Davis Parry & Tyler PC, and Glenn Rosenblum.

 The case is Alexander Bratic et al. v. Charles Rubendall et al., case number 21 EAP 2013, in the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania.

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