In Ewert v. Holzer Clinic, Inc., the Fourth District Court of Appeals of Ohio upheld the trial court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion for a change of venue of its wrongful death suit against three medical providers, including a clinic, a hospital and a physician. The suit was filed in Gallia County, but the plaintiff subsequently sought to have the case moved to an adjoining county. The plaintiff asserted that, due to the clinic’s size and presence in the county, the change in venue was necessary to ensure that the plaintiff would receive a fair and impartial trial.
The plaintiff’s request was based on an Ohio statute permitting a change of venue in corporate suits. The Ohio Code provides for a change of venue to the adjoining county most convenient for both parties if the following conditions are met
- A corporation with more than 50 stockholders is a party in a lawsuit.
- The suit is in the same county where the corporation keeps its principal office or conducts its principal business.
- An affidavit is filed by the opposing party, stating a belief that a fair and impartial trial cannot be had in that county.
- The application is supported by the affidavits of five other, creditable residents in that county.
The plaintiff’s motion was supported by her affidavit and the affidavits of five other Gallia County residents, stating that the clinic had its principal office in the county, that it was a large physicians’ group with more than 50 stockholders, that it was one of the largest employers and one of the largest medical care providers in the county, and that, because of the clinic’s size, they did not believe that the plaintiff would be able to receive a fair and impartial trial in the county. The plaintiff also submitted an uncertified list of the clinic’s shareholders that was more than two years when the lawsuit was filed.
The defendants opposed the motion, arguing that the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure was controlling on the issue of venue, rather than the Ohio Code, and that the case was properly filed in the right county under the Rule. At a hearing on the motion, the plaintiff did not present any evidence regarding the current number of shareholders of the clinic and failed to present any witness testimony whatsoever. The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion. After a jury trial, the jury issued a verdict in favor of the defendants.
The Fourth District’s ruling
The Fourth District upheld the trial court’s ruling, noting that the Ohio Code was a procedural statute that pre-dated the Modern Courts Amendment, a law which authorized the Ohio Supreme Court to adopt new rules of civil procedure governing venue. The Fourth Circuit held that the Ohio Code provision was invalid since it conflicted with the Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure.
The Fourth District also held that the affidavits submitted by the plaintiff were “broad and unsubstantiated statements” which did not provide adequate proof under the requirements of the Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure that the plaintiff could not receive a fair trial in the county, where the affiants merely stated that the clinic was one of the largest employers and providers of medical care in Gallia County, and then gave that as the sole basis for believing that the plaintiff could not have a fair trial in that county.
Companies confronted with legal disputes are urged to consult a qualified attorney, experienced in such matters, to protect their business interests.