• Convenience to a Defendant Does Not Outweigh Justice
  • August 10, 2009 | Author: Christopher R. West
  • Law Firm: Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • AES Sparrows Point LNG, LLC v. Critical Area Commission, No. 2428 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 29, 2009)

    In AES Sparrows Point LNG, LLC v. Critical Area Commission, one of the defendants, Baltimore County, filed a Motion for Non Conveniens to transfer the action from Anne Arundel County to Baltimore County. Baltimore County argued that it was more convenient to litigate the case in Baltimore County and that the citizens of Baltimore County had more of an interest in the case than the citizens of Anne Arundel County.

    This action arose because the Critical Area Commission unanimously voted to bar AES from shipping liquefied natural gas to Sparrow’s Point, Maryland, which is located in Baltimore County. AES claims that the Critical Area Commission improperly held an ex parte hearing, which illegally influenced its vote. This case is the most recent development in a long lasting effort by Baltimore County to prevent AES from shipping liquefied natural gas to Baltimore County. Baltimore County has enacted multiple ordinances preventing AES from operating in Sparrows Point; however, all of Baltimore County’s ordinances have been struck down as either unconstitutional or in violation of federal law. Most recently, Baltimore County enlisted the support of the Critical Area Commission to prevent AES from operating in Baltimore County.

    AES filed its suit against Baltimore County and the Critical Area Commission in Anne Arundel County. Anne Arundel County was an appropriate venue for the action because Baltimore County maintains an office in Anne Arundel County and the Critical Area Commission’s main office is located in Anne Arundel County. However, upon motion by Baltimore County, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge transferred the action to Baltimore County. The Court reasoned that Baltimore County was more convenient for the defendant Baltimore County. The Court also reasoned that the citizens of Baltimore County maintain an interest in the outcome of the case and the interest of justice requires that those citizens have an opportunity to attend the case in their own county.

    The Court of Special Appeals overturned the Circuit Court and transferred the case back to Anne Arundel County. The Court of Special Appeals reasoned that Anne Arundel County was more convenient for the defendant, Critical Area Commission, whose main office is located in Anne Arundel County, and for the plaintiff AES, whose main office is located in Virginia. The interest of one defendant does not strongly outweigh the interest of another defendant and the plaintiff. Additionally, the Court reasoned that considering the interest of the citizens hearing the case should not factor into the calculus of deciding such a motion. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals held that the Circuit Court erred by transferring venue.

    This case helps plaintiffs forum shop between appropriate venues. When multiple defendants are involved, the convenience of one defendant does not trump the convenience of any other defendant. When there are multiple defendants, the court will usually uphold the plaintiff’s choice of venue.