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Wilson v. Levine

December 16, 2008

SHARON C. WILSON, APPELLANT
v.
TERRI LEVINE, THE COACHING INSTITUTE AND COMPREHENSIVE COACHING U, INC., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order entered on October 12, 2007, in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Civil Division, at No(s). A.D. No. 2006-10892.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lally-green, J.

BEFORE: LALLY-GREEN, TAMILIA and COLVILLE*fn1, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 Appellant, Sharon C. Wilson ("Wilson"), appeals from the order entered on October 12, 2007, granting the petition and preliminary objections filed by the Appellees, Terri Levine, The Coaching Institute, and Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. The order transferred venue from Butler County to Montgomery County.*fn2 The order also sustained Appellees' preliminary objections to Wilson's amended complaint, and allowed her 20 days within which to file a second amended complaint. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand.

¶ 2 The crux of Wilson's complaint is that her partner in The Coaching Institute, Appellee Levine, arbitrarily and unilaterally reduced her percentage of profits from 50 to 30%. Appellee, Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc., was the entity that handled the business aspect of the parties' business, The Coaching Institute. The facts underlying this appeal, as gleaned from the trial court's October 12, 2007 opinion, follow:

Before this Court for consideration is the Defendants', Terri Levine, the Coaching Institute and Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc., (hereinafter "Defendants") Petition For Change Of Venue Pursuant To Pa.R.C.P. 1006(d)(1). Additionally, before this Court for consideration are the Defendants' Preliminary Objections To Plaintiff's Amended Complaint In The Nature Of Venue being improper as to defendant Terri Levine in Butler County Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. No. 1006(a)(1), Venue is improper as to Defendant Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc (sic) in Butler County pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. No. 2179(a), and Plaintiff's Complaint is in violation of Pa.R.C.P. 1028(2) for failure to comply with Pa.R.C.P. 1020(a). In the interests of judicial economy, all issues will be considered simultaneously. For the following reasons, the Petition For Change Of Venue Pursuant To Pa.R.C.P. 1006(d)(1) is GRANTED and the Preliminary Objections To Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are SUSTAINED.

I. Background

This case arises from businesses created by Sharon C. Wilson (hereinafter "Plaintiff") and Terri Levine (hereinafter "Ms. Levine") that involve life coaching. Ms. Levine is the sole owner of Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc., which has an office located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The Plaintiff, who lives in Butler County, Pennsylvania, and Ms. Levine, who resides in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, entered into an oral partnership agreement in December of 2004 to create a business known as The Coaching Institute.

After the partnership ceased to operate effectively and Ms. Levine terminated the Plaintiff's employment, the Plaintiff brought an Amended Complaint alleging a Breach of Contract, Unjust Enrichment, Conversion, the need for an Accounting, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, and payment under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law.

The Defendants are arguing that this matter should be transferred to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, as opposed to proceeding in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

Trial Court Opinion, 10/12/07, at 1-2.

¶ 3 Following oral argument, the court granted Appellees' preliminary objections on the basis of improper venue and Appellees' petition for change of venue on grounds of forum non conveniens. The case, therefore, was transferred to Montgomery County.

¶ 4 By this same order filed October 12, 2007, the court sustained Appellees' objections to Wilson's amended complaint and granted her 20 days within which to file a second amended complaint that complied with Pa.R.C.P. 1020(a). A timely notice of appeal was filed, and the court ordered Wilson to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement of errors. Wilson complied in timely fashion on November 16, 2007.*fn3

¶ 5 Wilson raises the following issues on appeal:

1. Did the trial court err in failing to accord the weight and deference due to plaintiff's choice of forum in granting Defendants' Petition to Transfer Pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 1006(d), and in finding that the mere availability of a different forum warranted a change in venue?

2. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in determining that Defendants had met their burden to establish, with detailed facts on the record, that Plaintiff's choice of Butler County was vexatious or oppressive to the Defendants in transferring this case to Montgomery County on grounds of forum non conveniens, where Defendants offered only conclusory statements, unsupported or contradicted by their own witnesses under oath at deposition, that demonstrated nothing more than inconvenience?

3. Did the trial court err in considering and crediting solely Defendant Levine's unsupported assertions of inability to travel and any purported inconvenience to Defendants' witnesses in finding that transfer was merited, while refusing to consider contradictory evidence that revealed frequent national and international travel by Levine, that Butler County was equally convenient to material witnesses of both parties, and further, that material witnesses of the Plaintiff would be substantially inconvenienced by transfer to Montgomery County?

4. Did the trial court err in summarily granting defendants' Preliminary Objections in the nature of venue and finding that venue in Butler County was improper, simply because the trial court had determined that transfer was merited on grounds of forum non conveniens, where the evidence clearly established that venue as to each Defendant was properly laid in Butler County pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and settled Pennsylvania case law?

Wilson's Brief at 4.

¶ 6 Our discussion is guided by the following:

A trial court's ruling on venue will not be disturbed if the decision is reasonable in light of the facts. A decision to transfer venue will not be reversed unless the trial court abused its discretion. A plaintiff's choice of forum is given great weight, and the burden is on the party challenging that choice to show it is improper.

Krosnowski v. Ward, 836 A.2d 143, 146 (Pa. Super. 2003) (en banc).

¶ 7 Essentially, Wilson contends that the trial court erred when it moved her case from Butler County to Montgomery County. We turn to Pa.R.C.P. 1006, which addresses venue and change of venue. Rules 1006(d)(1) and (e) provide, in relevant part:

(d)(1) For the convenience of parties and witnesses the court upon petition of any party may transfer an action to the appropriate court of any other county where the ...


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