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Hagan v. Farmers Ins. Exch. - 2015 CO 6, 342 P.3d 427

Rule:

A party seeking to change venue under Colo. R. Civ. P. 98(f)(2) is required to support the motion with evidence indicating the identity of the witnesses, the nature, materiality and admissibility of their testimony, and how the witnesses would be better accommodated by the requested change in venue.

Facts:

Deanna Hagan (a driver) and her mother-in-law, Cynthia Ewald (her passenger), were involved in a car accident in Weld County. A third party, Abdi Abdullahi, allegedly collided with them after running a red light. Both Hagan and Ewald were hurt in the collision and received medical treatment for their injuries. Hagan and Ewald were insured by Farmers and had underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Abdullahi was insured by Young America Insurance (Young America). Young America paid Ewald and Hagan amounts to settle their claim and in reserve for additional exposure. Hagan and Ewald contend that they also were entitled to UIM benefits, which Farmers has refused to pay. Hagan (together with her husband) and Ewald filed separate lawsuits against Farmers in Boulder County District Court. The lawsuits asserted claims for breach of contract, bad faith breach of insurance contract, and improper denial of insurance claims in violation of  Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 10-3-1115 and 10-3-116.

In a second incident, James Mayfield was involved in a car accident in El Paso County with an UIM, Mark Merriman, who allegedly failed to stop at a traffic light. Mayfield was insured by Farmers and had UIM coverage. Mayfield then sought UIM benefits from Farmers. Farmers offered him $15,000 and refused to pay more. Mayfield filed a lawsuit against Farmers in Boulder County District Court. Mayfield asserted claims for breach of contract and improper denial of insurance claims in violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 10-3-1115(1)(a) and 10-3-1116(1). Mayfield's case was assigned to the same trial judge as the Hagans' case.

In each case, Farmers moved to change venue under Colo. R. Civ. P. 98(f)(2), alleging that a change would promote the convenience of witnesses and the ends of justice. Farmers supported its motions with attorney affidavits that purport to demonstrate—based on Google Maps printouts alone—that the transferee court is a more convenient venue for the plaintiffs and their medical treatment providers. The trial court granted the motions in all three cases.

Issue:

Was the trial court’s order for a change of venue proper?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

It was an abuse of discretion for the trial courts to order a change of venue without adequate supporting affidavits or an evidentiary hearing. Consequently, the  Supreme Court of Colorado made its rules to show cause absolute.

The Court held that the trial courts abused their discretion when they changed the venue in these cases.

First, the Court clarified that Boulder County District Court is a proper venue for all three cases. Under Rule 98(c)(1), Hagan and Mayfield were allowed to file their complaints in the county of their choice because Farmers is a nonresident defendant.

The trial courts granted the motions of Farmers without the requisite evidentiary support. Farmers’ affidavits primarily analyzed (1) the distance the plaintiffs and their medical treatment providers would have to travel to get to the proposed transferee court, as compared to the original venue, and (2) the approximate travel time to each venue. The Court disagreed with Farmers’ argument that because these travel distances and times are generally shorter for the proposed transferee court, the transferee court is necessarily a more convenient venue under Rule 98(f)(2). The problem was not in who provided the affidavits, but in their contents. The affidavits that Farmers submitted improperly focus on convenience to Hagan and Mayfield and do not satisfy the standard set forth, requiring a party seeking to change venue under Rule 98(f)(2) to support the motion with evidence indicating the identity of the witnesses, the nature, materiality and admissibility of their testimony, and how the witnesses would be better accommodated by the requested change in venue.

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