It has been almost one year since the New York legislature amended CPLR 503(a) to provide for venue in “the county in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred.” Yet a recent decision by Commercial Division Justice Andrea Masley shows that some practitioners have either forgotten about the amendments or never got the memo. But have no fear—the court held that a plaintiff who fails to properly designate venue on the summons may nonetheless submit alternative grounds for the original venue designation in an affidavit responding to a demand to transfer venue.
In Faustino v. Amin, the plaintiff asserted derivative claims of theft and misallocation of inventory, including Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezys and Jeff Staple x Nike SB footwear, against co-owners of Lower East Side “sneaker destination” Extra Butter. The summons incorrectly alleged that venue was proper in New York County because the nominal defendant’s principal place of business was New York County. Although Extra Butter’s flagship retail store was in fact located in New York County, the nominal defendant’s articles of incorporation designated Suffolk County as the principal place of business. Accordingly, defendants filed and served a demand to change venue to Nassau County, where the defendants claimed was geographically convenient to the parties and material witnesses.
In response to this demand to transfer venue, the plaintiff filed an affidavit stating that the alleged theft and other relevant events occurred at Extra Butter’s Lower East Side location, and venue was therefore proper under CPLR 503(a). Defendants then moved to transfer venue, without addressing in their motion whether material events occurred in New York County (or even acknowledging the amended language in CPLR 503[a]). Defendants’ argued instead that the plaintiff had forfeited his right to select venue by falsely alleging in the summons that venue was proper based on residence, and that defendants were therefore entitled as of right to transfer venue to Nassau County.
The court rejected defendants’ arguments based on the parties’ residence. Pursuant to CPLR 503(a), as amended in 2017, the events giving rise to the parties’ dispute sufficiently conferred venue in New York County. The court further held that Plaintiff did not forfeit his right to designate venue in New York County by falsely alleging the nominal defendants’ New York County residence as the basis for venue, because Plaintiff’s complaint and affidavit responding to the demand to change venue set forth events giving rise to the claim in New York County. As for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, the Court held that geographic proximity to the parties was not, on its own, a sufficient basis to transfer venue.
The court further addressed inadequacies in defendants’ argument concerning the convenience to witnesses. Because defendants did not provide a detailed account of the proposed witnesses’ identities, the nature and materiality of their anticipated testimony, and the manner in which they would be inconvenienced, the court denied the discretionary request to transfer venue. The court held, citing the First Department’s decision in Hernandez v Rodriguez, 5 AD3d 269, 269-270 [1st Dept 2004], that such a showing was an essential prerequisite to change venue based on inconvenience to witnesses. Fatal to the Defendants’ motion with respect to the inconvenience of witnesses was that there was no evidence in the record that Defendants had ever contacted the witnesses to inquire as to the inconvenience of New York County.
The court’s decision in Faustino v. Amin thus serves as an important reminder to practitioners that parties who conduct business in a far-away county may be required to defend claims there arising out of such business, even if none of the parties or witnesses are residents of that county. To avoid venue based on inconvenience, the movant must offer detailed and compelling proof based on first-hand contact with potential witnesses.
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