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  • Official citation: Smith v Colonial Penn Insurance Company, [1996] USFJDO 1

Good ol' son-of-a-bitch (with all due respect) Mr. Justice Samuel Kent of Galveston, Texas (born 1949), presided over the United States District Court for almost twenty years (click here for his horrific biography which led to his impeachment).

He was just getting started in a career which had more than one fun, USFJDO-merit award, and a career which would lend in disgrace and a prison term.

He also wrote the notable decisions in Republic of Bolivia v Philip Morris, [1999] USFJDO 1 and Bradshaw v Unity Marine Corporation, [2001] USFJDO 1.

Still, in November 1996, lawyers in black suits presented themselves before him in the case of Stephanie Smith versus her insurance company.

An attorney with an extremely impressive name (James Robert Scott, Esquire, of Hirsch Glover Robinson & Sheiness, Houston) appeared before Justice Kent on behalf of the insurance company Colonial Penn, armed with §1404(a) of the United States Code, Chapter 28. According to that section of law, as is standard procedure in most free and democratic societies, the court has the freedom to transfer a civil action elsewhere if it is more convenient for the parties and the witnesses.

And here is Justice Samuel Kent's opinion, duly recorded and ultimately reported elsewhere and now, here, at [1996] USFJDO 1.

Kent SamuelWe have taken some liberties with the reasons for judgment but only a tiny transgression for which the author, ex-federal inmate Samuel Kent, and our devoted readers will likely show understanding in that we have inserted the text of the two footnotes right into the opinion.

This is a breach of contract case based on an insurance contract entered into by Plaintiff and Defendant. Now before the Court is Defendant's October 11, 1996 motion to transfer venue from the Galveston Division to the Houston Division.... For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied....

Defendant's request for a transfer of venue is centered around the fact that Galveston does not have a commercial airport into which Defendant's employees and corporate representatives may fly and out of which they may be expediently whisked to the federal courthouse in Galveston. Rather, Defendant contends that it will be faced with the huge inconvenience of flying into Houston and driving less than forty miles to the Galveston courthouse, an act that will encumber it with unnecessary driving time and expenses.

The Court certainly does not wish to encumber any litigant with such an onerous burden.

The Court, being somewhat familiar with the Northeast, notes that perceptions about travel are different in that part of the country than they are in Texas. A litigant in that part of the country could cross several states in a few hours and might be shocked at having to travel fifty miles to try a case, but in this vast state of Texas, such a travel distance would not be viewed with any surprise or consternation. The sun is 'rize, the sun is set, and we is still in Texas yet!

Defendant should be assured that it is not embarking on a three-week-long trip via covered wagons when it travels to Galveston. Rather, Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court's predecessor, Judge Roy Bean, the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind.

Moreover, the speed limit was recently increased to seventy miles per hour on most of the road leading to Galveston, so Defendant should be able to hurtle to justice at lightning speed.

To assuage Defendant's worries about the inconvenience of the drive, the Court notes that Houston's Hobby Airport is located about equal drive-time from downtown Houston and the Galveston courthouse. Defendant will likely find it an easy, traffic-free ride to Galveston as compared to a congested, construction-riddled drive to downtown Houston.

The Court notes that any inconvenience suffered in having to drive to Galveston may likely be offset by the peacefulness of the ride and the scenic beauty of the sunny isle.

The convenience of the witnesses and the parties is generally a primary concern of this Court when considering transfer motions. However, vague statements about the convenience of unknown and unnamed witnesses is insufficient to convince this Court that the convenience of the witnesses and the parties would be best served by transferring venue.... In the Court's view, even if all the witnesses, documents, and evidence relevant to this case were located within walking distance of the Houston Division courthouse, the inconvenience caused by retaining the case in this Court would be minimal at best in this age of convenient travel, communication, discovery, and trial testimony preservation. The Galveston Division courthouse is only about fifty miles from the Houston Division courthouse. It is not as if the key witnesses will be asked to travel to the wilds of Alaska or the furthest reaches on the Continental United States.

As to Defendant's argument that Houston might also be a more convenient forum for Plaintiff, the Court notes that Plaintiff picked Galveston as her forum of choice even though she resides in San Antonio. Defendant argues that flight travel is available between Houston and San Antonio but is not available between Galveston and San Antonio, again because of the absence of a commercial airport. Alas, this Court's kingdom for a commercial airport!The Court is unpersuaded by this argument because it is not this Court's concern how Plaintiff gets here, whether it be by plane, train, automobile, horseback, foot, or on the back of a huge Texas jackrabbit, as long as Plaintiff is here at the proper date and time. Thus, the Court declines to disturb the forum chosen by the Plaintiff and introduce the likelihood of delay inherent in any transfer simply to avoid the insignificant inconvenience that Defendant may suffer by litigating this matter in Galveston rather than Houston....

For the reasons stated above, Defendant's Motion to Transfer is hereby denied.....

REFERENCES:

  • Smith v Colonial Penn Insurance Company, [1996] USFJDO 1. Also known as cited in the printed law reports as 943 F. Supp. 782.