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The only proper venue for a civil harassment claim that does not involve allegations of physical abuse is the county of the defendant’s residence

California

,

USA

Civil Harassment Claims Do Not Typically Qualify for the “Injury to Person” Exception to the General Venue Rule In Williams v. Superior Court, A163389 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2021), the defendant in a civil harassment proceeding sought writ review of an order denying her motion to change venue to her county of residence.The plaintiff argued that his harassment claim was one “for injury to a person” for the purpose of the general venue statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 395, such that it made the venue in the place where the harassment allegedly occurred proper. He also argued that the venue provisions of Judicial Council form CH-100 provided a basis for venue in the county where the harassment allegedly occurred.The California Court of Appeal for the First District rejected both arguments and granted the defendant’s petition. Case Summary The case arose from a dispute between the plaintiff, a general contractor, and the defendant, a homeowner. After their relationship broke down, the defendant sent a series of emails to the plaintiff from either her home in Alameda County or her husband’s office in Stanislaus County. The plaintiff alleged that these emails were harassment and filed an action in Contra Costa County, where he received and was impacted by the allegedly harassing communications.The defendant moved to change venue to Alameda County, her county of residence, arguing that because the civil harassment statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 527.6) did not contain venue provisions, the general venue statute governed, and the venue was only proper in the county in which she resided. The trial court denied the motion on basis of the defendant’s Judicial Council form argument. Trying an Action in a Venue Other than that of the Defendant’s Residence is Exceptional On appeal, the Court of Appeal noted that the general rule is that venue is proper only in the county of the defendant’s residence. Thus, the right of a plaintiff to have an action tried in a county other than that of the defendant’s residence is exceptional. The plaintiff must bring herself within an exception to escape this rule (at 4).The second sentence of Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 395(a) provides an exception to the general rule for cases involving “injury to person.” Those cases may be commenced in either the county where the injury occurs or the county where the defendant resides (at 4). Harassment is Not an “Injury to Person” The Court of Appeal found that a civil harassment lawsuit does not qualify for the “injury to person” exception to the general venue rule even though the plaintiff may claim to have suffered physical ailments because of the harassment (as in this case). Such ailments do not have a definite situs and therefore do not qualify as an “injury to person” as that term is used in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 395(a) (at 5-10). The Venue Options Available on Judicial Council Forms are not Determinative The plaintiff’s second argument, and the argument persuasive to the trial court, was that the second option was set forth in the “Venue” section of the Judicial Council CH-100 form (“Request for Civil Harassment Restraining Orders”) stated, “b. [] I was harassed by the person [against whom an injunction is sought] in this county.”The Court of Appeal held that while the Judicial Council can be tasked with formulating rules and forms to augment and implement statutory and common law, the Judicial Council could not, by way of a form, alter the statutory law governing venue (at 11-12).Further, the second venue option on the form was not necessarily in conflict with the provisions of Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 395 because there could be situations in which the harassment involved abusive physical conduct. The mere fact that a party seeking a civil harassment restraining order checks the second box in the “Venue” section of the Judicial Council CH-100 form is not conclusive as to venue. Rather, when venue is challenged, the trial court must examine the allegations set forth in the form to determine whether the claim is one “for injury to person” as that terminology is used and understood in the context of the law governing venue (at 12).

April 14, 2022
Williams v. Superior Court, A163389 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2021)
California Courts