Venue for Civil Lawsuits in North Carolina
One of the first things that needs to be decided when initiating a civil action is where to file the lawsuit. Where the lawsuit is filed and litigated is referred to as the “venue.” Venue must be proper to avoid having the case transferred to a different county or dismissed outright.
North Carolina law states that venue is generally proper in the county in which any party is a resident at the commencement of the action. Individuals are said to reside where they live and intend to remain (this is called “domicile”). If real property is at issue in the lawsuit then venue will only be appropriate in the county in which the real property at issue is located. Otherwise, if the accident or contract at issue in the lawsuit was carried out in a county where one of the parties is currently a resident then that county will often be the most convenient venue but venue doesn’t necessarily have to be there.
Corporations are subject to special venue rules. Under North Carolina law, North Carolina corporations are said to reside in the county “where the registered or principal office of the corporation, limited partnership, limited liability company, or registered limited liability partnership is located.” Actions against corporations that were formed in other states or foreign countries may be filed in the county in which: (1) the cause of action took place, (2) the corporation regularly does business, (3) the corporation has property, or (4) one of the plaintiffs resides.
Even if venue is proper, the action can still be removed to a different county “when the convenience of witnesses and the ends of justice would be promoted by the change.” Therefore, a proper and convenient venue will often be chosen over a proper but inconvenient venue. However, a lawsuit may be tried in an improper venue if a defendant does not object to the plaintiff’s chosen venue within the time required by law.
If the defendant does object to venue, the remedy for improper venue may be transfer to a proper venue or dismiss the lawsuit. However, in order to avoid the harsh result of dismissing a case based on venue, courts will usually just remove the case to the county in which venue is proper. Similarly, many courts will often treat motions to dismiss based on improper venue as motions to transfer venue instead. If the lawsuit was brought in a proper but inconvenient venue then the court may choose to transfer the matter to a more convenient venue.
For an example of the North Carolina venue rules consider this fact pattern: a plaintiff living in Davidson County has filed a lawsuit against both a corporation with its principal offices in Forsyth County and a different corporation registered in Guilford County. In that situation, venue is proper in Davidson, Forsyth, or Guilford counties. If the lawsuit is based on an accident that occurred in Forsyth County then Forsyth County is likely to be the most convenient venue for the parties and witnesses involved in the lawsuit. Therefore, even though venue would also be technically proper in Davidson or Guilford Counties, the lawsuit should be filed in Forsyth County in order to avoid potentially being transferred later on. However, if the lawsuit was filed in Alamance County then venue would be improper and one of the two defendants may file a motion to transfer venue to a county in which venue is proper.