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Harter v. Eggleston – What is an Inconvenient Forum?

No. COA19-493 (unpublished)

Plaintiff-Father Alex Harter and Defendant-Mother Hayley Eggleston were never married but are the parents of one child, born in 2010. Father and Mother lived together from December 2009 until separating in September 2012. Since separating in September 2012, disagreements regarding the minor child’s custody have resulted in contentious litigation. Plaintiff-Father initiated action in Moore County, North Carolina. After the court entered a consent order on January 31, 2013, Defendant-Mother and the minor child moved to Ohio. On November 5, 2018, Mother filed a verified “Motion to Remove” the case to the State of Ohio because North Carolina was an inconvenient forum. Plaintiff-Father appealed from the trial court’s decision that North Carolina was an inconvenient forum and that Ohio was a more convenient forum.

Standard of Review: In determining whether one forum is more convenient than another, a trial court looks for sufficient findings of fact to demonstrate that it considered all of the relevant factors listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-207(b) (In re M.M., 230 N.C. App. at 228-29, 750 S.E.2d at 53). These factors are:

(1) Whether domestic violence has occurred and is likely to continue in the future and which state could best protect the parties and the child;

(2) The length of time the child has resided outside this State;

(3) The distance between the court in this State and the court in the state that would assume jurisdiction;

(4) The relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(5) Any agreement of the parties as to which state should assume jurisdiction;

(6) The nature and location of the evidence required to resolve the pending litigation, including testimony of the child;

(7) The ability of the court of each state to decide the issue expeditiously and the procedures necessary to present the evidence; and

(8) The familiarity of the court of each state with the facts and issues in the pending litigation (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-207(b)).

The trial court’s findings of fact that demonstrate these relevant factors are reviewed by the appellate court in its investigation as to whether enough evidence exists to support the decision.

Issue: Did the trial court err in its decision that North Carolina was an inconvenient forum, and Ohio was a convenient forum for litigating the matter?

Holding: No.

Rationale: Although Plaintiff-Father contends that several of the trial court’s findings of facts are not supported by competent evidence, the Court of Appeals notes that Plaintiff-Father cites no legal authority in his argument, causing his argument to lack merit. Both parties submitted verified motions to the trial court with relevant information concerning the factors listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-207(b), which the trial court used to assist in its determination. Moreover, the Court of Appeals notes that the trial court correctly concluded that Plaintiff-Father could better financially handle traveling from North Carolina to Ohio for litigation than Defendant-Mother could travel from Ohio to North Carolina. The trial court’s order declining to exercise jurisdiction over the custody matter was therefore affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Conclusion: If you feel the state in which your action has been filed is an inconvenient forum, consider the factors listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-207(b). These are the factors the trial court will be using to analyze whether the court should decline to exercise jurisdiction in your matter and move the case to a more convenient forum for the parties involved.