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Can a Municipal Defendant be Sued in a Venue Outside of Its Own County

Under most circumstances in New York State a municipal defendant (county, city, village, school district and/or municipal corporations) must be sued in the county in which they are residing.  This rule is mandated by law, under CPLR 504(1) and/or (2).  The law states that the place of trial for all actions against any municipal defendant will the county in which it is situated.  Though this may seem like black letter law, under certain circumstances the Courts will allow a plaintiff to sue a municipal defendant in a foreign county.

In rare circumstances a county can be sued in a Court outside of the County that the municipality is situated.  One example of this is when a plaintiff is suing a bus company for motor vehicle negligence.  If a county bus line is being operated by a private bus company who obtains a contract from the County which absolves the County of liability from management, supervision and control of the buses, it is possible to sue the County and private bus company in a foreign County.  In certain situations the County may be considered a “nominal” defendant; that being a defendant who may be the legal owner of the physical bus, but otherwise has no control over its management and operation.  If the County is considered a nominal defendant the plaintiff may be able to sue the County in a foreign Court.  Of course, further facts are necessary to allow a plaintiff to sue in a foreign venue.

First, the plaintiff must be residing in the venue which they intend to file suit making it a proper venue pursuant to CPLR 503(a).  Second, the county bus should be operating in the County which the plaintiff files suit at the time of the negligence.  An example of this would be a Westchester County bus which is operated by a private bus company and gets in to a car accident while driving in Bronx County.  If the injured passenger is a Bronx County resident and the accident occurred in Bronx County the plaintiff may be able to sue the Westchester County bus company in Bronx County.

Further facts that would help the plaintiff’s argument for venue would be if the Bronx County police investigated the accident.  Also, if the plaintiff treated for their injuries in Bronx County and if there were Bronx County witnesses that would be called at the time of trial.  All of these factors would make Bronx County the most convenient venue for the plaintiff’s lawsuit.  Under these rare circumstances the Court may decide to not follow the law set forth in CPLR 504 and allow the plaintiff to sue in the most convenient venue.

This could also be applied to a lawsuit against a municipal police force that is operating outside of the County which they are situated i.e. a car accident in a neighboring County or a fugitive arrest in a foreign county within the state.

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