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Johnson v. Johnson

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

December 27, 2019

BREANNA JEAN JOHNSON, Appellant,
v.
JOSEPH BRENDAN JOHNSON, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal pursuant to Fla. R. App. P. 9.130 from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Jared E. Smith, Judge.

          William S. Graessle and Jonathan W. Graessle of William S. Graessle, P.A., Jacksonville, for Appellant.

          Carla M. Sabbagh and Gregory D. Jones of Rywant, Alvarez, Jones, Russo & Guyton, P.A., Tampa, for Appellee.

          LaROSE, Judge.

         Breanna Jean Johnson appeals a nonfinal order granting her ex-husband Joseph Brendan Johnson's motion to transfer venue from Hillsborough County to Pasco County. Specifically, the order transferred Ms. Johnson's January 2019 petition for protection against domestic violence on behalf of the couple's minor son. We have jurisdiction, see Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3)(A) (permitting appeals from nonfinal orders "concern[ing] venue"), and we affirm.

         Background

         Since the dissolution of their marriage in 2016, the couple remains in a fraught and contentious relationship. We need not detail their legal history; suffice it to say that all their prior proceedings (dissolution, emergency motions and petitions, and modifications) have been heard in Pasco County. We also note that Ms. Johnson filed the January 2019 petition in Hillsborough County three days after a Pasco County trial court denied her December 2018 petition for injunction against domestic violence. In doing so, that trial court found that Ms. Johnson was not credible and was using the litigation as a weapon against her ex-husband.

         In response to the January 2019 petition, [1] Mr. Johnson filed an unsworn "Motion for change of venue," seeking to transfer the case to Pasco County. Mr. Johnson recited that

[a]lthough . . . the [January 2019 petition] could have been filed in both Hillsborough and Pasco Counties, the matter should be transferred to Pasco County as it is not only the most convenient forum, not just for the witnesses and the parties involved, but also the most appropriate forum in regards to the interests of justice and judicial economy.

See § 741.30(1)(k), Fla. Stat. (2018) ("Notwithstanding any provision of chapter 47, a petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence may be filed in the circuit where the petitioner currently or temporarily resides, where the respondent resides, or where the domestic violence occurred. There is no minimum requirement of residency to petition for an injunction for protection."); see also § 47.011, Fla. Stat. (2018) ("Actions shall be brought only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located.").

         At the hearing on the transfer motion, [2] the trial court heard argument from counsel; the parties offered no testimony. Mr. Johnson stressed that "everything is still in Pasco County." Ms. Johnson countered that the parties live in Hillsborough County. Interestingly, though, when Ms. Johnson filed the December 2018 petition in Pasco County, both parties were living in Hillsborough County. She also contended that the therapists who would testify at the injunction hearing have offices in Hillsborough, and "[t]he majority of the acts alleged in this petition also occurred in Hillsborough."

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that the "interest of justice" required the transfer of the case to Pasco County because all of the parties' prior and existing family law cases had been litigated or remained to be litigated there:

[H]owever we slice it, the case is in Pasco County. . . . You've got the dissolution action there, timesharing is there, knowledge base is there, case history is there. I don't have any of that benefit. And it sounds like there's even motions for ...

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