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Comfort Sys. of Va. v. P. J. Potter Enters., 2020 Va. Cir. LEXIS 19 (City of Chesapeake Cir. Ct. Feb. 11, 2020)

Comfort Systems of Virginia, Inc., et al (“Petitioners”) engaged in an arbitration with P. J. Potter Enterprises, Inc., et al (“Respondents”). The Petitioners are located in Chesapeake and the Respondents are located in Suffolk. Prior to the final arbitration award (“Order”), a settlement agreement containing the agreement to arbitrate, a signed term sheet setting forth the particulars of the arbitration, and meetings with the arbitrator occurred in Virginia Beach. The final telephone conference resulting in the arbitrator’s issuance of the Order was held while one attorney was in South Carolina and the arbitrator was not in Virginia Beach.

The Petitioners filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for the City of Chesapeake seeking to vacate the arbitration Order. The Respondents filed a motion to change venue. The Uniform Arbitration Act (“UAA”) provides that, if the arbitration agreement does not specify a venue and no arbitration hearing has occurred, then venue is determined pursuant to the venue statutes in Chapter 5 of Title 8.01 of the Code of Virginia. Here, the arbitration agreement did not specify a venue and no arbitration hearing took place within the meaning of the UAA because Petitioners did not have the opportunity to present evidence at the telephone conference between counsel and the arbitrator. Subsection 3 of the Category B venue provides that venue is proper where there is a practical nexus to the forum wherein the defendant regularly conducts substantial business activity. As such, the Court disregarded the Petitioners’ arguments about the Petitioners regularly conducting business in Chesapeake. As to the Petitioners’ arguments that one of the Respondents secretly performed work for Respondent, P. J. Potter Enterprises, Inc., while employed by Petitioners, the Court held this was irregular business activity. Also, the Respondents’ dropping delivery of checks and other documents at Petitioners’ Chesapeake offices did not count as regular business activity. Because the corporate Respondent has its principal place of business in the City of Suffolk and such location was not inconvenient for the Petitioners, the Court transferred the venue of the matter to the Circuit Court for the City of Suffolk.

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