Appeal from Bullock Circuit Court. (CV-95-13). William H. Robertson, Bullock Circuit Court, TRIAL JUDGE.
Released for Publication April 26, 1996.
Shores, Justice. Hooper, C.j., and Maddox, Houston, Kennedy, Ingram, Cook, and Butts, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shores
PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS
Integon Corporation and James T. Lambie petition this Court for a writ of mandamus ordering the Circuit Court of Bullock County to grant their motions to dismiss or, in the alternative, to grant their motions for a change of venue. The motions to dismiss are based on Ala. Code 1975, § 6-5-430. The motions for change of venue are based on Ala. Code 1975, § 6-3-21.1.
Integon Corporation is a holding company organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. It has its principal place of business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Integon owns several insurance companies, including at least one subsidiary that has policyholders in Alabama. James T. Lambie is the president of Integon; he is a resident and citizen of North Carolina. The Innovative Company, Inc., is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. Innovative is a holding company with its principal place of business in Birmingham, Alabama. The principal asset held by Innovative is Universal Insurance Company, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of North Carolina and with a principal place of business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Universal is wholly owned by Innovative. The respondents M. Lee Mitchell, W.E. Love, and T.E. Walker own stock in Innovative. Mitchell and Walker reside in Birmingham. Love lives in North Carolina.
In the fall of 1993, Lambie, as president of Integon, contacted Love and inquired about the possibility of Integon's purchasing Universal. The contact was by telephone and was made while both Love and Lambie were in North Carolina. Subsequent communications between Love and Lambie indicated that Universal's management might be interested in a purchase by Integon. Several meetings were held at Integon's offices in Winston-Salem between the principals on both sides of the transaction. Subsequently, it became apparent that, to obtain Universal, Integon would have to purchase Innovative and acquire the stock held by Mitchell, Love, and Walker. During these negotiations, the parties held several meetings. All of the meetings, except for one, were held in North Carolina. The other meeting was held at the Atlanta, Georgia, airport. No meetings were held in Alabama.
On February 23, 1994, Mitchell signed a letter of intent on behalf of the sellers. After the signing, Integon conducted a "due diligence" review of the transaction; it was conducted in Winston-Salem. Apparently all of the documents involved in the due diligence review came from Universal's offices in Winston-Salem. The letter of intent stated that the parties were to "attempt to negotiate and prepare" an agreement to consummate the transaction. All meetings between the parties attempting to prepare this definitive agreement occurred in Winston-Salem.
The parties, being unable to reach a definitive agreement, discontinued Discussions. On March 2, 1995, Innovative, Universal, Mitchell, Love, and Walker sued Integon and Lambie in the Circuit Court of Bullock County, Alabama. In their complaint, they alleged that Integon's Discussions about purchasing Innovative (and thus Universal) had been a "hoax" and that Integon's decision not to purchase Innovative had caused "catastrophic" financial and personnel problems at Universal. Their complaint stated various claims of breach of contract and fraud, all based on Integon's not purchasing Innovative.
Integon moved to dismiss the case under § 6-5-430, so that the case could be litigated in North Carolina, or, in the alternative, to transfer the action, pursuant to § 6-3-21.1, to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. The circuit court denied the motion. Integon then filed a "motion for reconsideration," based on Ex parte New England Mut. Life Ins. Co., [Ms. 1940934, July 7, 1995] So.2d (Ala. 1995). The circuit court denied that motion. This mandamus petition followed.
Mandamus is a drastic and extraordinary writ, to be issued only where there is (1) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court. A petition for the writ of mandamus is a proper method for presenting a venue challenge based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Ex parte Pearson Management Co., [Ms. 1940159, July 28, 1995] So.2d (Ala. 1995); Ex parte Alabama Power Co., 640 So. 2d 921 (Ala. 1994); Ex parte Ford Motor Credit Co., 561 So. 2d 244 (Ala. Civ. App. 1990). When we consider a mandamus petition relating to a venue ruling, our scope of review is to determine if the trial court abused its discretion, i.e., whether it exercised its discretion in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Ex parte Ford Motor Credit Co., 561 So. 2d at 247, citing Ex parte GTE Automatic Elec., Inc., 448 So. 2d 385 (Ala. Civ. App. 1984).
The petitioners first argue that the action should be dismissed under the provisions of Ala. Code 1975, § 6-5-430. They say that all the events leading to this lawsuit occurred in North Carolina. They further argue that it would be significantly more convenient for the ...