Ex parte WMS, LLC, et al. In re: Keri Donald Simms
WMS, LLC, et al.
(Chambers Circuit Court, CV-13-900050). Steven R. Perryman, Trial Judge.
PETITION GRANTED; WRIT ISSUED.
For Petitioners: M. Clay Ragsdale, Allison L. Riley, Ragsdale LLC, Birmingham; Charles G. Reynolds, Reynolds & Mason, LLC, Lanett.
For Respondent: Brian P. Strenght, Strenght & Connelly, LLC, Tuskegee.
Stuart, Parker, Shaw, and Wise, JJ., concur.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS
MOORE, Chief Justice.
William Mudd, John Whitaker, Phillip Luke, and David Wells, and the law firm in which they were members, Whitaker, Mudd, Simms, Luke, & Wells, LLC (" WMSLW" ) (hereinafter referred to collectively as " the defendants" ), petition this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Chambers Circuit Court either to dismiss this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on improper venue or to transfer the case from Chambers County to Jefferson County based on venue being
improper in Chambers County or on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. We grant the petition and direct the Chambers Circuit Court to transfer the case to the Jefferson Circuit Court because, for the reasons discussed below, venue is not proper in Chambers County. Because of our disposition of this petition, we pretermit a discussion of the subject-matter-jurisdiction argument and the forum non conveniens argument.
Facts and Procedural History
Keri Donald Simms is a resident of Jefferson County and a practicing attorney in Birmingham, where all the law firms named as petitioners either have been located or were created. Effective May 10, 2012, Simms either resigned from WMSLW or his membership in the limited-liability company was terminated by the other members of WMSLW. Before Simms's departure, WMSLW had been suffering financial troubles. Some of the members of WMSLW had been arguing over their respective capital accounts and discussing a possible merger with another law firm. Simms alleges that, at unspecified times before his departure, the individual defendants had been making secret payments to themselves, above the amounts they were due under their membership arrangement. He alleges that the defendants prepared faulty income statements, concealed from him the true liabilities and debts of WMSLW, concealed from him the details of the proposed merger, and refused to provide him with copies of WMSLW's state and federal tax returns.
After Simms's departure from the firm, in letters dated May 10, 2012, WMSLW offered Simms's clients the option to remain with WMSLW or to continue with Simms as their attorney at his new place of employment, Webster, Henry, Lyons, White, Bradwell & Black, P.C. (" WHLWBB" ), another Alabama law firm. Simms alleges that his relationship with the defendants began to deteriorate when an unspecified number of his clients informed WMSLW of their intent to remain clients of Simms and not of WMSLW. He says that he enlisted the services of the Alabama State Bar to force the defendants to release his clients' case files to him. According to Simms, between May 14, 2012, and May 17, 2012, WMSLW mailed to him the files of his clients who opted to stay with him.
One of Simms's clients is his cousin, Angie Smith of Georgia, who had suffered burn injuries in an accident in Georgia on July 23, 2011; Smith's injuries were the subject of litigation in Georgia pending at the time of Simms's departure from WMSLW. Smith had been consulting with Simms since her accident and became a client of WMSLW, by contract, on September 7, 2011. Simms was her attorney at WMSLW. In July 2011, Simms discussed Smith's case with his friend Claud E. " Skip" McCoy, Jr., while the two men were at a wedding in Chambers County, Alabama. McCoy, a resident of Chambers County who is ...