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Ex parte Hibbett Sporting Goods Inc.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 27, 2017

Ex parte Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc.
v.
Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc. In re: Keith Cantrell

         (Lamar Circuit Court, CV-16-900021)

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc. ("Hibbett Sporting Goods"), petitions this court for a writ of mandamus directing the Lamar Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying Hibbett Sporting Goods' motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying workers' compensation action to the Jefferson Circuit Court. Hibbett Sporting Goods made a prima facie showing that venue was improper in Lamar County and that Jefferson County was a proper venue. In response, the plaintiff, Keith Cantrell, argued that venue was proper in Lamar County because of his residency there and because, he asserted, Hibbett Sporting Goods did business by agent in that county. For the reasons set forth below, we grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Background

         On July 15, 2016, Cantrell filed in the trial court a complaint against Hibbett Sporting Goods seeking workers' compensation benefits. Cantrell claimed that he had been injured in Indiana while working for Hibbett Sporting Goods. On August 22, 2016, Hibbett Sporting Goods filed a motion to transfer the action to Jefferson County, asserting that Lamar County was an improper venue. Hibbett Sporting Goods supported its motion to transfer with the affidavit of Aimee Andrews, a manager of human resources for Hibbett Sporting Goods. In her affidavit, Andrews testified, in relevant part:

"[Hibbett Sporting Goods] is a Delaware Corporation, with its principal place of business being located at 2700 Milan Court in Birmingham, Alabama which is located in Jefferson County. [Hibbett Sporting Goods] has a wholesale and logistics facility located at 201 Corporate Woods Drive in Alabaster, Alabama which is located in Shelby County. [Hibbett Sporting Goods] does not do business and has not done business, by agent or otherwise, in Lamar County, Alabama. [Hibbett Sporting Goods] does not have any offices located in Lamar County, Alabama. [Hibbett Sporting Goods] does not have assets located in Lamar County, Alabama. [Hibbett Sporting Goods] does not have any stores or warehouse facilities in Lamar County, Alabama.
"[Cantrell] was hired on April 15, 2007, as a CDL driver. He reported to the Transportation Manager in our wholesale and logistics facility at the Shelby County, Alabama location. On or about May 21, 2014, while working at a store in Shelbyville, Indiana, [Cantrell] reported that he was injured while 'putting plywood onto wall and box of stadium chairs fell off and hit his knee making it twist.' He thereafter received medical treatment initially by physicians in Birmingham, Jefferson County, and then later by a physician in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama."

         On October 7, 2016, Cantrell filed a reply to the motion to transfer. He contended that venue was proper in Lamar County pursuant to § 6-3-7(a)(3), Ala. Code 1975, which provides, in relevant part, that a civil action against a corporation may be brought in the county in which the plaintiff resides if the corporation does business by agent in that county. Cantrell asserted that, for the purpose of establishing venue, Hibbett Team Sales, Inc. ("Hibbett Team Sales"), a separate corporation, acted as an agent for Hibbett Sporting Goods in Lamar County. Cantrell submitted an affidavit in which he testified that he resided in Lamar County both at the time of the accident and at the time of the filing of the workers' compensation complaint. Cantrell also attached to his reply an annual report ("the Hibbett Sports annual report") filed by Hibbett Sports, Inc. ("Hibbett Sports");[1] a document prepared by Andrews titled "Employer's First Report of Injury or Occupational Disease" ("the injury report"); a copy of the home page of the Web site for Hibbett Team Sales ("the Hibbett Team Sales home page"); an affidavit from Tommy Chism, the principal and a coach for an elementary school in Lamar County; and an affidavit from Mathew Byars, an assistant principal and a coach for a high school in Lamar County. The Hibbett Sports annual report states, in relevant part:

"Our Company began in 1945 under the name Dixie Supply Company in Florence, Alabama. Although we initially specialized primarily in the marine and small aircraft business, by 1960 we were solely in the sporting goods business. ... We became a public company in October 1996 when we had 79 stores and were incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware as Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc. We incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware as Hibbett Sports, Inc. in January 2007, and on February 10, 2007, Hibbett Sports, Inc. became the successor holding company for Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc., which is now our operating subsidiary.
"Today, we operate sporting goods stores in small and mid-sized markets predominantly in the South, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. As of January 31, 2015, we operated 988 stores consisting of 969 Hibbett Sports stores and 19 smaller-format Sports Additions athletic shoe stores in 31 states. Our primary retail format and growth vehicle is Hibbett Sports, an approximately 5, 000 square foot store located primarily in strip centers which are frequently influenced by a Wal-Mart store. ...
"We offer convenient locations and a broad assortment of brand name quality footwear, apparel and athletic equipment with a high level of customer service. Our merchandise assortment emphasizes team sports complemented by localized apparel, footwear and accessories designed to appeal to a wide range of customers within each individual market."

         The injury report lists the employer as "Hibbett Sports, Inc., " and lists the employer's address as being the same address Andrews testified in her affidavit is the principal place of business for Hibbett Sporting Goods.[2] The Hibbett Team Sales home page states, in relevant part:

"[Hibbett Team Sales] is a full line sporting goods dealer focused on serving schools and teams with their athletic equipment, footwear and apparel needs.
"Hibbett Sporting Goods was founded in 1945 under the name Dixie Supply Company and sold merchandise such as boats, marine equipment and even small aircraft. In 1949 Dixie Supply Company entered the team and school athletic equipment business.
"In 1952 Dixie Supply Company became Hibbett and Sons, Inc. Over the next seven years, all merchandise not related to athletic equipment, apparel, and footwear was slowly dropped out of inventory. By 1968 75% of all sales consisted of school and team business. In 1969 the company became [Hibbett Sporting Goods].
"We are now [Hibbett Team Sales], a subsidiary of [Hibbett Sports]. Many things have changed since 1945, but the things that have not changed is our commitment to provide excellent service to our customer and supply ...

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