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Ex parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

March 23, 2018

Ex parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc.
v.
Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. In re: Gregory K. Nix

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-17-903525

          DONALDSON, JUDGE.

         Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI"), petitions this court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the trial court") to enter an order transferring the underlying workers' compensation action to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. For the reasons set forth below, we deny the petition.

         Facts and Procedural History

         MBUSI produces certain models of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. On August 22, 2017, Gregory K. Nix filed in the trial court a complaint against MBUSI seeking workers' compensation benefits. Nix claimed that he was injured in the course of his employment as an assembly worker at MBUSI's facility in Tuscaloosa County. On September 22, 2017, MBUSI filed an answer, alleging, among other things, that venue was improper in Jefferson County, and a motion to change venue, contending that venue was proper only in Tuscaloosa County but that, even if venue was proper in Jefferson County, the venue should be changed to Tuscaloosa County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

         On September 25, 2017, Nix filed a response opposing the motion to change venue. In his response, he asserted that he was a resident of Jefferson County and that MBUSI does business in Jefferson County as well as in Tuscaloosa County. Nix submitted a copy of property-tax records from Jefferson County indicating that his address was in Jefferson County and a copy of a Web page from the Alabama Secretary of State's Web site indicating "Birmingham, Alabama" as MBUSI's principal address. Nix asserted that MBUSI's products are sold in Jefferson County through Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham ("the automobile dealership") and that some of MBUSI's major parts suppliers such as Kamtek, Inc., are located in Jefferson County. In support of his assertions, Nix referred to MBUSI's Web site and attached news articles regarding Kamtek. Nix also attached to his response an affidavit in which he testified that all medical treatments for the claimed injury were received in Jefferson County and that potential trial witnesses reside in Jefferson County.

         On September 29, 2017, MBUSI filed a supplement to its motion to change venue. In the supplement, MBUSI argued that the automobile dealership and Kamtek are not its agents through which it does business in Jefferson County. MBUSI asserted that the circumstances of its relationship with Kamtek do not constitute that of an agent for venue purposes and that it has no connection with the automobile dealership in Jefferson County because all the automobiles MBUSI produces are sold directly to a separate legal entity, Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA"), which has sole control and contact with the automobile dealership and other dealerships. MBUSI attached to its supplement the affidavit of Richard Clementz, general counsel for MBUSI, in which he testified, in relevant part:

"2. MBUSI is a corporation that is organized under the laws of the State of Alabama, with its headquarters, principal place of business and principal office located at 1 Mercedes Drive, Vance, Alabama, located in Tuscaloosa County. MBUSI's current registered agent for service of process is attorney Edward R. Christian of Burr & Forman, LLP, in Jefferson County, Alabama. However, Mr. Christian is not an employee of MBUSI and MBUSI maintains no office at Burr & Forman.
"3. To the extent the Secretary of State website lists 'Birmingham, AL' as MBUSI's 'principal address, ' such listing is inaccurate. MBUSI has no corporate offices in Jefferson County, Alabama.
"4. MBUSI's manufacturing facility is located at 1 Mercedes Drive, Vance, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The plaintiff's employment with the defendant was located at MBUSI's manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa County, and any alleged work injury would have occurred there as well.
"5. The vehicles manufactured by MBUSI for sale in the United States are all sold to Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ('MBUSA'). MBUSA is a separate corporate entity with its principal place of business in Atlanta, Georgia.
"6. MBUSI is not involved in, and does not control distribution or sale of Mercedes-Benz vehicles to consumers anywhere in the world, including the United States. For all vehicles sold in the United States, MBUSA takes delivery, title and possession of the vehicles and MBUSA transports, delivers and sells all vehicles in the United States.
"7. MBUSI has no relationship, contractual or otherwise, with any Mercedes-Benz dealership located in Alabama, nor does MBUSI have control over the actions, rights or obligations of any such dealers.
"8. Kamtek is an auto supplier which provides some parts for MBUSI. Kamtek is a separate and unrelated corporation. Upon information and belief, Kamtek is owned by a Canadian Corporation. The parts supplied by Kamtek are delivered by Kamtek to MBUSI at 1 Mercedes Drive, Vance, AL. MBUSI does not take delivery of parts from Kamtek or any other supplier, at any location other than 1 Mercedes Drive, Vance, AL.
"9. MBUSI does not do business by agent in Jefferson County, Alabama. The Mercedes Benz Automobile dealership located in Hoover, Alabama is not affiliated with, owned by, or franchised from MBUSI. MBUSI does not sell vehicles to the Mercedes Benz automobile dealership located in Hoover, Alabama, and has no contractual relationship with the automobile dealership in Hoover, Alabama. MBUSI has no ownership interest in Kamtek, and does not accept delivery of parts from Kamtek in Jefferson County, Alabama."

         In its supplement, MBUSI further argued that the doctrine of forum non conveniens required a transfer of the action to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. MBUSI asserted that Tuscaloosa County was a more convenient forum because, it stated, potential witnesses to the alleged injury and Nix's supervisors were employed in Tuscaloosa County and the alleged injury occurred there. MBUSI also asserted that Tuscaloosa County has a substantial interest in the action because it is the county in which the alleged injury occurred and that the only connection Jefferson County has to the action is Nix's residency there.

         On October 13, 2017, the trial court entered an order denying MBUSI's motion to change venue. On November 21, 2017, MBUSI filed the present petition ...


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