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Ex parte International Paper Co.

Supreme Court of Alabama

April 27, 2018

Ex parte International Paper Company et al.
v.
JRD Contracting, Inc., et al. In re: Caterpillar Financial Services Corp.

          Wilcox Circuit Court, CV-16-900061

          BOLIN, JUSTICE.

         International Paper Company and three employees (Janet Pridgeon, Joni Harris, and Shawn Blenis) seek a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to rule upon a pending motion to dismiss a case against them for improper venue, based on an outbound forum-selection clause in a waste-services agreement between International Paper and JRD Contracting & Land Clearing, Inc. ("JRD C & L"). We issue the writ.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On September 23, 2016, Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. sued JRD Contracting, Inc., and John R. Dailey, Jr., in the Wilcox Circuit Court alleging breach of various loan contracts, detinue, and breach of guaranty agreements. JRD Contracting had purchased Caterpillar brand construction and hauling equipment, financed through Caterpillar Financial Services, and Dailey had guaranteed the loan contracts. JRD Contracting is a an Alabama corporation with its principal place of business in Wilcox County. Dailey resides in Wilcox County.

         On May 22, 2017, JRD Contracting and Dailey filed a third-party complaint against International Paper and three employees (hereinafter collectively referred to as "IPC") and fictitiously named defendants. International Paper is a corporation with its principal place of business in Tennessee.

         JRD C & L had entered into a waste-services agreement with IPC pursuant to which JRD C & L was to dispose of material produced by International Paper's mill in Wilcox County. In their third-party complaint, JRD Contracting and Dailey alleged that if they were liable to Caterpillar Financial Services, it was because of the actions of IPC. They sought recovery from IPC on the theories of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraud, work and labor done, and indemnity and also sought a declaratory judgment. Along with the complaint, JRD Contracting and Dailey served IPC with interrogatories and requests for production.

         On May 25, 2017, JRD Contracting and Dailey filed a motion to add JRD C & L as a defendant "needed for just adjudication of this matter." The circuit court granted the motion. On June 1, 2017, JRD Contracting, Dailey, and JRD C & L (hereinafter collectively referred to as "JRD") filed an amended complaint to add JRD C & L as a defendant/third-party plaintiff.

         On June 26, 2017, IPC filed a motion to dismiss the third-party complaint without prejudice, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P. IPC argued that the waste-services agreement between IPC and JRD C & L contained an outbound forum-selection clause, providing that the "courts of Tennessee shall have and [sic] exclusive jurisdiction over any disputes arising out of or relating to this Agreement." On June 30 2017, IPC filed a motion to stay further proceedings pending a ruling on the motion to dismiss. IPC argued that requiring it to litigate the case before a ruling was entered on the motion to dismiss would "expose the parties to litigation costs and expenses that would be unnecessary if the Motion to Dismiss is granted."

         On November 20, 2017, the circuit court issued a scheduling order setting a discovery deadline of February 28, 2018; a deadline for filing summary-judgment motions; and the trial for May 21, 2018. On January 9, 2018, IPC and Caterpillar filed a joint motion to continue the trial date pending a ruling on IPC's motion to dismiss. They argued that if the circuit court denied the motion, then additional discovery would be needed. JRD responded, arguing that no further discovery was needed and that all the parties had briefed the venue issue, which it says established Wilcox County as the proper venue. JRD also filed a motion for a summary judgment as to its claims against IPC.[1]

         On February 3, 2018, the circuit court held a hearing on the joint motion to continue. The circuit court entered an order stating:

"This matter came before the Court on a motion to continue the trial set for May 21, 2018, and having considered the same it is ordered, adjudged, and decreed said motion is denied. Further, it is ordered the court will continue to take the Motion to Dismiss under advisement."

         That same day, the circuit court set a hearing for March 23, 2018, on JRD's motion for a summary judgment.

         On February 20, 2018, IPC filed this petition for a writ of mandamus, along with a motion to stay all proceedings in the circuit court. On March 6, 2018, this Court ordered answer and ...


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