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

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 4, 2019

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

          Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-17-903525

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          SELLERS, Justice.

         Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI"), petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying MBUSI's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         MBUSI is an automobile-manufacturing company that manufactures certain Mercedes-Benz vehicles at its facility in Tuscaloosa County. MBUSI's headquarters and its principal place of business are also in Tuscaloosa County. Although MBUSI does not maintain any corporate offices in Jefferson County, MBUSI purchases parts used in manufacturing automobiles from multiple suppliers located in Jefferson County, one of which is Kamtek, Inc.

         Gregory Nix is a resident of Jefferson County; he was employed as an assembly worker at MBUSI's manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa County until June 23, 2017. Nix alleges that, during his employment with MBUSI, he suffered on-the-job injuries the cumulative effect of which have left him permanently and totally disabled.

         On August 22, 2017, Nix sued MBUSI in the trial court seeking worker's compensation benefits for the injuries he allegedly suffered during his employment with MBUSI. MBUSI filed a one-sentence answer, stating: "Venue is improper in Jefferson County, Alabama." That same day, MBUSI filed a motion to transfer the case to Tuscaloosa County asserting that venue in Jefferson County was improper or, in the alternative, that the doctrine of forum non conveniens required the transfer of the case to Tuscaloosa County.

         In his response to MBUSI's motion for a change of venue, Nix asserted that venue was proper in Jefferson County under § 6-3-7(a)(2) and (3), Ala. Code 1975, and additionally that a transfer of the case was not warranted under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Nix attached various exhibits to his response, including two news articles highlighting the expansion of Kamtek's facility. MBUSI filed a supplemental motion for a change of venue and attached in support an affidavit of its general counsel, Richard Clementz.

         The trial court denied MBUSI's motion for a change of venue. MBUSI filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Court of Civil Appeals, which that court denied. Ex parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. Int'l, Inc., [Ms. 2170209, March 23, 2018] __So. 3d__ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). The Court of Civil Appeals, relying on Ex parte Scott Bridge Co., 834 So.2d 79 (Ala. 2002), held that venue was proper in Jefferson County and that the doctrine of forum non conveniens did not require a transfer of the case to Tuscaloosa County. MBUSI then petitioned this Court seeking the same relief.

         II. Standard of Review

"'The proper method for obtaining review of a denial of a motion for a change of venue in a civil action is to petition for the writ of mandamus. Lawler Mobile Homes, Inc. v. Tarver, 492 So.2d 297, 302 (Ala. 1986). "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." Ex parte Integon Corp., 672 So.2d 497, 499 (Ala. 1995). "When we consider a mandamus petition relating to a venue ruling, our scope of review is to determine if the trial court [exceeded] its discretion, i.e., whether it exercised its discretion in an arbitrary and capricious manner." Id. Our review is further limited to those facts that were before the trial court. Ex parte American Resources Ins. Co., 663 So.2d 932, 936 (Ala. 1995).'"

Ex parte Southeast Alabama Timber Harvesting, LLC, 94 So.3d 371, 373 (Ala. 2012) (quoting Ex parte National Sec. Ins. Co., 727 So.2d 788, 789 (Ala. 1998)).

         III. Discussion

         In its petition, MBUSI reasserts the two arguments it made to the trial court in its motion for a change of venue: (1) that venue in Jefferson County is improper; and (2) that, even if venue is proper in Jefferson County, the action should be transferred to Tuscaloosa County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Based on our resolution of the first argument, we pretermit discussion of the forum non conveniens argument.

         Under § 25-5-81(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975, a worker's compensation action may be filed in "the circuit court of the county which would have jurisdiction of a civil action in tort between the parties." Venue for a civil action against domestic and foreign ...


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