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Workers' Compensation - Venue: Ex Parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. Int'l, Inc.

Ex parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. Int’l, Inc. [Ms. 2170209, Mar. 23, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). The Court of Civil Appeals (Thompson, P.J., and Donaldson, Pittman, Thomas, and Moore, JJ., concur) denies a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. (“MB”), which sought an order directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to transfer venue of an MB employee’s workers’ compensation action from Jefferson County to Tuscaloosa County. Rejecting MB’s dual contentions that venue was both improper and not convenient in Jefferson County, the court denies the petition.

Pursuant to § 25-5-1(18) and § 6-3-7, Ala. Code 1975, proper venue in a workers’ compensation case is the same as in an ordinary civil action involving a claim for the injuries or death in question. Ms. *7-8. Section 6-3-7(a) provides:

“All civil actions against corporations may be brought in any of the following counties:

“(1) In the county in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of real property that is the subject of the action is situated; or

“(2) In the county of the corporation’s principal office in this state; or

“(3) In the county in which the plaintiff resided, or if the plaintiff is an entity other than an individual, where the plaintiff had its principal office in this state, at the time of the accrual of the cause of action, if such corporation does business by agent in the county of the plaintiff’s residence; or

“(4) If subdivisions (1), (2), or (3) do not apply, in any county in which the corporation was doing business by agent at the time of the accrual of the cause of action.”

Id. Here, the MB employee’s injury occurred in Tuscaloosa County at the MB manufacturing facility such that Tuscaloosa County would be a proper venue pursuant to § 6-3-7(a)(1). However, the employee brought the action in Jefferson County where he resided and where he received substantial medical care and treatment. That venue is likewise proper unless he failed to meet any of the four conditions provided in § 6-3-7(a).

The court concludes from the evidence that MB does business by agent in Jefferson County, as it “with some regularity” “performs there some of the business functions for which it was created.” Ms. *9 (quoting Ex parte Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc., 228 So. 3d 1008, 1014 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017), and Ex parte GTE Automatic Electric, Inc., 448 So. 2d 385 (Ala. Civ. App. 1984)). Because MB does business in Jefferson County with a parts supplier, the requirement for proper venue in § 6-3-7(a)(3) was met.

The court also rejects MB’s invocation of § 6-3-21.1(a), which provides:

“With respect to civil actions filed in an appropriate venue, any court of general jurisdiction shall, for the convenience of parties and witnesses, or in the interest of justice, transfer any civil action or any claim in any civil action to any court of general jurisdiction in which the action might have been properly filed and the case shall proceed as though originally filed therein.”

Ms. *13. A party moving for a transfer under § 6-3-21.1 must make a showing of the following:

“A party moving for a transfer under § 6-3-21.1 has the initial burden of showing, among other things, one of two factors: (1) that the transfer is justified based on the convenience of either the parties or the witnesses, or (2) that the transfer is justified ‘in the interest of justice.’ Ex parte Masonite Corp., 789 So. 2d 830, 831 (Ala. 2001); Ex parte National Sec. Ins. Co., 727 So. 2d 788, 789 (Ala. 1998). A party may show that either or both of these factors require a transfer.”

Ms. *14 (quoting Ex parte Indiana Mills & Mfg., Inc., 10 So. 3d 536, 539 (Ala. 2008).

The court reiterates that “[w]hen venue is appropriate and more than one county, the plaintiff’s choice of venue is generally given great deference.” Ms. *14 (quoting Ex parte Perfection Siding, Inc., 882 So. 2d 307, 312 (Ala. 2003)). Further, the court reiterates that in making this evaluation “the convenience of non-party witnesses that are employees of one of the parties to the case, and therefore whose presence may be obtained by one of the parties, does not weigh heavily in favor of a transfer.” Ms. *15 (quoting Ex parte Veolia Envtl. SVC, 122 So. 3d 839, 842 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013)). Finally, the court reiterates “[t]he doctrine of forum non conveniens ‘provides for a transfer to a more convenient forum, not to a forum likely to prove equally convenient or inconvenient.’” Ms. *16 (quoting Ex parte Veolia Envtl. SVC, 122 So. 3d at 842-43)).

Because MB did not demonstrate a clear legal right to a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to transfer the action to Tuscaloosa County, its petition for writ of mandamus was due to be denied.

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