Tuesday, October 30, 2007

State ex rel. City of Jennings v. Riley[1]

Opinion handed down October 30, 2007

The Supreme Court held that venue in a tort cause of action is determined by RSMo § 508.010.4, where the injury occurred, and not RSMo § 508.050, where the municipal corporation is located.

I. Facts & Holding

A wrongful death lawsuit was brought against the City of Jennings Missouri after Maruice Harris was killed in a high speed chase involving Jennings’ police officers. The chase began in St. Louis County and ended in St. Louis City. The lawsuit was brought in St. Louis City, where the accident occurred. Jennings is located in St. Louis County. Jennings brought a motion to transfer venue to St. Louis County on the grounds that under RSMo § 508.050 venue is only proper where the defendant municipality is located.[2] The Plaintiff did not respond to the motion.

The Circuit Court denied the motion to transfer venue based on § 508.010.4, which exclusively determines venue in tort causes of action to be in the county where the tort occurred.[3] The Eastern District Court of Appeals then issued an alternative writ stating the motion to transfer venue should be granted as St. Louis County is the proper venue.[4] The Appellate Court concluded that § 508.050, which establishes venue where the defendant municipality is located, determines the proper venue because it is more specific then § 508.010’s general venue provision for all tort actions.[5]

The Supreme Court quashed the Appellate Court’s alternative writ and held that § 508.010.4 determines venue in a tort cause of action. Venue is proper in St. Louis City, where the accident occurred, and not St. Louis County, where Jennings is located. The Court found that the “notwithstanding” clause in § 508.010.4 expresses the legislature’s intent for the section to prevail over conflicting statutes. Thus, § 508.050 does not apply to tort causes of actions.

II. Legal Background

A. Venue Statutes
Section 508.010 establishes venue for civil lawsuits. In 2005, the statute was amended and venue for tort claims where the plaintiff is injured in Missouri is “notwithstanding any other provision of law . . . the county where the plaintiff was first injured by the wrongful acts or negligent conduct.”[6] The previous version of § 508.010 established venue for tort cases “except as otherwise provided by law” to be in the county where “the cause of action accrued regardless of the residence of the parties.”[7] Chapter 508 specifies venue in certain situations and would have governed venue prior to the 2005 amendment. [8] But the “notwithstanding clause” added in 2005 has been interpreted as making § 508.010.4 the exclusive venue statute for tort claims.[9] Thus, § 508.010.4 would prevail over specific venue instructions otherwise established in Chapter 508.[10]

B. Statutory Construction
Statutes are read to determine the legislature’s intent when the statute was created.[11] The court will start by considering the statute’s “plain and ordinary” meaning.[12] If there is any ambiguity as to the intent, courts turn to statutory construction principles such as reviewing prior version of the statute, analyzing the entire statute, and considering the statute’s purpose.[13] If statues are inconsistent, a specific statute will be applied over a more general statute.[14]

III. Commentary

In Jennings, statutory interpretation was used to judicially determine venue in tort causes of action. The Court made clear that § 508.010.4 establishes the proper venue in tort claims regardless of inconsistent venue statutes.

The decision recognized the change in the statute. Prior to 2005, § 508.010 would be subordinate to specific venue sections. The current version of § 508.010 takes the opposite approach, it has priority over other venue statutes by the inclusion of the “notwithstanding” clause.

- Kate E. Noland

[1] No. SC 88464 (Mo. Oct. 30, 2007) (en banc), available at http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=26591. The West reporter citation is 236 S.W.3d 630 (Mo. 2007) (en banc).
[2] State ex rel. City of Jennings v. Riley, No. 88881, 2007 WL 656545, at *1 (Mo. App. E.D. March 6, 2007).
[3] Id.
[4] Id. at *4.
[5] Id. at *4.
[6] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 508.010.4 (2007).
[7] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 508.010.6 (2005).
[8] Jennings, 236 S.W.3d at 632. A municipal corporation is one specific situation, where venue is limited to the county where the municipal corporation is located. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 508.050 (2007). A municipal corporation is a “state within its locality and as an instrumentality of the state established for the convenient administration of local government.” Marshall v. Kansas City, 355 S.W.2d 877, 883 (Mo. 1962) (en banc). Municipal corporations include “incorporated cities, towns, and villages” because of the “subordinate and local powers of legislation”. State ex rel. Caldwell v. Little River Drainage Dist, 236 S.W. 15, 16 (Mo 1921). Also included as municipal corporations are: counties, school districts, and similar bodies that “some function of government.” Id.
[9] Id.
[10] See generally Jennings, 236 S.W.3d 630.
[11] United Pharmacal Co. of Mo., Inc. v. Mo. Bd. of Pharmacy, 208 S.W.3d 907, 909 (Mo. 2006) (en banc).
[12] Id. at 910.
[13] Id. at 910-11.
[14] State ex rel. Casey’s General Stores, Inc. v. City of West Plains, 9 S.W.3d 712, 719 (Mo. App. S.D. 1999).

Research Sources on Topic:
- David Jacks Achtenberg, Venue in Missouri After Tort Reform, 75 UMKC L. Rev. 593 (2007)
- W. Dudley McCarter, Change of Venue Permitted from County in Which Injury First Occurred. November-December, 2007 63 J. Mo. B. 273 (2007).
- James L. Stockberger and Brian Kaveney, Missouri Tort Reform, 62 J. Mo. B. 378 (2006).