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Herman Grant Co., Inc. v. Washington

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

March 30, 2017

HERMAN GRANT CO., INC.
v.
JO ANN WASHINGTON, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CARL W. WASHINGTON, JO ANN WASHINGTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND DERRICK FRONTRELL JONES AND JAMES R. "RUSTY" BRADFORD

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/08/2016

         JASPER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. EDDIE H. BOWEN JUDGE:

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: RYAN JEFFREY MITCHELL RICHARD O. BURSON KATHERINE BISNETTE SUMRALL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: JAMES W. NOBLES, JR. WILLIAM R. RUFFIN JOSEPH TALLY SIMS JOHN WINCIE LEE, JR.

          KING, JUSTICE

         ¶1. Herman Grant Company ("Herman Grant") filed this interlocutory appeal, asking the Court to determine if the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Jasper County abused its discretion by denying its motion to transfer venue to the Second Judicial District of Jones County. Because the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to transfer venue, we reverse the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings. Venue is proper in the Second Judicial District of Jones County, where a substantial event that caused the injury occurred.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On May 29, 2013, at Dunn Road Builders, LLC, in Laurel, Mississippi, a Load Cell Pod assembly, which was part of a Weigh Pod Fly Ash Hopper and Load Cell Suspension System sold and shipped to Dunn Road Builders, LLC, by Herman Grant and Coti, Inc. ("Coti"), collapsed, striking Carl Washington and James Rusty Bradford. Both men sustained spinal fractures and other injuries. Washington died on June 13, 2013, as a result of his injuries. Bradford and the Estate of Washington (Washington) filed suit against Herman Grant, a Tennessee Corporation, and Coti, an Alabama Corporation, alleging that the Weigh Pod System product package was defective when it left the premises of Herman Grant and caused the injuries and death of Washington and the injuries and damages to Bradford.

         ¶3. Bradford and Washington alleged that venue was proper in the First Judicial District of Jasper County pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 11-11-3(1)(b) because "[n]either Herman Grant Company nor Coti, Inc., has qualified to do business within the State of Mississippi, neither has a principal place of business in this state and neither has appointed an agent for process within this State. Plaintiff Derrick Frontell Jones is a resident citizen of the First Judicial District of Jasper County, Mississippi."

         ¶4. Herman Grant filed a Motion to Transfer Venue, alleging that venue was not proper in the First Judicial District of Jasper County. Herman Grant argued that Bradford and Washington failed to follow the mandatory directive of Section 11-11-3(1)(a) and instead relied on the permissive language of Section 11-11-3(1)(b) placing venue in the First Judicial District of Jasper County. Herman Grant maintained that venue was proper in Jones County because it was the county where the "substantial alleged act or omission occurred or where a substantial event that caused the injury occurred." Herman Grant thus requested that the trial court transfer venue to the Second Judicial District of Jones County, where the accident occurred.

         ¶5. In response, Bradford and Washington argued that venue was proper in the First Judicial District of Jasper County because the substantial alleged act or omissions, namely the product defects, occurred in Tennessee and Alabama, not in Mississippi. Bradford and Washington alleged that only the result of those substantial acts, or the manufacturing defects, occurred in Jones County. Additionally, Bradford and Washington argued that the acts of Herman Grant and Coti, not the acts of Bradford and Washington, established venue.

         ¶6. Herman Grant argued that the actions which occurred in Jones County were the precise actions the venue statute contemplated when describing properly laid venue. Herman Grant contended that it shipped the weigh pod system to Dunn Road Builders, LLC, in parts. The parts were then "accepted, assembled, erected, and perhaps, most importantly, altered such that the injuries that precipitated this lawsuit occurred." Bradford testified about the extensive installation work which had to be completed in order to assemble the weigh pod system. Bradford also testified that he altered the lengths of the rods from the dimensions on the drawings provided by Herman Grant. Herman Grant argued that the "installation of the weigh pod system, alteration of the system from the design specifications provided by HGC, the alleged failure of the purchased products, and the occurrence of the injury" all occurred in Jones County. Additionally, the accident occurred and the injuries and damages were inflicted in Jones County.

         ¶7. At the hearing on the motion to transfer venue, Herman Grant stated that its argument was very simple. Section 11-11-3(b) could only be invoked if venue was not available under Section 11-11-3(a). Because Section 11-11-3(a) provided that venue was proper in the county where a substantial alleged act or omission occurred or where a substantial event that caused the injury occurred, venue was proper in Jones County. Herman Grant argued that the Complaint specifically alleged that Bradford and Washington were injured when the weigh pod system broke loose and fell on them at Dunn Road Builder's plant in Laurel, Mississippi.

         ¶8. Bradford and Washington argued that the venue statute contemplated the actions of the defendant, not the actions of the plaintiffs - in other words, where the damage occurred to the products as a result of the negligence of the defendants. Because this was a defective product case, they ...


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