Proper Venue for Breach of Contract and Personal Injury Actions
Ex parte Jim Burke Automotive: In breach of contract and personal injury claims, venue is proper where the wrongful act or omission occurred, rather than where the injury was incurred.
Jim Burke Automotive (located in Jefferson County, Alabama) performed repair work on a vehicle owned by Vulah Smith and Andrew Smith. Afterward, the vehicle was involved in an accident in Hale County, Alabama. The Smiths sued Jim Burke Automotive alleging negligent or wanton repair of the vehicle, breach of contract, and fraud.
Jim Burke Automotive moved to transfer venue to Jefferson County on the grounds that venue was improper in Hale County because the service and repair work was performed in Jefferson County, and all the alleged acts or omissions arose out of work performed in Jefferson County.
The Circuit Court of Hale County denied the motion to transfer venue, and Jim Burke Automotive filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking the Supreme Court of Alabama to direct the Circuit Court of Hale County to transfer the case to Jefferson County. Ex parte Jim Burke Automotive [Ms. 1141266], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016).
Pursuant to Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-7(a), venue for a civil action against a corporation is proper (1) in the county in which a substantial part of the events giving rise the claim occurred, (2) in the county of the corporation’s principal office in the state, (3) in the county in which the plaintiff resided, or (4) if those section do not apply, in any county in which the corporation was doing business at the time.
Jim Burke automotive argued that Hale County was an improper venue because all the acts, omissions, or events giving rise to the Smiths’ claims occurred in Jefferson County. The Smiths contended that a substantial portion of the fraud claim arose in Hale County, and as a result, Hale County was a proper venue.
In determining venue for the negligence and wantonness claims, the inquiry is not the location of the injury, but the location of the wrongful acts or omissions that led to the injury. See Ex parte Lashley, 596 So. 2d 890, 892 (Ala. 1992; Ex parte Smith Wrecker Servs., Inc., 987 So. 2d 534, 538 (Ala. 2007); Ex parte Wiginton, 743 So. 2d 1071, 1074 (Ala. 1999). The Supreme Court of Alabama has held that the term “injury,” as used in Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-7, refers to the wrongful act or omission of the corporate defendant, not the resulting damage to the plaintiff. Ex parte SouthTrust Bank of Tuscaloosa, N.A., 619 So.2d 1356, 1358 (Ala. 1993). Therefore, venue is proper where the wrongful act was committed. In this case, because Jim Burke Automotive conducted the repairs in Jefferson County, the personal injuries claims of negligence and wantonness are properly heard in Jefferson County. The Court found that the fraud claim is likewise a personal injury claim for the purpose of determining venue. Ex parte Wiginton, 743 So. 2d 1073-74.
In determining venue for the breach of contract claim, the Supreme Court of Alabama has previously established that venue is proper in the county where the contract was performed and breached. Ex parte Guarantee Ins. Co., 133 So.3d 862, 870 (Ala. 2013). Because in this case the parties entered into the contract and Jim Burke Automotive allegedly breached the contract in Jefferson County, that county was the proper venue for the breach of contract action.
Because Jim Burke Automotive was able to produce evidence showing that venue was proper in Jefferson County, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court of Hale County to transfer the case to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County.
Photo by Mark Ittleman.