Doing Business by Principal in a County Does Not Create Proper Venue
Ex parte Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc.: For venue purposes, pursuant to Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-7(a)(3), proper venue is not established by the principal of an entity doing business in a particular county, rather than an agent.
Facts and Contentions
Keith Cantrell was a commercial driver for Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc (“Hibbett Sporting Goods”). During his employment, he was injured while in Indiana. Cantrell sued Hibbett Sporting Goods for workers’ compensation benefits, bringing his claim in Lamar County, Alabama. Cantrell lived in Lamar County. Hibbett Sporting Goods filed a motion to transfer venue to Jefferson County, arguing that Lamar County was an improper venue, and Jefferson County was a proper venue. Hibbett Sporting Goods is a Delaware corporation, whose principal place of business is in Jefferson County, Alabama. Cantrell argued that Lamar County was a proper venue because he resided there and alleged that Hibbett Sporting Goods did business by agent in Lamar County.
The question of whether Lamar County is a proper venue is controlled by Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-7(a)(3), which provides (in part) that a suit against a corporation may be brought in the county in which the plaintiff resides if the corporation does business by agent in that county. Because this arises out of a workers’ compensation action, it is important to note that the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act provides the venue statutes apply to workers’ compensation cases just as they would in other civil actions involving claims for injuries. See Alabama Code (1975) § 25-5-1(18); see also Ex parte Adams, 11 So.3d 243, 247 (Ala.Civ.App. 2008).
In order to establish Lamar County as a proper venue, Cantrell alleged that Hibbett Team Sales, Inc. (a separate corporation) acted as an agent for Hibbett Sporting Goods. It is undisputed that Hibbett Team Sales did work in Lamar County selling athletic equipment and merchandise. However, Hibbett Sporting Goods contends that no agency relationship exists between itself and Hibbett Team Sales.
The trial court denied Hibbett Sporting Goods’ motion to transfer venue. Hibbett Sporting Goods filed a petition for a writ of mandamus. Ex parte Hibbett Sporting Goods, Inc. [Ms. 2160069, Jan. 27, 2017], — So.3d — (Ala.Civ.App. 2017).
Issues and Rulings
The question before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, for the purpose of establishing proper venue, was whether Hibbett Team Sales was an agent for Hibbett Sporting Goods in Lamar County. The standard for testing agency for venue purposes is different than the agency testing standard for the purpose of liability. See Ex parte Peabody Galion Co., 497 So.2d 1126 (Ala. 1986). For the purpose of venue, the element of control (or lack of control) of the principal over its agent is not determinative. The measure rather is as follows: if the entity is the means by which the principal is able to do business in a particular county, then the entity is the agent of the principal for venue purposes. Ex parte Charter Retreat Hosp., Inc., 538 So.2d 787, 789-90 (Ala. 1989).
The facts before the court in this matter revealed that both Hibbett Sporting Goods and Hibbett Team Sales were subsidiaries of Hibbett Sports. Therefore, Hibbett Sports is the principal of both Hibbett Sporting Goods and Hibbett Team Sales. Therefore, Hibbett Teams Sales is not and cannot be the agent of Hibbett Sporting Goods. And Alabama Code (1975) § 6-3-7(a)(3) requires that the defendant have an agent, not a principal, that does business in the county. Because Hibbett Sporting Goods then does not have an agent that does business in Lamar County, it is an improper venue. As a result, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals issued the writ, instructing that trial court remove the case to Jefferson County.
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