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State ex rel. Heartland Title Services, Inc. v. Harrell

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

October 18, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI ex rel. HEARTLAND TITLE SERVICES, INC., f/k/a HEARTLAND TITLE COMPANY, INC. AND JAMES C. DAY, Relators,
v.
THE HONORABLE KEVIN D. HARRELL, Respondent.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN MANDAMUS

          Zel M. Fischer, Judge

         This action involves an original proceeding for a writ of prohibition or, alternatively, a writ of mandamus filed by Heartland Title Services, Inc., and James C. Day (collectively, "Heartland") requesting this Court prohibit Respondent from dismissing one of Heartland's claims in the circuit court for lack of venue. This Court issued a preliminary writ. Because this Court holds that venue was proper in any county in Missouri, including Jackson County, the preliminary writ is made permanent.

         Factual Background

         In March 2015, Heartland filed a two-count petition in the circuit court of Jackson County alleging professional malpractice claims against Paul P. Hasty, Jr., and Hasty and Associates, LLC (collectively, "Hasty"). Count II of the petition alleges a claim of professional malpractice based on Hasty's provision of legal services in a case in which

          Heartland sought to become creditors in a former employee's personal bankruptcy case filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Kansas. Hasty filed a motion to dismiss Count II for lack of venue, arguing that the tort injury alleged in Count II occurred outside Missouri. Hasty asserted the applicable venue statute, § 508.010.5, [1]limited venue to either the county in Missouri where a corporate defendant's registered agent is located or the county in Missouri where an individual defendant's principal place of residence is located. Hasty further asserted that because the individual defendant did not have his principal place of residence in Missouri and because the corporate defendant did not have a registered agent in Missouri, no county in Missouri constitutes a proper venue, including Jackson County. The circuit court agreed and dismissed Count II for lack of venue.[2] Heartland seeks relief in this Court.

         Analysis

         This Court has the authority to "issue and determine original remedial writs." Mo. Const. art. V, § 4.1. "It is well-established that this Court accepts the use of an extraordinary writ to correct improper venue decisions of the circuit court before trial and judgment." State ex rel. Kan. City S. Ry. Co. v. Nixon, 282 S.W.3d 363, 365 (Mo. banc 2009). This Court has determined a writ of mandamus is the "appropriate remedy to reinstate a petition erroneously dismissed for improper venue." State ex rel. Rothermich v. Gallagher, 816 S.W.2d 194, 197 (Mo. banc 1991).

         Heartland contends that venue is proper in Jackson County for Count II and that the circuit court erred in its interpretation of § 508.010.5. Before addressing the text of § 508.010.5, a brief discussion of the distinction between jurisdiction and venue is in order. Jurisdiction refers to "the power of a court to try a case[.]" Nixon, 282 S.W.3d at 365. Jurisdiction "is based upon constitutional principles." Id.

         Missouri courts recognize two kinds of jurisdiction: subject matter and personal. J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla, 275 S.W.3d 249, 252 (Mo. banc. 2009). Subject matter jurisdiction refers to a court's authority to render judgment in a particular category of cases. Id. at 253. The Missouri constitution provides circuit courts with subject matter jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. Mo. Const. art. V, § 14. Personal jurisdiction, on the other hand, refers to the power of a court to require a party to respond to a legal proceeding affecting the party's rights or interests. Id. at 253. The requirement that a court have personal jurisdiction flows mostly from the Due Process Clause, either in the Fifth or the Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. Ins. Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982).

         While subject matter jurisdiction can never be waived, personal jurisdiction is an individual right to which a party can consent. Id. at 703. It is not alleged that the circuit court of Jackson County lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Count II, and the motion to dismiss does not allege lack of personal jurisdiction over either defendant.[3]

         Venue, on the other hand, assumes jurisdiction and only "relates to the locale where the trial is to be held." Nixon, 282 S.W.3d at 365. Unlike jurisdiction, venue is not determined by constitutional principles but by the applicable rule or statute that "determines, among many courts with jurisdiction, the appropriate forum for the trial." Id.

         In the event a party is injured outside Missouri by allegedly tortious conduct, § 508.010.5 provides, in relevant part:

(1) If the defendant is a corporation, then venue shall be in any county where a defendant corporation's registered agent is located or, if the plaintiff's principal place of residence was in the state of Missouri on the date the plaintiff was first injured, then venue may be in the county of the ...

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