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State ex rel. Prater v. Brown

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

April 30, 2019

STATE EX REL. RONALD PRATER, GWENDALYN GONZALES, DEANN THOMPSON, AND LUCILLE CURTMAN, Relators,
v.
THE HONORABLE JASON R. BROWN, Respondent.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN MANDAMUS

          Zel M. Fischer, Chief Justice.

         Ronald Prater, Gwendalyn Gonzales, Deann Thompson, and Lucille Curtman ("Relators") filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus requiring Respondent to transfer the underlying declaratory judgment action from Greene County to Pulaski County. This Court issued a preliminary writ of mandamus. Greene County is an improper venue because none of the defendants in the declaratory judgment action reside in Greene County. The preliminary writ of mandamus is made permanent.

         Factual Background

         A vehicle driven by Dakota Ball collided with a vehicle occupied by Ronald and Juanita Prater. Mr. Prater ("Prater") was injured, and Mrs. Prater was killed. The accident occurred in Pulaski County, Missouri. Relators filed a wrongful death action against Ball in Pulaski County.[1] Prater filed a personal injury action against Ball in Pulaski County. The parties agreed to transfer the wrongful death and personal injury actions to Greene County, Missouri.

         Ball's stepmother, Christina Gruendler, was insured by an auto policy issued by USAA General Indemnity Company ("USAA"). USAA filed a declaratory judgment action in Greene County against Prater, Ball, and Gruendler seeking a declaration the policy did not cover Ball. Prater resided in Miller County, Missouri, Ball resided in Maryland, and Gruendler resided in Pulaski County. Prater filed a motion to transfer venue of the declaratory judgment action from Greene County to Pulaski County because none of the defendants resided in or were served in Greene County and the accident occurred in Pulaski County. The circuit court overruled Prater's motion and ordered USAA to amend its petition by adding all wrongful death claimants to the declaratory judgment action.[2] All of the additional defendants resided in either Miller or Pulaski county.

         Relators filed a motion to transfer venue asserting Greene County was an improper venue because no defendant resided in Greene County. The circuit court overruled the motion. Relators filed a petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition. This Court issued a preliminary writ of mandamus.

         Analysis

         This Court has jurisdiction to issue original remedial writs. Mo. Const. art. V, § 4.1. Venue is determined by rule or statute. State ex rel. Heartland Title Servs., Inc. v. Harrell 500 S.W.3d 239, 241 (Mo. banc 2016). "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." Id. (internal quotation omitted). Mandamus is appropriate if the circuit court fails to perform its ministerial duty to transfer a case from an improper venue to a proper venue. State ex rel. DePaul Health Ctr. v. Mummert, 870 S.W.2d 820, 823 (Mo. banc 1994).

         The underlying declaratory judgment action names multiple defendants, seeks a declaration of USAA's contractual obligations, and does not involve a count alleging a tort. In cases with no count alleging a tort and involving multiple resident defendants or multiple resident and non-resident defendants, § 508.010.2, RSMo Supp. 2014, provides venue shall be in any county where any of the defendants reside.[3] Greene County is an improper venue pursuant to § 508.010.2 because none of the defendants in the declaratory judgment action reside in Greene County.[4] The circuit court failed to execute its ministerial duty to transfer the declaratory judgment action from Greene County to a proper venue.

         Conclusion

         The preliminary writ of mandamus is made permanent, and the circuit court is ordered to transfer the case to Pulaski County.

         All concur.

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