Friday, March 16, 2012

Florida Supreme Court Recedes From "Joint Residency Rule" In Venue Disputes

In Brown v. Nagelhout (SC10-868), the Florida Supreme Court receded from its 1957 opinion, Enfinger v. Baxley, 96 So. 2d 538 (Fla. 1957), and abolished "the judicially created joint residency rule" applied in venue challenges. The court described the facts as follows:
Willie and Brenda Brown filed a complaint in Broward County, Florida, against Kim Nagelhout, Helena Chemical Co., Inc., and CSX Transportation, Inc., alleging multiple causes of action arising from a collision between a truck owned by Helena Chemical and operated by Nagelhout and a train operated by CSX, on which Willie Brown was riding. The collision occurred in Pasco County, Florida.....Relying on Enfinger, the trial court concluded that because Nagelhout and Helena Chemical both reside in Pasco County, Broward County was not a proper venue in which to litigate the Browns' complaint.
With regard to the legal issues, the court first noted that "[t]he determination of venue in Florida is governed by a series of statutory provisions set forth in chapter 47, Florida Statutes (2011)." After discussing the relevant statutory language, the court stated "[f]inally, section 47.021, Florida Statutes (2011), provides that '[a]ctions against two or more defendants residing in different counties may be brought in any county in which any defendant resides.'”
Under this statutory scheme, the plaintiff may select a venue within which to litigate a cause of action based on the residency of the defendants. In the instant case, defendant Nagelhout, an individual, resides in Pasco County. Defendant Helena Chemical, a foreign corporation, has a business residence in Pasco County and a registered agent in Broward County. Defendant CSX has its principal place of business in Duval County, Florida, and its registered agent in Leon County, Florida. While it is not clear from the record whether CSX is a domestic or foreign corporation, the defendants do not claim that CSX has “an office for transaction of its customary business” or “an agent or other representative” in Pasco County. § 47.051, Fla. Stat. Thus, based on the above statutes, the Browns had the option to file suit based on residency in Pasco, Broward, Duval, or Leon counties. In their motion to transfer venue, however, the defendants argued that under Enfinger, venue lay only in Pasco County, where Nagelhout and Helena Chemical share a common county of residence.
In conclusion, the court held:
Here, the joint residency rule of Enfinger is based on a serious interpretative error, which resulted in imposing a meaning on the statute that is “unsound in principle.”...[therefore] we recede from Enfinger's restriction on a plaintif's right to select a venue based on the defendants' residency. When reviewing a plaintiff's venue selection, the Florida courts should apply the plain language of sections 47.011, 47.021, and 47.051, Florida Statutes. Where there are multiple defendants to an action, a plaintiff may choose as venue any county in which any defendant, without consideration of his or her codefendants, may be considered a resident.


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