Ex Parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc.
In 2017, a former employee of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. (MBUSI) filed suit for workers’ compensation benefits. Although the plaintiff already had surgery scheduled for a non-work related condition, he nonetheless claimed that a minor incident at work aggravated his condition. The accident in question occurred in Tuscaloosa County, and MBUSI’s only place of business is located in Tuscaloosa County. Nonetheless, the plaintiff filed suit in Jefferson County, in what he believed to be a much friendlier venue for his case.
Our office has the pleasure of representing MBUSI in workers’ compensation matters, and filed a response seeking to have the case transferred to Tuscaloosa County. The trial court in Jefferson County denied our motion based on a 2002 Alabama Supreme Court case which held venue could be proper in any county from which a corporation obtains materials used in its business. In other words, MBUSI, and any other corporate employer, could be subjected to venue in any county where one of their vendors or suppliers was located, even though the corporate employer had no place of business in the county. Because one of MBUSI’s suppliers is located in Jefferson County, under the 2002 decision, venue was proper in Jefferson County.
We felt the Supreme Court’s decision was erroneous and unfair. We did not believe that the purchase of materials from an unrelated corporate entity constituted “doing business by agent” and we therefore petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its prior decision.
In January, the Supreme Court agreed with us and overturned its prior decision. However, because there was a significant change in the makeup of the court immediately thereafter, the plaintiff requested a rehearing hoping the new makeup of the Supreme Court would reverse itself again and reinstate the old decision.
On May 10, 2019 the Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s request for rehearing, thus ending any further review. The law of Alabama no longer subjects corporate employers to litigation in any county where one of their vendors happens to be located. As intended by the legislature, a corporate defendant can only be sued where the accident occurred, where the defendant maintains its principal business location, or in the county where the plaintiff resides provided the corporate defendant does business in that county.
We believe this is a big victory for corporate defendants, especially in the arena of workers’ compensation where the court which determines the case significantly impacts the value of the claim. We are pleased to represent MBUSI and other employers in workers’ compensation matters throughout the State of Alabama, and appreciate MBUSI “fighting the good fight” for all employers in Alabama.