Morris v. Crown Equipment Corp., No. 32751.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtStarcher
Citation633 S.E.2d 292
PartiesJeremiah "Bart" MORRIS, Plaintiff Below, Appellant v. CROWN EQUIPMENT CORPORATION, a foreign corporation; and Jefferds Corporation, dba Homestead Materials Handling Company, a West Virginia Corporation, Defendants Below, Appellees.
Decision Date29 June 2006
Docket NumberNo. 32751.
633 S.E.2d 292
Jeremiah "Bart" MORRIS, Plaintiff Below, Appellant
v.
CROWN EQUIPMENT CORPORATION, a foreign corporation; and Jefferds Corporation, dba Homestead Materials Handling Company, a West Virginia Corporation, Defendants Below, Appellees.
No. 32751.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted March 29, 2006.
Decided June 29, 2006.
Dissenting Opinion of Justice Maynard June 30, 2006.
Concurring Opinion of Justice Benjamin July 11, 2006.
Concurring Opinion of Justice Albright July 12, 2006.

Page 293

Syllabus by the Court

1. "Where the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review." Syllabus

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Point 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995).

2. Under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. IV, Sec. 2, the provisions of W.Va. Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003] do not apply to civil actions filed against West Virginia citizens and residents.

3. W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003] does not require a plaintiff to separately establish venue for each defendant.

John W. Cooper, Esq., Cooper, Preston & Douglas, Parsons, Thomas W. Pettit, Esq., Barboursville, for Appellant.

Michael J. Farrell, Esq., Robert L. Hogan, Esq., Farrell, Farrell & Farrell, Huntington, for Crown Equipment Corp.

Thomas J. Cullen, J. R., Esq., Adam T. Sampson, Esq., Godell, DeVries, Leech & Dawn, Baltimore, MD, Pro Hac Vice for Crown Equipment Corp.

Lawrence E. Morhous, Esq., M. Hudson McClanahan, Esq., Brewster, Morhous, Cameron, Mullin, Caruth & Moore, Bluefield, for Jefferds Corporation, dba Homestead Materials Handling Co.

STARCHER, J.:


In this case we hold that a plaintiff cannot be denied the right to bring a products liability lawsuit in this state against a West Virginia corporation and an out-of-state corporation merely because the plaintiff is a resident of another state.

I.
Facts & Background

The complaint in the instant case alleged the following facts: the appellant and plaintiff below, Jeremiah "Bart" Morris ("Morris"), a resident and citizen of Virginia, suffered a severe leg injury at his place of employment in Virginia while operating a stand-up forklift that was distributed and serviced by the appellee and defendant below, Jefferds Corporation, dba Homestead Materials Handling Company ("Jefferds"), a West Virginia corporation. The forklift was designed, manufactured, and distributed by the appellee and defendant below, Crown Equipment Corporation ("Crown"), an Ohio corporation.1

On April 30, 2004, Morris filed a civil action against Jefferds and Crown in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, alleging various products liability theories of recovery, including negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, and breach of warranty, as well as asserting a claim for punitive damages.

Jefferds and Crown filed motions to dismiss the complaint for improper venue based upon W.Va.Code, 56-1-1 [2003], which states:

(a) Any civil action or other proceeding, except where it is otherwise specially provided, may hereafter be brought in the circuit court of any county:

(1) Wherein any of the defendants may reside or the cause of action arose, except that an action of ejectment or unlawful detainer must be brought in the county wherein the land sought to be recovered, or some part thereof, is;

(2) If a corporation be a defendant, wherein its principal office is or wherein its mayor, president or other chief officer resides; or if its principal office be not in this state, and its mayor, president or other chief officer do not reside therein, wherein it does business; or if it be a corporation organized under the laws of this state which has its principal office located outside of this state and which has no office or place of business within the state, the circuit court of the county in which the plaintiff resides or the circuit court of the county in which the seat of state government is located shall have jurisdiction of all actions

Page 295

at law or suits in equity against the corporation, where the cause of action arose in this state or grew out of the rights of stockholders with respect to corporate management;

(3) If it be to recover land or subject it to a debt, where the land or any part may be;

(4) If it be against one or more nonresidents of the state, where any one of them may be found and served with process or may have estate or debts due him or them;

(5) If it be to recover a loss under any policy of insurance upon either property, life or health or against injury to a person, where the property insured was situated either at the date of the policy or at the time when the right of action accrued or the person insured had a legal residence at the date of his or her death or at the time when the right of action accrued;

(6) If it be on behalf of the state in the name of the attorney general or otherwise, where the seat of government is; or

(7) If a judge of a circuit be interested in a case which, but for such interest, would be proper for the jurisdiction of his or her court, the action or suit may be brought in any county in an adjoining circuit.

(b) Whenever a civil action or proceeding is brought in the county where the cause of action arose under the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, if no defendant resides in the county, a defendant to the action or proceeding may move the court before which the action is pending for a change of venue to a county where one or more of the defendants resides and upon a showing by the moving defendant that the county to which the proposed change of venue would be made would better afford convenience to the parties litigant and the witnesses likely to be called, and if the ends of justice would be better served by the change of venue, the court may grant the motion.

(c) Effective for actions filed after the effective date of this section, a nonresident of the state may not bring an action in a court of this state unless all or a substantial part of the acts or omissions giving rise to the claim asserted occurred in this state: Provided, That unless barred by the statute of limitations or otherwise time barred in the state where the action arose, a nonresident of this state may file an action in state court in this state if the nonresident cannot obtain jurisdiction in either federal or state court against the defendant in the state where the action arose. A nonresident bringing such an action in this state shall be required to establish, by filing an affidavit with the complaint for consideration by the court, that such action cannot be maintained in the state where the action arose due to lack of any legal basis to obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

In a civil action where more than one plaintiff is joined, each plaintiff must independently establish proper venue. A person may not intervene or join in a pending civil action as a plaintiff unless the person independently establishes proper venue. If venue is not proper as to any such nonresident plaintiff in any court of this state, the court shall dismiss the claims of the plaintiff without prejudice to refiling in a court in any other state or jurisdiction.

(Emphasis added.)

Jefferds and Crown argued in their motions to dismiss that Morris is a nonresident2 of West Virginia, and that no substantial part of Morris' cause of action arose in West Virginia. Therefore, Jefferds and Crown argued, the provisions of W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c)[2003] required dismissal of Morris' case on improper venue grounds, unless Morris

Page 296

demonstrated by affidavit that he could not bring his case in some other jurisdiction.

Morris argued in reply that the application of W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003] to Morris as a nonresident in the fashion suggested by Jefferds and Crown was unconstitutional under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. IV, Sec. 2, which states in pertinent part: "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States."3

Morris argued that the interpretation and application of W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003] asserted by Jefferds and Crown was constitutionally impermissible because such an interpretation and application would impose a categorical bar upon nonresidents of West Virginia in their access to the West Virginia courts in cases where an otherwise similarly situated resident of West Virginia would not experience such a bar.

Morris further argued that Jefferds' status as a West Virginia corporation established proper venue as to Jefferds, and that because Jefferds served as a venue-giving defendant, Morris could properly join Crown as well.

Finally, Morris argued that the statutory prerequisite for the application of W.Va. Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003]—that "all or a substantial part of the acts or omissions giving rise to the claim asserted [did not occur in West Virginia]"—was not established. Morris argued that his Complaint and two subsequent Amended Complaints in fact did set forth allegations establishing that a "substantial part" of the acts or omissions giving rise to his claims did occur in West Virginia.4

The circuit court accepted Jefferds' and Crown's arguments based on Morris' nonresidency and W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003]. By orders dated September 1, 2004, and November 24, 2004, the circuit court granted

Page 297

the appellees' motions to dismiss. The circuit court also issued an "Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider" on November 29, 2004. Morris appeals from these orders.

II.
Standard of Review

A trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss is reviewed under a de novo standard. Kopelman and Associates v. Collins, 196 W.Va. 489, 492, 473 S.E.2d 910, 913 (1996). Constitutional challenges relating to a statute are reviewed pursuant to a de novo standard of review. West Virginia ex...

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21 practice notes
  • McNair v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 17-0519
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 11, 2018
    ...of the product, or in the adequacy of warnings provided to the user(s) of the product. Morris v. Crown Equip. Corp. , 219 W.Va. 347, 356, 633 S.E.2d 292, 301 (2006), citing Morningstar v. Black and Decker Manufacturing Co. , 162 W.Va. 857, 888, 253 S.E.2d 666, 682 (1979) (recognizing that "......
  • Savarese v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 33443.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 26, 2008
    ...to actions filed against West Virginia citizens and residents." Syllabus point 2, Morris v. Crown Equipment Corporation, 219 W.Va. 347, 633 S.E.2d 292 [672 S.E.2d 257] 2. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 56-1-1(c) (2003), a nonresident plaintiff must establish that all or a substantial part......
  • State ex rel. Biafore v. Tomblin, No. 16–0013.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 22, 2016
    ...and give it the force of law, such construction will be adopted by the court.' " Morris v. Crown Equip. Corp., 219 W.Va. 347, 355, 633 S.E.2d 292, 300 (2006)(quoting Peel Splint Coal Co. v. State, 36 W.Va. 802, 815, 15 S.E. 1000, 1004 (1892)(citation omitted)). See also Syl. pt. 29, Coal & ......
  • Mace v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., No. 35710.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 22, 2011
    ...the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution, see Syl. Pt. 2, Morris v. Crown Equip. Corp., 219 W.Va. 347, 633 S.E.2d 292 (2006), the Legislature, in 2007, enacted West Virginia Code § 56–1–1a, entitled “Forum non conveniens.” It is this “new” statute, which was am......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • McNair v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 17-0519
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 11, 2018
    ...of the product, or in the adequacy of warnings provided to the user(s) of the product. Morris v. Crown Equip. Corp. , 219 W.Va. 347, 356, 633 S.E.2d 292, 301 (2006), citing Morningstar v. Black and Decker Manufacturing Co. , 162 W.Va. 857, 888, 253 S.E.2d 666, 682 (1979) (recognizing that "......
  • Savarese v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 33443.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 26, 2008
    ...to actions filed against West Virginia citizens and residents." Syllabus point 2, Morris v. Crown Equipment Corporation, 219 W.Va. 347, 633 S.E.2d 292 [672 S.E.2d 257] 2. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 56-1-1(c) (2003), a nonresident plaintiff must establish that all or a substantial part......
  • State ex rel. Biafore v. Tomblin, No. 16–0013.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 22, 2016
    ...and give it the force of law, such construction will be adopted by the court.' " Morris v. Crown Equip. Corp., 219 W.Va. 347, 355, 633 S.E.2d 292, 300 (2006)(quoting Peel Splint Coal Co. v. State, 36 W.Va. 802, 815, 15 S.E. 1000, 1004 (1892)(citation omitted)). See also Syl. pt. 29, Coal & ......
  • Mace v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., No. 35710.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 22, 2011
    ...the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution, see Syl. Pt. 2, Morris v. Crown Equip. Corp., 219 W.Va. 347, 633 S.E.2d 292 (2006), the Legislature, in 2007, enacted West Virginia Code § 56–1–1a, entitled “Forum non conveniens.” It is this “new” statute, which was am......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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