Friday, April 20, 2012

When is an opinion not an opinion?

When it's an order, I guess. Yesterday, the MSSC granted an interlocutory appeal on venue, via a 5-4 order instead of a published opinion.

Buddy Craft allegedly bought a part for his car from AutoZone in Scott County, which he claimed malfunctioned and damaged his car in Smith County, where he filed suit. AutoZone moved to change venue and appealed the denial.

The order (Lamar, J.) quotes MCA 11-11-3:
Civil actions of which the circuit court has original jurisdiction shall be commenced in the county where the defendant resides, or, if a corporation, in the county of its principal place of business, or in the county where a substantial alleged act or omission occurred or where a substantial event that caused the injury occurred.
The Court held that the "act or omission" was in Scott, and summarily stated that "Craft failed to allege in his Complaint that a substantial event that caused the injury occurred in Smith County."

Chandler (joined by Randolph, Kitchens, & King) dissented—er, I mean, objected to the order with a separate written statement:
Craft’s complaint alleged that a “substantial event that caused the injury” occurred in Smith County. Craft resides in Smith County, and he used the computer in Smith County, where the computer malfunctioned and caused injury by destroying his transmission. His use of the malfunctioning computer was “a substantial event that caused the injury” in the county of his residence. The complaint also alleges that the continuing malfunction of the computer has caused continuing damage to his new transmission. Clearly, the continuing malfunction in Smith County is a substantial event that caused injury to his new transmission.
Based on that description of the complaint, the Court's holding is a bit mysterious to me. I wish they'd explained it better ... maybe even in an "opinion." (UPDATE: I'm not saying I can't see it: putting a part out into the stream of commerce suffices for jurisdiction, but a car part could malfunction anywhere, making venue possible in any of our 82 counties. But if that's the logic, then why not say so?)

More mysterious, however, is why this was done in an "order." The only reason I can think of is that it's not immediately clear that an "order" can be cited as precedential authority. But it seems less than judicious to issue a one-off "order" in this manner, as if the majority doubted the validity of its legal reasoning—particularly in a field as vexed as the law of venue. Sucks to be Mr. Craft, I guess.

... The MSSC docket shows Keith Obert and Gene Tullos for AutoZone and Mr. Craft pro se. Being familiar with the recurring inaccuracies of that website's attorney information, I would venture a guess that Tullos is Craft's counsel, though it might be that Obert thought it prudent to get a Tullos at his table. The trial judge was Eddie Bowen, of recent fame, and changing venue will change the judge as well.


  1. Yeah, the Supreme Court docket is always swapping out who represents whom in cases.

  2. Because that's such a hard thing to get right! You can't just look at the bottom of a pleading and see who's on that side, can you?

    (To be fair, parties often fail to file entry of appearance forms. But that is the clerk's fault: refuse to file anything by a party that hasn't entered an appearance, and you'll get great compliance.)

    The clerk's office doesn't always enforce the written rules, and sometimes enforces rules that aren't written. It needs a clean-up.

  3. Slight mistakes by the clerks at the Ms. S.Ct. are much preferred to the draconian rule by the nazis at the Fifth Circuit. Kathy Gillis and her team are great. I still miss Betty Malanchak, though.

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