On October 18, 2016, the Supreme Court held that when personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction are established, venue is proper in any county in Missouri in the absence of an express provision in RSMo § 508.010 restricting venue. In State of Missouri ex rel. Heartland Title Services, Inc., the Missouri Supreme Court was presented with an issue of first impression - does the absence of an express provision in the venue statute prescribing a specific venue dictate that venue is proper in (1) any county in Missouri or (2) no county in Missouri?
Plaintiff title company filed a two-count petition alleging professional malpractice claims against an attorney and his law firm. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Count II of Plaintiff’s Petition for lack of venue, arguing that the tort alleged occurred outside of Missouri. Defendants further argued that RSMo § 508.010 limited venue to either the county in Missouri where a corporate defendant’s registered agent is located or where an individual defendant’s principal place of residence is located; and since neither was present in this case, the case could not be filed in any Missouri court.. The Circuit Court agreed with Defendants and dismissed Count II of Plaintiff’s Petition. Heartland sought relief by preliminary writ of prohibition, which was made permanent by the Missouri Supreme Court.
The Court found that RSMo § 508.010 was not intended to deny Missouri venue in all situations not provided for by the statute. Rather, the purpose is to provide a “convenient, logical, and orderly forum for resolution of disputes.” It rejected Defendant’s argument that this interpretation was likely to encourage forum shopping - citing (1) the reality that both subject matter and personal jurisdiction are prerequisites to proceeding in Missouri courts; (2) limited liability companies and corporations are required to register an agent in Missouri if conducting business in the state; and (3) the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens is not abolished. And while the State does not recognize intrastate forum non conveniens, Missouri circuit courts have a “ministerial duty” to transfer a case to a county where venue is proper.
The Court held that without an express prescription of a particular venue, venue can be proper in any Missouri county.