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Blakemore v. Dirt Movers, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

January 11, 2018

NATASHA BLAKEMORE AS MOTHER OF SE-059 NATROYA HULBERT
v.
DIRT MOVERS, INC. et al.

          DILLARD, C. J., RAY and SELF, JJ.

          SELF, JUDGE.

         In this interlocutory appeal in a wrongful death action, we must decide whether a domestic motor carrier corporation may remove a tort action in which it is a defendant to the county where its principal place of business is located, pursuant to OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4), when venue against the defendant would also be proper in the county where the tort occurred under OCGA § 40-1-117 (b). Because plaintiff Natasha Blakemore's allegations of venue were based upon a distinct venue provision unique to motor carriers, we conclude that defendant Dirt Movers, Inc. had no right of removal under the plain language of OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4). Therefore, we reverse the trial court's denial of Blakemore's motion to remand this action to the county where the tort occurred.

         Following the death of her daughter in a motor vehicle accident, Blakemore filed a wrongful death action against Dirt Movers, its driver, and its liability insurance carrier in the State Court of Bibb County. Blakemore alleged that her daughter, Natroya Hulbert, was driving a vehicle on Interstate 75 in Bibb County when she was either hit or forced off the road by a tractor-trailer owned by Dirt Movers; that although the tractor-trailer pulled over and the driver got out, the driver soon fled the scene after seeing the extent of the wreckage; and that Hulbert died in the accident. Furthermore, the pleadings established that Dirt Movers was a domestic corporation engaged in interstate commerce and registered with, licensed by, and insured in accordance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Finally, Dirt Movers acknowledged that the accident occurred in Bibb County and that its principal place of business and registered agent were located in Jeff Davis County. As a result, Blakemore asserted that venue as to Dirt Movers was proper in Bibb County under the Georgia Motor Carrier Act[1] because her cause of action arose as a result of the accident in Bibb County.[2] See OCGA § 40-1-117 (b).

         After receiving service of process, Dirt Movers filed a notice of removal to Jeff Davis County based on OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4), [3] which permits a defendant corporation to remove an action "to the county in Georgia where [it] maintains its principal place of business." However, OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4) limits the right of removal to cases in which "venue is based solely on this paragraph. . . . " Following Dirt Movers' removal of the case, the State Court of Jeff Davis County denied Blakemore's motion to remand the case to Bibb County. However, the trial court granted Blakemore a certificate of immediate review, and we granted Blakemore's application for an interlocutory appeal.

         Blakemore posits that the right of removal under OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4) applies only "[i]f venue is based solely on [that] paragraph" and that Blakemore filed her civil action in Bibb County based not on OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4), but on a separate and distinct venue provision governing motor carriers contained in OCGA § 40-1-117 (b). Dirt Movers does not dispute that Blakemore's complaint alleged facts establishing that venue would be proper in Bibb County under the Motor Carrier Act. Rather, Dirt Movers asserts that, because the only fact supporting venue against it is the county in which the accident occurred, it was entitled to remove the action to Jeff Davis County under OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4). For the following reasons, we conclude that the plain language of OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4) limits a defendant corporation's right of removal to cases in which venue is based only upon that specific paragraph. Accordingly, if there is a separate basis for venue, as in this case, the defendant corporation has no right of removal.

         As a threshold matter, the Georgia Constitution provides that all civil cases shall be tried "in the county where the defendant resides; venue as to corporations, foreign and domestic, shall be as provided by law." Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. VI. To that end, OCGA § 14-2-510 provides that

[e]ach domestic corporation and each foreign corporation authorized to transact business in this state shall be deemed to reside and to be subject to venue as follows:
(1) In civil proceedings generally, in the county of this state where the corporation maintains its registered office . . .;
* * *[4]
(3) In actions for damages because of torts, wrongs, or injury done, in the county where the cause of action originated, if the corporation has an office and transacts business in that county;
(4) In actions for damages because of torts, wrong, or injury done, in the county where the cause of action originated. If venue is based solely on this paragraph, the defendant shall have the right to remove the action to the county in Georgia where the defendant maintains its principal place of business. . . .

(Emphasis supplied.) However, a corporation has no right of removal under OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4) if the complaint alleges facts to support proper venue under a different statutory provision. See Mohawk Industries v. Clark, 259 Ga.App. 26 (576 S.E.2d 16) (2002) (no right of removal where factual allegations supported venue under both subsection (b) (3) and subsection (b) (4)). And with regard to motor carriers, [5] OCGA § 40-1-117 (b) states that "[e]xcept in those cases where the Constitution requires otherwise, any action against any resident or nonresident motor carrier for damages by reason of any breach of duty . . . may be brought in the county where the cause or action or some part thereof arose[.]" (Emphasis supplied.) Importantly, although OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) uses the term "shall" to define venue against a corporation, and "'[s]hall' is generally construed as a word of mandatory import[, ]" O'Donnell v. Durham, 275 Ga. 860, 861 (3) (573 S.E.2d 23) (2002), OCGA § 14-2-510 (c) provides that "[a]ny residences established by this Code section shall be in addition to, and not in limitation of, any other residence that any domestic or foreign corporation may have by reason of other laws." See WBC Holdings v. Thornton, 213 Ga.App. 48, 48-49 (443 S.E.2d 686) (1994). Likewise, OCGA § 40-1-117 (b) further provides that "[t]he venue prescribed by this Code section shall be cumulative of any other venue provided by law."

         Stated succinctly, the issue in this case is whether a domestic motor carrier retains the right to remove a case under OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4), by virtue of its status as a corporation or other business entity, when venue is also predicated upon OCGA § 40-1-117 (b). We conclude that it does not. Under the plain language of OCGA § 14-2-510 (b) (4), a corporation may remove a civil action to the county where its principal place of business is located "if venue is based solely on this paragraph. . . ." "Where the language of a statute is plain and susceptible to only one natural and reasonable construction, courts must construe the statute accordingly. In fact, where the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, judicial construction is not only unnecessary but forbidden." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Chase v. State, 285 Ga. 693, 695 (2) (681 S.E.2d 116) (2009). Accordingly, "the ordinary signification shall be applied to all words. . . ." OCGA § 1-3-1 (b). See also Six Flags Over Ga. II v. Kull, 276 Ga. 210, 211 (576 S.E.2d 880) (2003) ("In the absence of words of limitation, words in a statute should be given their ordinary and everyday meaning.") (punctuation omitted). "Solely" has been defined as meaning "without another[;] to the exclusion of all else." Webster's ...


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