2015, Appellees Sherinna McMann and Childrona Holton were
passengers in a car traveling southbound on Interstate 75 in
Bibb County. An unknown driver ("John Doe")
allegedly swerved into Appellees' lane, causing the
driver of their vehicle to slam on the brakes. Appellant Eric
Carpenter was driving behind Appellees' vehicle at that
time, allegedly following too closely, and rear-ended the
vehicle. Doe fled the scene, and his identity remains
sued Doe and Carpenter for negligence in Bibb County under
the Georgia uninsured motorist statute, which states that
"[a] motor vehicle shall be deemed to be uninsured if
the owner or operator of the motor vehicle is unknown."
OCGA § 33-7-11 (b) (2). Appellees chose to sue in Bibb
County on the basis of OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1) of that
statute, which provides that "the residence of such
'John Doe' defendant shall be presumed to be in the
county in which the accident causing injury or damages
occurred, or in the county of residence of the plaintiff, at
the election of the plaintiff in the action."
moved to transfer venue to Crawford County where he resides,
but the trial court denied his motion, and the Court of
Appeals affirmed. Carpenter v. McMann, 341 Ga.App.
791 (802 S.E.2d 74) (2017). We granted Carpenter's
petition for certiorari, posing a single question: Does the
venue provision of the uninsured motorist statute, see OCGA
§ 33-7-11 (d) (1), apply in a suit related to an
automobile collision brought against a known Georgia resident
and an unknown defendant under a joint tortfeasor theory? See
Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. IV. We answer that
question in the affirmative, and therefore affirm.
Georgia Constitution provides that venue generally lies in
the county where the defendant resides. Ga. Const. of 1983,
Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. VI. But it also establishes that for
suits against joint tortfeasors who "resid[e] in
different counties," venue is appropriate "in
either county." Id. at Par. IV. What to do,
however, when the residence of one tortfeasor is unknown? The
Constitution does not directly answer that question. But, as
already discussed, Georgia's uninsured motorist statute
provides that in cases against an unknown operator of a motor
vehicle, "the residence of such 'John Doe'
defendant shall be presumed to be in the county in which the
accident causing the injury or damages occurred, or in the
county of residence of the plaintiff, at the election of the
plaintiff in the action." OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1).
Here, Appellees elected to treat Doe's residence as Bibb
County, where the accident at issue occurred, and sued in
Bibb on that basis. But Carpenter asserts that doing so
violates his constitutional right to have venue in his own
county of residence under Paragraph VI of our
Constitution's venue section. Ga. Const. of 1983, Art.
VI, Sec. II, Par. VI.
respond to Carpenter's claim, we need only examine the
text of the relevant provisions. When construing a statute,
we afford the text its "plain and ordinary
meaning," viewed in "the context in which it
appears," and read in "its most natural and
reasonable way." Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170,
172 (751 S.E.2d 337) (2013). If the text of a statute is
clear and unambiguous, we ordinarily search no further for
its meaning. Id. at 173. In short, we cannot presume
that we have the authority to interpret statutes in a way
that departs from their text, context, and structure. The
same interpretive principles hold true for constitutional
interpretation as well. See, e.g., Ga. Motor Trucking
Ass'n v. Ga. Dep't of Revenue, 301 Ga. 354, 356
(801 S.E.2d 9) (2017); see also Olevik v. State, 302
Ga. 228, 235-236 (806 S.E.2d 505) (2017) (explaining that
"[w]e interpret a constitutional provision according to
the original public meaning of its text").
principles decide this case. Because the lawsuit underlying
this appeal is brought against joint tortfeasors Carpenter
and Doe, it may be tried in the county where either resides.
Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. IV. And because
the Georgia Code establishes that the residence of Doe may be
presumed to be where the accident occurred-in Bibb
County-this case may be tried there according to the plain
language of our Constitution and the uninsured motorist
statute. Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. IV; OCGA
§ 33-7-11 (d) (1). Nothing in the text of either
provision disturbs those commonsense readings. Nor is there
any reason to think that the legislature is prohibited from
establishing the county of residence as the site of the
accident for an unknown defendant; we have been clear that the
legislature has the authority to create reasonable statutory
rules concerning venue when the Constitution leaves space to
do so. See Shelton v. Lee, 299 Ga. 350, 353 (788
S.E.2d 369) (2016); see also Glover v. Donaldson,
243 Ga. 479, 482 (254 S.E.2d 857) (1979) (legislature may fix
residence of transit authority for venue purposes, but
constitutional venue provision for joint tortfeasors
controlled where transit authority was sued along with other
argues that this application of the statutory text stands in
unconstitutional tension with Paragraph VI of our
Constitution's venue section because it overrides that
paragraph's demand that cases "shall be tried in the
county where the defendant resides," Ga. Const. of 1983,
Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. VI. In his view, OCGA § 33-7-11
(d) (1) must give way to that provision in cases against
joint tortfeasors where one is a known Georgia resident and
the other is an unknown defendant presumed to be a Georgia
resident by statute. Otherwise, he argues, the uninsured
motorist statute would divest the known defendant of his
constitutional right to be sued where he resides. Of course,
it is true that if a statutory rule contradicts a
constitutional rule, then the constitutional rule prevails.
See Owens v. Hill, 295 Ga. 302, 315 (758 S.E.2d 794)
(2014); Campbell v. Dep't of Corr., 268 Ga. 408,
411 (490 S.E.2d 99) (1997). The problem for Carpenter is that
the provision he cites does not apply in this case at all.
Constitution sets out specific venue requirements for divorce
cases; for cases regarding title to land; for cases against
"joint" parties, including joint tortfeasors; and
for cases against the "maker and endorser of promissory
notes" or the "drawer, acceptor, and endorser of
foreign or inland bills." Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI,
Sec. II, Pars. I-V. Paragraph VI of the same section then
creates a general venue requirement for "[a]ll
other civil cases." Id. at Par. VI
(emphasis supplied). Put simply, because Paragraph IV applies
in this case, Paragraph VI does not. Accordingly, the venue
provisions of Georgia's uninsured motorist statute do not
contradict the venue provisions of our Constitution as
Carpenter has asserted. In fact, it is actually the
construction sought by Carpenter that would override the
constitutional provision that joint tortfeasors
"residing in different counties may be tried in either
county." Id. at Par. IV.
this is not a case where there exists any evidence of
collusion to add a party to the lawsuit for the purposes of
venue-shopping. Cf. Bell v. McDonald, 117 Ga.App.
570 (161 S.E.2d 432) (1968). The pleadings in the trial court
demonstrate as much. Appellees' lawsuit alleges that Doe
"negligently operated his motor vehicle so as to enter
plaintiffs' lawful lane of travel and force [the driver]
to slam on his brakes," in violation of OCGA
§§ 40-6-48 and 40-6-123, and that this negligence,
along with that alleged against Carpenter, "proximately
caused the collision." And in answering the complaint,
Carpenter himself asserted that "Defendant John Doe was
independently negligent, said negligence entering into the
proximate cause of plaintiff's alleged injuries.
Therefore, this Defendant cannot be held liable for any
injuries incurred by the Plaintiffs as a result of said
independent negligence by said John Doe Defendant." It
appears, then, that all parties agree that Doe was an
integral player in the accident at issue. So did the Court of
Appeals, which likewise understood that Doe "is alleged
to have played a vital role in causing the plaintiffs'
alleged injuries," and that "[t]here is no evidence
of collusion here." Carpenter, 341 Ga.App. at
794, 794 n.10. We agree. And because there is no evidence
that Appellees sued Doe only to evade a more appropriate
venue, any measures that may be available under those
circumstances need not be considered here.
urges us to create a rule that an unknown motorist is a
"nominal party" whose presumed residence may not be
considered for purposes of establishing venue. In the first
place, the term "nominal party" does not appear in
the statute, so it is not clear what judicially deeming a
defendant "nominal" would establish. And although
the legislature could certainly conclude the rule proposed by
Carpenter makes sense (or that it does not), we will not take
the liberty of deciding that issue judicially. We thus
disapprove any suggestion in Court of Appeals cases that
deeming a defendant "nominal" itself removes that
defendant from the case for purposes of establishing venue.
See, e.g., Banks v. City of Hampton, 280 Ga.App. 432
(634 S.E.2d 192) (2006).
short, under a plain reading of the statutory provisions at
play, we see no limitation suggesting that the venue
provisions of Georgia's uninsured motorist statute merely
apply in cases where a John Doe defendant is the only
defendant. To find otherwise would be to amend the statute by
reading additional language into it, which we will not do.
Nor do the terms of the statute conflict with the
constitutional requirements for venue. Accordingly, we affirm
the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
affirmed. All ...