Litigation is a competitive game. Like other competitive games, participants like being on their home field in front of familiar faces. In the litigation context, this question of which field are we going to play ball on is called venue. At times, litigation can involve what venue is appropriate to handle the litigation. In state court cases, this may mean determining the appropriate county within the state to hear the controversy. A recent property insurance dispute in a Florida case involved the question of which county was the appropriate venue for the case.1
The policyholders filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County to recover damages sustained to their home insured by Sunshine State Insurance Company. The property insured is located in Palm Beach County. In the complaint, the policyholders represented that Sunshine State “does business in the entire state of Florida” and “maintains its administrative offices, home office, mailing address, office of policy holder relations and the location of its records in Miami–Dade County.”
Sunshine State moved to transfer venue claiming that these allegations were false and supported its motion with the affidavit of its Assistant Vice President of Property Claims who attested that “its only office [for the transaction of business] is in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida.” Sunshine argued that although venue was not proper in Miami–Dade County, it was proper in Palm Beach County, the location of the home. The policyholder argued that venue was proper in Miami–Dade County “because Defendant promotes and sells policies through offices in Miami–Dade County.”
The trial court denied Sunshine State’s motion to transfer venue. Sunshine State appealed that ruling. The appellate court discussed Florida Statute §47.051 governing venue in actions against corporations. The statute provides that a domestic corporation such as Sunshine State may be sued in “only” one of three places: where it has an office for the transaction of its customary business, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property at issue is located:
Actions against domestic corporations shall be brought only in the county where such corporation has, or usually keeps, an office for transaction of its customary business, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located. Actions against foreign corporations doing business in this state shall be brought in a county where such corporation has an agent or other representative, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located.
The appellate court noted that although insurance agents statewide write Sunshine State policies, Sunshine State itself keeps an office for the transaction of its customary business only in Duval County, and not in Miami–Dade County. This method of conducting business through an agent does not make venue proper in an action against a domestic corporation wherever such agents are located because “the statutory provisions concerning an agent apply to foreign corporations only.” The statute distinguishes between Florida and foreign corporations: “A Florida corporation resides where it has an office for the transaction of its customary business,” while “[a] foreign corporation doing business in Florida resides where it has an agent or other representative.”
The appellate court held that for domestic corporations such as Sunshine State, doing business – issuing policies to Miami–Dade homeowners – is not the test. The appropriate test is whether venue has been lodged in the county where the domestic corporation has an office for transaction of its customary business, here, Duval County. Alternatively, venue may be proper where the cause of action accrued or where the property at issue is located, here, Palm Beach County.
The appellate court held that venue is improper in Miami–Dade County but proper in Palm Beach County as Sunshine State suggests. The appellate court reversed the trial court order and remanded the case for an appropriate order transferring venue. The participants in the game in this case have been up on appeal and back down to the trial court and are still waiting for their chance to go on the field. Now they know the location of the field where they will have the contest.
1 Sunshine State Ins. Co. v. Munoz-Upton, No. 3D13–573 (Fla. 3d DCA November 27, 2013).