JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The House Special Committee on Litigation Reform continues moving forward, advancing one bill out of the committee Monday afternoon and hearing another.
Rep. Kevin Corlew’s HB 1512, which deals with arbitration agreements, quickly passed out of the committee with an 8-4 vote. Reps. Gina Mitten, Mark Ellebracht, Steve Roberts, and Bill White all voted against the measure.
Rep. Gina Mitten, before the vote, urged her colleagues not to pass the bill, once again briefly outlining her stance and echoing the quote from Gretchen Carlson, the woman who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes saying arbitration agreements are a sexual harasser’s dream.
After passing the bill out of committee, the members of the Litigation Reform group were introduced to Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer’s HB 1578, a bill seeking to address venue and joinder in civil proceedings.
Under that bill, out-of-state injury claims from separate complaints of the same product or service will not be allowed to join other complaints. It also states that, in any tort civil action, two or more defendants will be joined in a single action only if the personal jurisdiction and venue is established to each defendant.
The intent of the bill is to prevent “venue shopping;” a problem in which national cases come to Missouri simply because they believe that the St. Louis court system rules in favor of plaintiffs. Because of that reputation, St. Louis has been named once again as one of the top judicial hellholes in that nation, and Republicans say it clogs up the judicial system while turning St. Louis into the home of “litigation tourism.” They contend that it creates a harmful business environment and scares away potential companies looking to make their home in Missouri.
Kolkmeyer says there are cases that never should have been accepted into courtrooms in St. Louis but are.
Rep. Bill White said that the issue was concerning to him but also stated that he had some apprehension about the bill.
“I’d love to see some amendments so we can address venue shopping without affecting the average everyday citizens,” he said.
“This is complicated stuff,” Rep. Mark Ellebracht said. “But how do we get past the fact that this legislation is going to treat defendants differently than plaintiffs?”
He contended that there’s a process, a remedy already available concerning how and where someone can file for damages.
Opponents of the bill argue that Missouri already has a tiered system, which dictates that a lawsuit must be filed in the county in which the incident occurs. If it happened outside of the state, then it should be filed in the county where the defendant resides. If they do not reside in Missouri, then the case is filed where the plaintiff resides.
They argue that, in all other states, the plaintiff chooses where to file the venue. They also contend that it’s clear that jurisdiction has to exist to end up in Missouri, and that the arguments against joinder have little merit, as the point of joinder is to put similar cases together to be more efficient and reduce costs and time.
“Why would any company want to come here when Missouri is in the top three places to file a lawsuit?” Kolkmeyer asked, referencing the Judicial Hellhole report issued by the American Tort Reform Association in December.
“I don’t believe this is a problem or any evidence of that fact,” Rep. Ellebracht said. “I see a publication made by an industry magazine, but little else.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.