JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The House Judiciary Committee heard House Bill 231, a tort reform measure, Tuesday evening. If passed, the bill would modify the provisions relating to civil procedure regarding joinder and venue. Sponsored by Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, the bill faced major opposition from the House Committee despite the many supporters at the hearing.
Kolkmeyer explained that in 2005, the legislature passed litigation to curb plaintiff attorneys. This was to put a stop to plaintiffs and their attorneys moving from court room-to-court room in an effort to find more sympathetic and favorable judgments.
“Plaintiff lawyers are now abusing a legal process known as joinder to get around the 2005 reforms,” Kolkmeyer said. “They file lawsuits and bring defendants from all over the nation into St. Louis and where plaintiffs could get bigger judgments by friendly jurors.”
According to Kolkmeyer, passing this bill would end lawsuit abuse and close the joinder loophole as the venue laws remain functional. The representative then cited the number of plaintiffs in and outside of the state that currently occupies St. Louis courts.
“Out of 13,252 plaintiffs with mass torque litigation in Missouri, only 1,035 are actually from Missouri and only 242 are from St. Louis,” Kolkmeyer stated.
After Kolkmeyer’s testimony, the bill received immediate skepticism from the committee. Rep. Ron Hicks mentioned how this bill might affect business owners like himself. With fourteen restaurants in six different counties, Hicks questioned whether this bill would force him to have to pursue six different lawsuits in the case of acquiring tainted food.
More inquires came from the committee, as Rep. Mark Ellebracht challenged Kolkmeyer by referencing Bayer Corp v. Moriarty which was handed down by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2017. This case said that plaintiffs who failed to plead facts showing their claims arose out of the state or relate to a Missouri activity cannot bring their claims that occurred here.
Ellebracht continued by questioning Kolkmeyer on what the point of passing House Bill 231 if the Missouri Supreme Court had already settled it.
The committee and the supporters in favor of the bill continued to clash over the same issues that were brought up by Hicks and Ellebracht, as well as what these remaining court cases do for the St. Louis region economically and whether the bill contradicts with the already functioning venue laws. By contrast, testimony from the opposition supported the idea that both the U.S. and Missouri Supreme Court had already remedied this problem in prior cases and that new laws would only hurt Missouri plaintiffs.
Testimony from supporters and opposers was cut short as the hearing came to a close, but many individuals representing larger businesses came to announce their support for the bill including General Motors, the Missouri Railroad Association, and the Missouri Hospital Association.