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Joinder and venue alterations head to governor’s desk

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Both chambers in the Missouri legislature have given the stamp of approval on changes to the state’s joinder and venue laws, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk.

On Wednesday, the House voted 100-46 in favor of Sen. Ed Emery’s SB 7, which changed what and where cases can be joined together. In February, the bill passed the Senate in a 24-7 vote following an all-night filibuster during perfection.

The bill is the first tort reform measure of the 2019 session to get both chambers’ approval. It now heads to the governor, who expressed support for the bill in a statement. 

“Passing venue and joinder reform is a huge win and will provide long overdue relief to Missouri businesses that have been taken advantage of by rampant abuse our state’s legal system,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “I look forward to signing these positive reforms to improve our state’s competitiveness, strengthen our legal climate, and bring fairness to our courtroom.”

“This legislation has been three years in the making, and we’ve finally passed reasonable and fair venue reform in the state of Missouri,” Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, the House handler of the bill, told the Missouri Times. “This legislation will deter venue shopping and keep improper out-of-state cases from bogging up our Missouri courts and costing the Missouri people time and money.”

The measure codifies that plaintiffs cannot use joinder to establish venue and modifies which cases can be brought together along with carving out a venue exception for insurance agents.

It also allows cases with scheduled trials to be grandfathered in under the old rules. The savings clause was part of the compromise between the two sides in the Senate.

The measure would require individuals to bring a claim where they live, where they were injured, or the principal place of business of the defendant. It would require those looking to join cases to have been injured in the same instance or under the same circumstances. The legislation would also carve out specific venue regulations for insurance companies — agents, those who sell policies, would not be classified as a business location.

“I’m deeply disappointed in my colleagues who voted to protect the interests of out-of-state corporations and not their own hard working constituents,” Rep. Gina Mitten told the Missouri Times. “A Missourian who is hurt or killed in Missouri should be able to seek justice in a Missouri state court — paid for by their tax dollars — by a Missouri jury of their peers.”

During the third read of the bill, House Democrats argued the bill undermines a lawyer’s ability to consolidate related cases, which would limit the ability of lower income individuals to their right to a trial by jury of their peers.

Other opponents railed against the provision restricting a lawsuit from being brought against those who sell a product. Mitten argued the innocent seller statute already prevents sellers who did nothing wrong from being held liable. She argued the provision in the bill simply makes it more difficult for businesses to be held liable for product-related harm.

However, supporters of the bill said the provisions are meant to prevent Missouri from being the nation’s courtroom, as Kolkmeyer says it has already become.

Statistics cited noted that only 1,035 out the 13,252 mass tort plaintiffs with cases in St. Louis City are from Missouri, with only 242 of those are from St. Louis City.

“This bill would reduce cost and increase access for Missouri residents to our court system by reducing the number of cases filed in Missouri courts by plaintiffs with no connection to this state whatsoever,” Kolkmeyer said.

Pending Parson’s signature, the alterations to joinder and venue will go into effect in August 2019 — except for the cases covered under the so-called savings clause, which allows cases where a trial date was set before February 13, 2019, to continue.