Venue–Joint Tortfeasors in Georgia

In M&M Mortgage Co. v. Grantville Mill (A09A2291 01/14/10), the Georgia Court Appeals reminds all Georgia civil litigators how costly suing a litigant in the wrong venue can be.  M&M, which resided for venue purposes in either Fulton County of DeKalb County, sued Grantville Mill in Coweta County.  Grantville filed a counterclaim against M&M.  Venue as to M&M was proper in Coweta County because M&M submitted itself to the Coweta County court’s jurisdiction and venue by filing a claim there.  Sometime in the litigation, Grantville moved to add as a counterclaim defendant M&M’s president, Michael Randles.  Randles is a resident of DeKalb County.  Nevertheless, the trial court allowed it and denied Randles’ motion to dismiss for improper venue.

The Georgia Constitution provides that joint tortfeasors who reside in different counties may be tried together in either county.  The counterclaim that Grantville filed alleged that M&M and Randles were joint tortfeasors.  But it overlooked one significant fact:  neither M&M nor Randles resided in Coweta County.  M&M was subject to suit there, but that does mean that it is “a resident” of Coweta County for venue purposes.  And because M&M did not reside in Coweta County, the joint tortfeasor provision of the Georgia Constitution did not operate to subject Randles, an individual DeKalb County resident, to suit there.

Unsurprisingly, the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment against Randles, thus undoing all of the undoubtedly expensive work that had been done to earn it, because Randles must be tried, if it all, in DeKalb County.  For practitioners, the lesson here is obvious:  don’t assume that joint tortfeasors can always be sued in every county in which one may be subject to suit.  Joint tortfeasors can be sued together in the same county only so long as one resides in the proposed venue.

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