There currently exists a split between two panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals on what constitutes preferred venue under Indiana Trial Rule 75. Indiana Trial Rule 75 is a rule adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court that sets forth venue requirements for cases filed in Indiana state courts. While the rule provides that “[a]ny case may be venued, commenced and decided in any court in any county,” Ind. R. Trial P. 75, it allows for parties to have cases transferred to other courts or counties that have preferred venue, based upon criteria set forth in ten (10) separate subsections.
Preferred venue for cases can exist in more than one court or county in Indiana. One of the ten (10) subsections of Indiana Trial Rule 75 provides for preferred venue in “the county where… the principal office of a defendant organization is located…” Ind. R. Trial P. 75(A)(4).
The Indiana Court of Appeals’ split decisions arise from medical malpractice cases filed in Marion County, Indiana. The defendants sought to have the cases transferred to other counties, namely Monroe County, Indiana and Lawrence County, Indiana. Although Indiana procedural law enacted by Indiana’s legislature provides that “[t]he address of [an entity’s registered] agent does not determine venue in an action or a proceeding involving the entity,” Ind. Code § 23-0.5-4-12, the Indiana Supreme Court has interpreted the term “principal office” as used in Indiana Trial Rule 75(A)(4) and (10) as “the place in Indiana where one serves the corporate registered agent.” Am. Family Ins. Co. v. Ford Motor Co., 857 N.E.2d 971, 975 (Ind. 2006) (American Family).
The plaintiffs argued in both cases that preferred venue existed in Marion County, Indiana because one or more of the defendants had registered agents with office addresses in Marion County, Indiana. They argued that Indiana Code § 23-0.5-4-12 was inapplicable and/or a nullity as a result of the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision and precedent in American Family.
Under well-established Indiana law, if a conflict exists between a procedural statute and a rule adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court, the rule takes precedence and “all laws in conflict with the supreme court’s rules have no further force or effect.” Ind. Code § 34-8-1-3. Indiana Trial Rule 75(D) further provides that “any special or general statute relating to venue” shall be subject to Indiana Trial Rule 75 and “any statute fixing more stringent rules thereon shall be ineffective.”
The Indiana Court of Appeals in Morrison v. Vasquez, 107 N.E.3d 1103 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) declined to find that Indiana Code § 23-0.5-4-12 fixed a more stringent rule or was otherwise ineffective under Indiana Trial Rule 75(D) and held that Marion County, Indiana was not a preferred venue based upon the address of the defendant’s registered agent.
The Indiana Court of Appeals in Indiana Univ. Health S. Indiana Physicians, Inc. v. Noel, 2018 WL 5813083 (Ind. Ct. App. Nov. 7, 2018), however, held that preferred venue lied in Marion County, Indiana because Indiana Code § 23-0.5-4-12 conflicts with Indiana Trial Rule 75(A)(4) as interpreted by the Indiana Supreme Court in American Family, thus making the statute a nullity.