Indiana Supreme Court Resolves Court of Appeals Split in Medical Malpractice Cases

We previously wrote about a split between two panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals on what constitutes preferred venue under Indiana Trial Rule 75 in medical malpractice cases in Indiana. Indiana Trial Rule 75 provides for preferred venue in “the county where… the principal office of a defendant organization is located…,” and the Indiana Supreme Court has previously interpreted the term “principal office” as “the place in Indiana where one serves the corporate registered agent.” Ind. R. Trial P. 75(A)(4); Am. Family Ins. Co. v. Ford Motor Co., 857 N.E.2d 971, 975 (Ind. 2006) (American Family).

Plaintiffs in both medical malpractice cases argued preferred venue existed in Marion County, Indiana because one or more of the defendants had registered agents with office addresses in Marion County. However, the healthcare Defendants in these cases argued that preferred venue did not lie in Marion County because a new Indiana statute 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 Court of Appeals in Morrison v. Vasquez, 107 N.E.3d 1103 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) held that Marion County, Indiana was not a preferred venue based upon the address of the defendant’s registered agent, whereas the Court in Indiana Univ. Health S. Indiana Physicians, Inc. v. Noel, 114 N.E.3d 479 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) held that preferred venue lied in Marion County.

In reviewing these split decisions, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to apply American Family, finding American Family was no longer controlling law because it was premised on statutory provisions that have been repealed and replaced by the new business corporation statutes. The Court further reasoned that American Family, even if controlling, did not apply to domestic corporations. In Morrison and Noel, the corporations at issue were domestic, but had registered agents in different counties than the actual principal executive offices of the corporations.

The Indiana Supreme Court held in Morrison v. Vasquez, 124 N.E.3d 1217 (Ind. 2019) that a domestic organization’s actual principal office and not the location of its registered agent is the appropriate preferred venue. The Court further held that in light of the new statutes defining “principal office,” Ind. Code § 23-0.5-1.5-29, and providing that a registered agent’s location does not determine preferred venue, Ind. Code § 23-0.5-4-12, the location of a registered agent does not determine preferred venue for either domestic or foreign corporations. Lastly, the Court held that the new business corporation statutes could be applied retroactively to the plaintiff in Morrison because preferred venue was not determined by the trial court in that case until after the enactment of the statutes, and even though the statutes were enacted after the filing of the complaint, procedural statutes, as opposed to substantive statutes, may be applied retroactively.

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