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Moving chattel for suit doesn't establish venue

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In its opinion today regarding a breach of warranty case, the Indiana Court of Appeals had to define for the first time what "regularly located or kept" meant for purposes of Indiana Trial Rule 75(A)(2).

In Gulf Stream Coach, Inc. v. Joseph and Dawn Cronin, No. 48A02-0808-CV-686, Gulf Stream Coach appealed the denial of its motion to transfer venue to Elkhart County from Madison County. Joseph and Dawn Cronin, who lived in Pennsylvania, filed a suit against the RV maker after they claim they began having various problems with the RV just a few months after purchase. The Cronins left the RV in a parking lot in Anderson, Ind., in February 2006 and filed its complaint in September 2006 in Madison Circuit Court. Gulf Stream argued Elkhart County was the preferred venue because that's where the company's principal office is located. The trial court denied the company's motion to dismiss or transfer, ruling the RV was regularly kept in Madison County for several months before the suit was filed and continues to be there.

In determining whether Madison County also qualified as a preferred venue, the Court of Appeals examined Rule 75(A)(2) and focused on the meaning of "regularly." The appellate court discovered the meaning of "regularly" hadn't been the subject of any Indiana appellate opinions.

Gulf Stream argued the motor home was brought to Madison County only for purposes of the litigation and therefore wasn't "regularly" located or kept in the county.

Because the Cronins have no connection to Madison County other than the litigation, the Court of Appeals deduced the couple seemed to have either picked Madison County for purposes of the litigation and then chose an attorney, or picked an attorney in Madison County and then brought the RV to that county, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The trial court was incorrect to rule that because the motor home sat in the parking lot for seven months that it was "regularly located or kept" there. Using the Webster's Dictionary definition of "regular," the appellate court ruled the RV was brought to Madison County for the purposes of the litigation and that the use of "regularly" in the trial rule was included to prevent a party from establishing preferred venue by simply moving chattel to a certain location in anticipation of a lawsuit, she wrote.

"As such, we hold that, when a party moves a chattel to a county, whether from out-of-state or from another Indiana county, solely for purposes of litigation, that county does not become the county where the chattel is "regularly located and kept" under Rule 75(A)(2) and therefore is not a preferred venue under Rule 75," she wrote.

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