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COA orders transfer of motor carrier suit to Kosciusko County

March 6, 2018

The Marion Superior Court must transfer a case against a commercial motor carrier to Kosciusko County after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined the northern Indiana county is the preferred venue.

Pursuant to Indiana’s corporation law, CTB, Inc. — which operates as a commercial motor carrier that transports cargo — designated a registered office and registered agent in Kosciusko County. However, pursuant to federal law, CTB also designated two Marion County-based process agents to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, though it does not have any Marion County offices.

Thus, when Justin Tunis sustained an on-the-job injury allegedly due to a CTB failure, he and his wife filed suit against the company in Marion County and served their complaint on the process agents. CTB moved to transfer venue to Kosciusko County pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 75(A)(4), but the Marion Superior Court denied the motion. The trial court found both Marion and Kosciusko counties were statutorily considered “preferred venues,” so it had no authority to transfer the case to Kosciusko County based on a preferred-venue argument.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed with that decision Monday. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote that a corporation’s “principal office” — which determines the preferred venue — is a company’s registered office. The appellate court relied on precedent from Am. Family Ins. V. Ford Motor Co., 857 N.E.2d 971, 972 (Ind. 2006) to reach that conclusion.

“In other words, the fact that CTB has designated agents for service of process in Marion County pursuant to a federal regulation is completely irrelevant to the question of venue under Trial Rule 75(A)(4),” Vaidik wrote. “What matters is the location of the office of the registered agent.”

Here, CTB’s registered agent was located in Kosciusko County, making that location the preferred venue, Vaidik concluded. The appellate court reversed the denial of CTB’s motion and remanded the case for transfer to Kosciusko County.The case is CTB, Inc. and CTB, Inc. d/b/a CTB Logistics v. Justin Tunis and Nichole Tunis, 17A-CT-3066.

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