JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A Georgia man suing a Missouri-based railroad for a work-related injury has been granted legal right to pursue the case in his home county after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that preserving plain language, simplicity of law and less complex litigation had precedent.

Cleveland Smith, a resident of Columbus, Georgia, filed a lawsuit against his employer, Kansas City Southern Railway Co. (KCS), after suffering an injury on the job at a work site in April 2012. The suit says Smith was working as a railroad machine operator in Sibley, Louisiana, and was standing on a tie-inserter machine that replaces old railroad ties when he slipped on a step and injured his shoulder. 

Smith alleged a violation of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act in that KCS had failed to provide a safe work environment and was negligent.

The suit was filed in the Lowndes County Circuit Court in Georgia.

Attorneys for KCS asked for a change in venue to move the case to a different court in Rankin County, Mississippi. Although the company had its principal place of business in Kansas City, Mo., it also has a location in Mississippi in which it houses operations that includes its claims department.

Under Mississippi law, civil actions in a circuit court may be held in the county where the defendant lives, or in the case of a corporation like KCS, in the county of its principal place of business.  

The trial court granted KCS a request for a change in venue, deciding that the principal place of business in this case was irrelevant in that the company had major locations in both Missouri and Mississippi, and that the case should be moved to Rankin County, Mississippi.

Smith appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in its interpretation that the company had multiple principal places of business.

A law specific to railroads stated, “Actions against any railroad may brought in the county where the action happened, where the defendant [KCS] has its principal place of business, or the county in which the plaintiff [Smith] resides.”

Smith argued that since KCS' principal place of business was in Missouri and the injury occurred in Louisiana, the appropriate place to hold the trial would be at his place of residence, in Lowndes County, Georgia.

The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed, stating the law specifies that a company could only have one principal place of business, a singular reference to a company’s “nerve center,” in the case of KCS, in Missouri. In addition, the court said having a company (or foreign corporation) observe one principal business location would promote simplicity and help avoid costly, protracted and more complex litigation.

"As the United States Supreme Court has held, interpreting the venue statute to allow a foreign corporation to have only one principal place of business promotes simplicity and avoids complex litigation," the court ruled.

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