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Lucero v. Ford Motor Co.

Supreme Court of Montana

July 2, 2019

CHARLES S. LUCERO, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Markkaya Jean Gullett, on Behalf of the Heirs and Estate of Markkaya Jean Gullett, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant and Appellant, and THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, an Ohio Corporation; THE KELLY-SPRINGFIELD TIRE CORPORATION, a Maryland Corporation; LLOYD'S TIRE SERVICE, a Washington Corporation; TIRES PLUS, INC., a Montana Corporation; and DOES 1THROUGH 10, Defendants.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 17, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. ADV-18-0247(B) Honorable Elizabeth Best, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Ian McIntosh, Marcia Davenport, Crowley Fleck, PLLP, Bozeman, Montana

          Vaughn A. Crawford, Snell & Wilmer, Phoenix, Arizona.

          For Appellee: Daniel P. Buckley, Buckley Law Office, PC, Bozeman, Montana

          Dennis P. Conner, Keith D. Marr, James Robert "JR" Conner, Conner & Marr, PLLP, Great Falls, Montana

          OPINION

          Ingrid Gustafson Justice.

         ¶1 Defendant Ford Motor Company (Ford) files an interlocutory appeal challenging the Eighth Judicial District Court's denial of its motion to change venue. We affirm.

         ¶2 This Court restates the issue on appeal as follows:

         Whether the county in which a decedent's personal representative resides is a proper venue in survival and wrongful death actions pursuant to § 25-2-122(2), MCA.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 On May 22, 2015, Markkaya Gullett (Decedent), a resident of Mineral County, Montana, died of injuries suffered when her 1996 Ford Explorer lost stability and rolled into a ditch in Mineral County. Charles Lucero is the personal representative of Decedent's estate.

         ¶4 On May 2, 2018, Lucero filed suit against Ford in Cascade County, Montana, on behalf of Decedent and her heirs. The complaint alleges three claims against Ford: strict liability for design defects; strict liability for failure to warn; and negligence. The estate seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Ford. Additionally, the complaint alleges strict liability for design defects and failure to warn, and negligence against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Kelly-Springfield Tire Corporation, and Lloyd's Tire Service, and negligence against Tires Plus, Inc. (Tires Plus).

         ¶5 On July 6, 2018, Ford filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, or, in the alternative, a motion for change of venue pursuant to § 25-2-201(1) and (3), MCA. On August 31, 2018, Tires Plus joined Ford's motion to change venue. Ford requested that venue be changed to Mineral or Missoula County, Montana. Tires Plus requested that venue be changed to Mineral or Sanders County, Montana.

         ¶6 On October 10, 2018, the District Court denied Ford's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and denied Ford's motion to change venue. Ford petitioned this Court for a writ of supervisory control to determine whether Montana has specific personal jurisdiction over Ford, and filed an interlocutory appeal asking this Court to determine whether Cascade County is a proper venue under Montana law. On May 21, 2019, this Court accepted supervisory control and concluded that Montana has specific personal jurisdiction over Ford in this case. Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 2019 MT 115, ¶ 1, 395 Mont. 478. We presently consider Ford's interlocutory appeal regarding its motion for a change of venue.

         ¶7 The facts necessary to determine whether Cascade County is a proper venue are as follows. The rollover and Decedent's death occurred in Mineral County. Decedent resided in Mineral County. Lucero resides in Cascade County. Lucero filed his complaint in Cascade County. Ford is a Delaware company with its principal place of business in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford sells cars and trucks in all fifty states and has thirty-six dealerships in Montana. Ford's ...


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