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Senate supports critical venue reform bill

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Following a lengthy debate, the Missouri Senate has given first round approval to a bill that’s considered a cornerstone of the legislature’s work this session to reform the state’s legal climate.

Senate Bill 7 addresses a longstanding issue which allows lawsuits with little-or-no connection to Missouri to be filed in plaintiff-friendly St. Louis and Kansas City courts. This problem is clogging our state court system. During a recent hearing, bill sponsor Sen. Ed Emery, a Republican from Lamar, cited statistics showing that out of the 13,252 mass tort plaintiffs involved in cases being heard in St. Louis City, only 1,035 are Missouri residents. This led Sen. Emery to contend that Missouri is “being used as the nation’s courtroom.”

This issue is a major reason why Missouri and St. Louis annually rank as having some of the worst legal climates in the nation. This negative reputation hurts our ability to be competitive for economic growth opportunities. Improving our state’s competitiveness is one of the four key drivers of Missouri 2030, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s strategic initiative for growth.

The Senate’s vote in favor of venue reform — pending final approval — is a major step forward on legislation that would ensure cases are brought in the proper forum.

The vote comes weeks after a Missouri Supreme Court ruling brought positive news on addressing the state’s venue issue. In the case, State ex rel. Johnson & Johnson v. The Hon. Rex Burlison, the court ruled 4 to 3 that tort cases must be brought in the county where the plaintiff was first injured — essentially stopping in-state cases from jumping to more plaintiff friendly venues.

“Just as the cart cannot lead the horse, joinder cannot control venue,” wrote Judge Powell in a footnote in the decision.

In the wake of the ruling, the Senate made changes to Senate Bill 7 that would adopt the decision into state law, ensuring that the intent of the legislature is clear in opposing venue shopping.
While this court decision is a positive step forward, it remains critical that state lawmakers pass legislation to finally put venue shopping in the past. Senate Bill 7 is a good vehicle to accomplish this goal.

“Fixing our state’s broken venue law is the business community’s top priority this year. We’ve made tremendous progress in recent years to improve our state’s economic potential, but our legal climate remains a major hurdle to our ability to compete,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “I’d like to thank Sen. Ed Emery and the leadership in the Senate for making venue reform a priority this session. We will continue to advocate for this bill, and other needed legal climate reforms, as the session moves forward.”

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