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The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently released its opinion in Ex parteGarrison Trucking Co., wherein it considered the issue of venue.
The Old Rules
In venue disputes, your residence means your permanent home: the place you plan on returning to after an extended absence, as opposed to a place of temporary residence, such as a beach house. In determining where an Alabama employee resides, the Court looks for evidence of the employee’s intent. Typical things that have been considered indicative of where an employee intends to reside are their own representations of their lawful residence on documents, such as where they get their mail and the address listed on bills.
There is one consideration that has always been treated as the smoking gun: the county where someone registers to vote. In the past, registering to vote in a certain county has been considered to answer the question of where someone resides. Put simply, if you register to vote in Mobile County, you reside in Mobile County.
The New Rules
In Ex parte Garrison Trucking Co., the employee claimed he resided in Washington County on the date of the accident and the employer claimed the employee resided in Mobile County. The Court concluded the evidence indicated the employee lived in Washington County.
The employer presented evidence showing the employee received his mail at the Mobile County address, listed the Mobile County address as his residence on multiple documents, including his job application and medical records, he received medical treatment in Mobile County for his alleged work related injury, and evidence that he registered to vote in Mobile County in 2016. The employer’s evidence spanned from March 2014 through May 2016, which presented an essentially uninterrupted timeline.
The employee claimed that he had lived in Washington County for the past 15 years. However, out of all of the documents he submitted, he did not submit any documents that showed he resided in Washington County in 2014. Rather, the only evidence he submitted were documents from 2011, 2013, and 2015. Furthermore, his evidence consisted of two pistol permits, his drivers’ licenses, a vehicle registration, loan documents, and a Transportation Worker Identification Credential card thatexpired on April 20, 2014. The employee also told the Court he became one of the owners of the Mobile County address when his mother died in 2013, but he did not submit any other evidence showing he owned the property. Considering he claimed it was his residence for the past 15 years, it should not have been difficult to obtain better evidence.
After reviewing the evidence, the Court concluded “other than documents listing an address,no evidence was presented to show that [the employee] resided or intended to reside at the [Mobile County] address.” The Court discounted evidence that has historically been regarded as sufficient for purposes of establishing a person’s residence or a person’s intent to reside (i.e. county of voter registration).
In support of its finding, the Court stated that “there was no evidence from neighbors indicating that [the employee] appeared to be living in [Mobile County] or that he was involved in church or community activities in [Mobile County].”
According to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, to prove where an employee resides, the employer has to prove the employee actually lives there and that the employee is an active member of that community. Voter registration is no longer a determinative factor. If the employee is a hermit that merely owns property in another county, or has any recent connections to another county, you may be out of luck.
This article was written by Ashleigh Hunnicutt, an attorney at Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. Fish Nelson & Holden is dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Ashleigh and her firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact Ashleigh email@example.com or (205) 271-7626.