An Obituary of the Joint Residency Rule

In Brown, et al. v. Nagelhout, et al. (SC10-868), decided by the Florida Supreme Court in mid-March, the justices unanimously abrogated the more than half-century old doctrine of venue selection known as the joint residency rule, first promulgated by the Supremes in Enfinger v. Baxley, 96 So.2d 538 (Fla. 1957).

In Florida, a plaintiff bringing suit against defendants residing in multiple counties may generally bring suit in any county in which any of the defendants resides. Section 47.021, Fla. Stat. While this provision has been Florida law since at least 1906, the Florida Supreme Court in Enfinger limited the plain meaning of the statute. In Enfinger, the plaintiff filed suit in Duval County against two defendants, an individual (resident of Polk County) and a corporation (resident of both Polk and Duval Counties by virtue of its corporate representative and agents). While this was in accordance with the text of the statute, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s choice would be limited to a county of the defendants’ joint residency if there was one, as the choice of venue was an exceptional power. Enfinger at 540.
In Brown v. Nagelhout, plaintiffs filed suit in Broward County against three defendants: an individual defendant resident of Pasco County, a corporate defendant resident of Pasco and Broward Counties (by virtue of its business residence and registered agent address), and a second corporate defendant resident of Duval and Leon Counties (again, by reason of business residence and registered agent address). The Fourth District on appeal held that the the joint residency rule applied to restrict venue to where an “individual defendant and a corporate defendant share residence, which is also where cause of action accrued.” Brown v. Nagelhout, 33 So.3d 83, 84 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). Perhaps unwittingly, the Fourth District created a split among the districts by applying the joint residency rule in a case where the county of residence was shared by merely one of the corporate defendants and an individual defendant. The First, Second, and Third Districts previously applied the joint residency rule only if a joint county of residence was shared by all defendants. See Op. at 2 for citations.
Favoring what appears to be a literal interpretation of Florida’s venue statutes, at least where no constitutional concerns are raised, the Supreme Court did away with the joint-residency rule entirely, labeling it an “impractical legal fiction.” After over 50 years, the meaning and the text of Section 47.021, Florida Statutes, are one and the same.