Calling courts in Missouri "hostile" and "runaway," TAMKO Building Products President and CEO David Humphreys indicated he may seek to move the company out of the state after the U.S. Supreme Court denied TAMKO's petition to block a class-action lawsuit against it that was filed in Jasper County three years ago.
Humphreys said in a statement that the decision means TAMKO "will need to reconsider our presence in Missouri versus other states where the rule of law outweighs the rule of trial lawyers.”
Humphreys would not elaborate further when the Globe sought more information about TAMKO's plans.
TAMKO was founded in Joplin in 1944. The company has operations on High Street and Range Line Road and its headquarters at 220 W. 4th St. In 2014, it also purchased the Commerce Bank Corporate Center at 211 S. Main St. to be remodeled for TAMKO use. The company also has a plant in Lamar, as well as plants and operations in 10 other states, and operates in all 50 states.
"We and other Missouri-based companies will continue to face wasteful and expensive litigation in Missouri’s trial lawyer-friendly courts, which have been labeled as the No. 4 judicial hellhole in the U.S.," Humphreys said in his statement, referencing a report by the American Tort Reform Association that criticized what it calls the most defendant-friendly courts in the country.
"The (U.S. Supreme) Court missed a chance to reign in Missouri’s runaway courts which have been particularly hostile to TAMKO in retaliation for our efforts to reform the trial bar’s special interest grip on Missouri’s judge selection process."
By denying TAMKO's petition for a writ of certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings in the Jasper County Circuit Court and Missouri's Southern District Court of Appeals that found a class-action suit can be brought against the company despite its contention that an agreement printed on the packaging compelled any customer complaints to be handled through private arbitration.
The suit, filed in 2014 by a Texas County man, Lee Hobbs, and by Jonesburg United Methodist Church, located in Montgomery County, alleged TAMKO sold defective shingles that failed before their guaranteed 30-year warranty. The shingles, the suit said, began "warping, curling and beginning to fail," which then allegedly led to structural problems at the church and Hobbs’ house by allowing moisture to penetrate the roof.
In addition to contending the arbitration agreement required disputes to be resolved privately, TAMKO said the shingles became damaged due to normal weather damage and improper installation.
The warranty included an arbitration provision that read, "Mandatory Binding Arbitration: Every claim, controversy, or dispute of any kind whatsoever including whether any particular matter is subject to arbitration … between you and TAMKO … relating to or arising out of the shingles or this limited warranty shall be resolved by final and binding arbitration, regardless of whether the action sounds in warranty, contract, statute or any other legal or equitable theory."
The suit had been on hold for more than a year while the question of whether it could even be brought was examined in courts. Both the Jasper County Circuit Court in 2014 and Missouri's Southern District Court of Appeals in 2016 disagreed with TAMKO’s contention, and Monday's Supreme Court denial means the suit’s issues can now be addressed in Jasper County Circuit Court.
The attorney representing TAMKO in the proceedings, Paul Clement, said in another statement provided by the company that TAMKO is "disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to rectify the Missouri courts’ refusal to enforce the plaintiffs’ agreements to arbitrate their disputes with TAMKO."
The Holland Law Firm, based in St. Louis, which is representing Hobbs and the church, has not returned messages seeking comment.
Attempts to reach Hobbs and the church directly were not successful.