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Coletta A. Thomas-Brady v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company and Liberty Mutual Group

December 9, 2011

COLETTA A. THOMAS-BRADY
PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIBERTY MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY AND LIBERTY MUTUAL GROUP, INC. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldberg, J.

Memorandum Opinion

Plaintiff, Coletta A. Thomas-Brady, has initiated this breach of contract action against Defendants, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company and Liberty Mutual Group, Inc. (hereinafter "Liberty Mutual"), alleging that Defendants refused to pay the full value of Plaintiff's underinsured motorist claim. Presently before the Court is Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(3)" (Doc. No. 9). For reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The relevant facts are straightforward and undisputed: Liberty Mutual provided automobile insurance for Plaintiff, which included underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. The policy included a forum selection clause applicable to lawsuits initiated by Plaintiff against Liberty Mutual. In pertinent part, this clause states that suits against Liberty Mutual "must be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction in the county and state of [Plaintiff's] legal domicile at the time of the accident." (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 2, Ex. C, at 3.)

On June 22, 2008, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an underinsured motorist. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff lived in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 7; Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 5.)

After receiving the maximum liability amount available to her from the other driver's insurance company, Plaintiff submitted a UIM claim to Liberty Mutual. The parties were unable to agree on the amount of damages and Plaintiff initiated the present suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania based on diversity jurisdiction. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 9-11.)

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A defendant may move to dismiss a claim against it for improper venue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). In raising the motion, the defendant bears the burden of showing venue is improper. Myers v. Am. Dental Ass'n., 695 F.2d 716, 724 (3d Cir. 1982).

If venue is proper but a forum selection clause points to another venue, a court may dismiss the claim pursuant to a 12(b) motion. See Salovaara v. Jackson Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 246 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2001); see also Hugel v. Corp. of Lloyd's, 999 F.2d 206, 207 (7th Cir. 1993) (affirming district court's grant of defendant's Rule 12(b)(3) motion to dismiss for improper venue in case involving forum selection clause). Under federal law, forum selection clauses are "presumptively valid" and enforceable. Coastal Steel Corp. v. Tilghman Wheelabrator Ltd., 709 F.2d 190, 202 (3d Cir. 1983). Courts must enforce a forum selection clause provided it was not procured by fraud or overreaching, its enforcement does not violate a strong public policy of the forum, and so long as litigation in the selected forum would not be "so gravely difficult" as to effectively deprive a party of its day in court. Foster v. Chesapeake Ins. Co. Ltd., 933 F.2d 1207, 1219 (3d. Cir. 1991); Coastal, 709 F.2d at 202.

III. DISCUSSION

Liberty Mutual moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), asserting that the contract between the parties renders venue in the United States Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania improper. Specifically, Liberty Mutual contends that Plaintiff's policy required her to bring suit in the county of her domicile at the time of the accident. Defendants urge that, because Plaintiff resided in Montgomery County at the relevant time, proper venue lies solely in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

Plaintiff counters that Montgomery County is within the geographic boundaries of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and thus venue is proper in this District.

We first note that neither party contends that the forum selection clause was procured by fraudulent means, that the clause violates public policy, or that litigation in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas is oppressively burdensome. Thus, we find the clause valid and enforceable, and ...


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