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Otto v. Erie Insurance Exchange

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2014

STEVE OTTO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE, Defendant

Decided: March 27, 2014.

For STEVE OTTO, MARLA OTTO, H/W, Plaintiffs: BERNARD M. GROSS, LEAD ATTORNEY, BERNARD M. GROSS, PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA; MICHAEL N. BORISH, LAW OFFICES OF BERNARD M. GROSS, P.C., PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE, Defendant: JOSEPH P. WALSH, LEAD ATTORNEY, BRUCE S. PANCIO, WALSH PANICO LLC, LANSDALE, PA.

Page 483

MEMORANDUM

ANITA B. BRODY, J.

Plaintiffs Steve and Marla Otto bring suit against Defendant Erie Insurance Exchange (" Erie" ) for underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits pursuant to the terms of their Erie Insurance Exchange Family Auto Policy. I exercise diversity jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Currently before me is Erie's motion to dismiss pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny Erie's motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Steve and Marla Otto purchased automobile insurance from Defendant Erie. Their insurance policy included UIM coverage. On November 12, 2012, Steve Otto was in a car collision with an underinsured motorist. After the accident, the Ottos filed a claim with Erie to collect UIM benefits. Erie refused to provide these benefits to the Ottos.

The Ottos filed suit in this Court to recover UIM benefits. The Otto's Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Endorsement (" UIM Endorsement" ) contains a forum selection clause that mandates: " Suit must be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction in the county and state of [the Ottos'] legal domicile at the time of the accident." Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2. At the time of the accident, the Ottos were domiciled in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

II. DISCUSSION

Erie argues that this action should be dismissed pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens because the forum selection clause in the UIM Endorsement mandates that the parties bring suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. The Ottos contend that the forum selection clause allows for suit in this Court.

" [T]he appropriate way to enforce a forum-selection clause pointing to a state or foreign forum is through the doctrine of forum non conveniens. " Atl. Marine Const. Co., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court for W. Dist. of Texas, 134 S.Ct. 568, 580, 187 L.Ed.2d 487 (2013). In deciding whether to dismiss a case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, " a valid-forum selection clause should be given controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases." Id. at 581 (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, it is proper to dismiss this case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens if the forum selection clause in this case mandates suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County.

" The question of the scope of a forum selection clause is one of contract interpretation." John Wyeth & Brother Ltd. v. Cigna Int'l Corp., 119 F.3d 1070, 1073 (3d Cir. 1997). Like any other contract provision, the first step in interpreting a forum selection clause is to determine whether the clause unambiguously states the parties' intentions. Id. at 1074. " To be ...


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