This is a declaratory judgment action in which plaintiff seeks to compel a non-resident insurance carrier to arbitrate personal injury claims generated by an in-state automobile accident involving its insured. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1. Because Defendant claims that it has no contacts with New Jersey and does no business here, it challenges the court's jurisdiction and moves to dismiss. As reflected by the findings below, the motion will be denied.
Plaintiff is the New Jersey Automobile Full Insurance Underwriting Association, a non-profit association created in accordance with N.J.S.A. 17:30E-1 et seq. In December of 1988 its insured was involved in an automobile accident with Teresa M. Asselta in Ventnor, New Jersey. Asselta is a Florida resident
and is insured by a Florida property and casualty insurer, Independent Fire Insurance Company (Independent). Independent is not licensed to do business in New Jersey, maintains no offices here, has no employees here, has not solicited business here and has never issued or delivered any contracts of insurance in this state.
Independent's policy covers Asselta for all accidents occurring during the policy period and within the policy territory. The policy territory includes New Jersey and is defined as the United States of America, its territories or possessions, Puerto Rico or Canada. Coverage includes the financial responsibility requirements for bodily injury or property damage to the extent necessary to comply with the laws of any state in which an automobile accident occurs. Since Asselta's vehicle was not principally garaged here, New Jersey law did not require personal protection or medical benefits. However, because plaintiff was required to pay those benefits to its insured and believes defendant's insured was responsible, it now seeks reimbursement through binding arbitration. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1.*fn1
This motion presents the following question: does a contractual commitment by a non-resident insurance company to defend its insured against claims arising out of accidents occurring in New Jersey, constitute a sufficient contact with this state to subject it to suit here if its insured has an accident in this state and that accident generates third party claims? Based on the reasoning which follows, I have answered that question in the affirmative.
R. 4:4-4 represents this State's equivalent of a "long arm statute" and permits the assertion of jurisdiction to "the uttermost limits permitted by the United States Constitution." Avdel Corp. v. Mecure, 58 N.J. 264, 268, 277 A.2d 207 (1971). For this court to legitimately assert jurisdiction, therefore, the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment must be satisfied. Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equipment Corp., 102 N.J. 460, 469, 508 A.2d 1127 (1986).
The due process clause was originally construed to require the personal presence of a defendant. Pennoyer v. Neff, 5 Otto 714, 95 U.S. 714, 24 L. Ed. 565 (1878). The modern view is that a defendant need only have "minimum contacts" with the forum in order for the assertion of jurisdiction not to offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. See Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equipment Corp., supra, 102 N.J. at 469-470, 508 A.2d 1127, (citing International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 158, 90 L. Ed. 95, 102 (1945)). While there is no mechanical test for asserting personal jurisdiction, the minimum contacts test requires that an absent defendant must have purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in the forum state. Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S. Ct. 1228, 1239, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1283, 1298 (1958). Thus, the defendant's conduct and its connection with the forum state must be such that it "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297, 100 S. Ct. 559, 567, 62 L. Ed. 2d 490, 501 (1980).
Applying these principles to the case at bar, I am satisfied that Independent's contractual commitment to its insured to provide coverage for accidents in New Jersey, coupled with the occurrence of an insured event here, satisfies the "purposeful availment" requirement of the minimum contacts test. Hanson v. Denckla, supra. Not only could Independent anticipate that its insureds would ...