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Harleysville Insurance Co. of New Jersey v. Clark

July 27, 2006

HARLEYSVILLE INSURANCE CO. OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THEODORE ARTHUR CLARK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court upon the motion of Defendants Theodore Clark and Barbara Clark to dismiss this action filed by Plaintiff Harleysville Insurance Company of New Jersey pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of personal jurisdiction.*fn1 [Docket Item No. 4.] The Court has considered the submissions of Defendants in support thereof [Docket Item Nos. 4 and 10] and Plaintiff's opposition thereto [Docket Item No. 6]. The principal issue presented is whether the Defendants have sufficient contacts with the State of New Jersey to establish personal jurisdiction here, and, if so, whether New Jersey is the proper venue and whether it is nonetheless an inconvenient forum requiring dismissal.

The Court's findings follow.

1. Plaintiff, Harleysville Insurance Company of New Jersey ("Harleysville") is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New Jersey, having its principal place of business at 224 Strawbridge Drive, Suite 301, Moorestown, New Jersey. Harleysville writes policies of insurance only for New Jersey insureds, in this case providing commercial auto coverage to Auto Elite Transport, a New Jersey corporation.

2. Michael Kretzler ("Kretzler") is an individual domiciled at 2901 Childs Street, Baltimore, Maryland; he was employed by Auto Elite in Maryland at the time of the accident.

3. Theodore Arthur Clark and Barbara Clark ("Mr. Clark" and "Mrs. Clark," and collectively "the Clarks") are individuals domiciled at 3854 County Farm Road, Blackshear, Georgia.

4. Cincinnati Insurance Company ("CIC") is a business organized under the laws of Ohio with a principal address of P.O. Box 145496, Cincinnati, Ohio. CIC issued an automobile liability policy to the Clarks which provided uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage during the time of the accident which is the subject matter of the underlying action.

5. The accident occurred in Maryland after Mr. Clark had accepted employment with Auto Elite Transport, a New Jersey corporation. After orientation, Auto Elite assigned Clark a vehicle from the New Jersey workyard and instructed him to drive it to Baltimore, Maryland to attend a mandatory training session. Mr. Clark alleges that he was injured when Mr. Kretzler negligently operated a vehicle owned by Auto Elite, causing Mr. Clark to be thrown from the vehicle.

6. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:16-50, et seq., Harleysville seeks a declaration that it is not obligated under the terms of its policy with Auto Elite Transport (Mr. Kretzler's and Mr. Clark's employer), to defend or indemnify Kretzler with respect to claims made against him in an action titled Theodore Arthur Clark and Barbara Clark v. Michael Kretzler and Cincinnati Insurance Company, Docket No. 06-2236, which is currently pending before the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey after being (1) removed from the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and (2) transferred to its present venue.

7. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because (1) Harleysville is a citizen of New Jersey while the Clarks are citizens of Georgia; and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $75,000 (insofar as the limits of the insurance policy at issue are $1,000,000, and the alleged damages exceed $75,000).

8. The Declaratory Judgment Act at 28 U.S.C. § 2201 authorizes this Court to enter an order declaring the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to the insurance contract between Harleysville and Auto Elite Transport that is the subject of this action.

9. Harleysville filed this complaint against Kretzler, the Clarks, and CIC on November 18, 2005, seeking a declaration that it is not obligated under the terms of its policy with Auto Elite to defend or indemnify Kretzler with respect to claims made against him by the Clarks for personal injuries arising from an accident occurring in Maryland on August 5, 2002, currently in litigation in Clark v. Kretzler, et al., No. 24-C-04-004752 (Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Md.) In its Complaint, Harleysville claims that venue is proper in the District of New Jersey pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391 because a substantial part of the events or transactions giving rise to this declaratory judgment action occurred in the District of New Jersey, where the subject insurance policy was negotiated, delivered and paid for.*fn2

In response, the Clarks filed this motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on January 6, 2006. Plaintiff filed its brief in opposition to the Clarks' motion to dismiss on January 20, 2006. The Clarks filed a reply brief in support of their motion on February 2, 2006.

"a defendant . . . not present within the territory of the forum [if] he ha[s] certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 ...


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