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American General Life Insurance Company v. Lizzi

January 28, 2011

AMERICAN GENERAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIZZI BERGER, THE LIZZI BERGER 2008 FAMILY LIFE INSURANCE TRUST, MARK BERGER, AS TRUSTEE OF THE LIZZI BERGER 2008 FAMILY LIFE INSURANCE TRUST, ABRAHAM STERN, AND JOHN DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walls, Senior District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION and ORDER

Defendant Lizzi Berger 2008 Family Life Insurance Trust (the "Trust") appeals the Magistrate Judge‟s Order which grants jurisdictional discovery concerning Stan Miller. The Trust contends that the plaintiff‟s personal jurisdiction claims are without basis. Because the Magistrate Judge‟s ruling was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law, the ruling is affirmed.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

American General Life Insurance Company ("American General") issued a life insurance policy covering the life of Lizzi Berger in the amount of $10,000,000 (the "Policy"). (Compl. ¶

1.) The beneficiary under the policy was The Lizzi Berger Family Life Insurance Trust. Mark Berger served as the initial trustee and was succeeded by Stan Miller in June 2008. American General claims that the application for the policy contained material misrepresentations and requests a declaration that the policy is void ad initio. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Lizzi Berger and Abraham Stern, her agent, "purportedly executed" the first policy application in Brooklyn, New York. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Two other policy applications were also executed. Each of these applications and a policy acceptance amendment of application form were "purportedly executed" in Bayonne, New Jersey. (Compl. ¶¶ 32, 43, 53.) The policy does not contain a forum selection clause but states, "THIS IS A NEW JERSEY POLICY." (Compl. ¶ 52.) None of the parties are New Jersey residents. American General is a Texas corporation. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Lizzi Berger is a citizen of Colorado and the Trust is an unincorporated entity formed under the laws of Florida. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-9.) The former trustee is a citizen of Florida and Miller is an Arkansas citizen. Lizzi‟s agent, Abraham Stern, is a New York citizen.

The Trust claims that this Court may not constitutionally exercise personal jurisdiction over Miller because he does not have even minimum contacts with New Jersey. American General requested limited jurisdictional discovery concerning Miller‟s contacts with New Jersey. American General claims three theories support granting jurisdictional discovery concerning Miller‟s contacts with New Jersey: (1) Miller impliedly consented to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey by becoming the trustee of the Trust, (2) the former trustee‟s contacts with New Jersey extend to Miller, and (3) the Trust‟s property, the Policy, is held in New Jersey. On December 21, 2010, the Magistrate Judge granted American General‟s request for limited jurisdictional discovery for a period of one month. The Magistrate Judge found that American General‟s claims that Miller is subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey were not clearly frivolous.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Federal Magistrates Act provides two separate standards of judicial review: (1) "de novo" for magistrate resolution of dispositive matters, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C), Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); and (2) "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" for magistrate resolution of nondispositive matters. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); L. R. 72.1(c)(1)(a); Cipollone v. Liggett Grp, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108 (3d Cir. 1986). Because the issues raised by the defendant are nondispositive matters, this Court can set aside the Magistrate Judge‟s order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

A finding is contrary to law if the magistrate judge has misinterpreted or misapplied applicable law. Gunter v. Ridgewood Energy Corp., 32 F.Supp.2d 162, 164 (D.N.J. 1998). "A finding is "clearly erroneous‟ when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on consideration of the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Lo Bosco v. Kure Eng‟g Ltd., 891 F.Supp. 1035, 1037 (D.N.J. 1995) (quoting United States v. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). The Third Circuit has interpreted this to mean that the appellate court must accept the factual determination of the fact finder unless that determination "either (1) is completely devoid of minimum evidentiary support displaying some hue of credibility, or (2) bears no rational relationship to the supportive evidentiary data." Haines v. Liggett Grp. Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 92 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Krasnov v. Dinan, 465 F.2d 1298, 1302 (3d Cir.1972)). Under the clearly erroneous standard of review, the reviewing court will not reverse the magistrate judge‟s determination ""even if the court might have decided the matter differently.‟" Cardona v. Gen. Motors Corp., 942 F.Supp. 968, 971 (D.N.J. 1996) (quoting Toth v. Alice Pearly, Inc., 158 F.R.D. 47, 50 (D.N.J. 1994) (citing Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 574 (1985))).

DISCUSSION

Jurisdictional Discovery

The Third Circuit permits courts to grant jurisdictional discovery unless the plaintiff‟s claim as to personal jurisdiction is "clearly frivolous." Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. American Bar Ass‟n, 107 F.3d 1026, 1042 (3d Cir. 1997). Permitting jurisdictional discovery "is appropriate when the existing record is "inadequate‟ to support personal jurisdiction and a party demonstrates that it can supplement its jurisdictional allegations through discovery." Qtech Serv., LLC v. Verition Fund Mgmt., LLC, No. 10-495, 2010 WL 4961636, at * 2 (D.N.J. Nov. 30, 2010) (citations omitted). To obtain jurisdictional discovery, American General "must establish "with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state.‟" Veliz v. Americorp Builders, Inc., No. 06-4363, 2007 WL 1746248, at *4 (D.N.J. June 15, 2007) (citing Mellon Bank (E) PSFS, Nat‟l Ass‟n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992)).

"Jurisdictional discovery generally relates to corporate defendants and the question of whether they are "doing business‟ in the state." In re Le-Nature‟s Inc., No. 08-1518, 2009 WL 3571331, at *18 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 16, 2009) (citing Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. American Bar Ass‟n, 107 F.3d 1026, 1042 (3d Cir. 1997)). As such, "[w]here the defendant is an ...


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