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The Standard Fire Insurance Company v. Daniel Cesario

March 14, 2012

THE STANDARD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DANIEL CESARIO, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

The Standard Fire Insurance Company ("Standard Fire") brings a marine insurance action regarding the theft of a yacht owned by the defendant Daniel Cesario. Cesario moves to dismiss the case under the doctrine of foreign non conveniens or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Southern District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. This motion will be denied because the forum non conveniens doctrine is inapplicable and Cesario has failed to demonstrate that transfer is appropriate here.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The defendant Daniel Cesario is the owner of a 44' Sea Ray Sundancer yacht that was stolen from a marina in Hallandale, Florida in August 2011. At the time of the theft, the vessel was insured under a policy issued by the plaintiff Standard Fire through its subsidiary the Travelers Insurance Company. This insurance policy allegedly included a "Navigational Warranty" under which the owner warranted that the vessel "must be north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina between June 15 and November 1." Compl. ¶ 12. On August 17, 2011, Standard Fire issued a letter declining coverage for the theft of the yacht because the vessel was located in Florida at the time of the theft when the Navigational Warranty required that it be north of Cape Hatteras, NC.

On December 1, 2011, Standard Fire filed the present action seeking a declaratory judgment that the insurer has no obligation to provide coverage under the insurance policy for the theft or any losses stemming from the theft. Compl. ¶¶ 18--26. On January 10, 2012, Cesario filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Southern District of Florida under 28 U.S.C. § 1404. This motion is decided without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A federal court has limited discretion under the common law doctrine of forum non conveniens to dismiss a case in favor of a foreign jurisdiction where "trial in the chosen forum would establish oppressiveness and vexation to a defendant out of all proportion to plaintiff's convenience, or the chosen forum is inappropriate because of considerations affecting the court's own administrative and legal problems." Sinochem Int'l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 429 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). In deciding whether to dismiss, the district court must weigh various public and private factors bearing on the propriety of the dismissal. See Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 258--60 (1981). The moving party bears a considerable burden to "show that the balance of these factors tips decidedly in favor of trial in the foreign forum." Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 180 (3d Cir. 1991).

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404, a district court has discretion to transfer a case to another federal forum. Unlike 28 U.S.C. § 1406 that provides for either transfer or dismissal where original venue is improper, the discretionary transfer provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides only for transfer and applies wherever both the original and the alternative venue are proper. Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 878 (3d Cir. 1995). In pertinent part, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides that "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Although a plaintiff's chosen forum is afforded substantial deference, the Third Circuit has directed that a district court must weigh "all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interests of justice be better served by transfer to a different forum." Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879--80. The court must consider both private interest and public interest concerns bearing on the propriety of the requested transfer. Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 30--31 (1988).

DISCUSSION

As a threshold consideration, the Court finds that jurisdiction and venue in the District of New Jersey are proper. Standard Fire brings this case under federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391, in pertinent part, venue is proper in the "judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1). Cesario does not dispute that venue is proper because he resides in New Jersey and is the only defendant in this action. See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 6; Return of Service, ECF No. 4. Because venue is proper in the District of New Jersey, the defendant may only seek to transfer to another federal forum under the discretionary transfer provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or dismiss under the common law doctrine of forum non conveniens.

I.Dismissal under Forum Non Conveniens

Cesario first moves to dismiss the present action under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The forum non conveniens doctrine is inapplicable here because the proposed alternative forum is another federal judicial district. The Supreme Court has explained that "the doctrine of forum non conveniens 'has continuing application [in federal courts] only in cases where the alternative forum is abroad,' . . . and perhaps in rare instances where a state or territorial court serves litigational convenience best." Sinochem Int'l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430 (2007) (quoting Am. Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U.S. 443, 449 n.2 (1994)). Cesario argues that the court should dismiss this action in favor of an alternative domestic forum because witnesses and evidence related to the theft of the yacht are located in southern Florida, where the yacht was stolen. Mot. to Dismiss or Transfer 2--3. The only specific jurisdiction that Cesario identifies as an alternative forum is the Southern District of Florida. Id. Cesario's motion to dismiss must be denied because "Congress . provided for transfer, rather than dismissal, when a sister federal court is the more convenient place for trial of the action." Sinochem Int'l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430 (2007).

II.Discretionary Transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404

Alternatively, Cesario moves under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1404 for discretionary transfer to the Southern District of Florida, where a related federal suit is pending against him by the marina from which the yacht was stolen. Mot. to Dismiss or Transfer 2--3. See Complaint, Diplomat Props. L.P. v. Cesario, No. 11-cv-62404 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 9, 2011). Arguing that these two actions both arise out of the theft of the yacht and would rely on the same witnesses, Cesario suggests that litigation of both cases in Florida would promote judicial economy and be more convenient for the parties and witnesses. Mot. to Dismiss or Transfer 2--3. The Court ...


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