Global Hawk Insurance Company (rrg)-V-Carlos Vega, et al

Northern District of California, cand-4:2015-cv-02093

ORDER by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granting {{41}} Defendant Vega's Motion to Dismiss; granting {{54}} Estate's Motion to Transfer Case to the Western District of Texas.

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 GLOBAL HAWK INSURANCE COMPANY 8 (RRG), Case No. 15-cv-02093-YGR 9 Plaintiff, ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS 10 v. AND MOTION TO TRANSFER 11 CARLOS VEGA, ET AL., Re: Dkt. Nos. 41, 54 12 Defendants. Northern District of California United States District Court 13 14 Plaintiff Global Hawk Insurance Company, a Vermont Risk Retention Group with its 15 principal place of business in California, filed its complaint for rescission, declaratory relief, and 16 equitable contribution on May 8, 2015. (Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint").) Plaintiff sued Carlos Vega 17 (doing business as Vega Trucking), a Texas resident; Ibarra Trucking, believed to have a principal 18 place of business in Texas; UFP Transportation, Inc., a Michigan corporation with its principal 19 place of business in Indiana; UFP San Antonio, LLC, a Michigan company with its principal place 20 of business in Texas; Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut, which is incorporated and has 21 its principal place of business in that state; and the Estate and family of Edgar A. Seurer, deceased, 22 a probate estate in Texas (the "Estate"). (Complaint ¶¶ 1-6.) Plaintiff asserts diversity 23 jurisdiction. (Id. ¶ 10.) 24 Presently before the court are motions filed by pro se defendant Vega (Dkt. No. 41) and by 25 the Estate (Dkt. No. 54). Vega's motion seeks: (1) dismissal based on a purported lack of personal 26 jurisdiction; and (2) alternatively, transfer of venue to Texas pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 27 1404(a). The Estate seeks only to transfer the case to the Western District of Texas. The Court 28 finds the motions appropriate for decision without oral argument, as permitted by Civil Local Rule 1 7-1(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. See also Lake at Las Vegas Investors Group, Inc. 2 v. Pacific Malibu Dev. Corp., 933 F.2d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 1991). Thus, the hearing set for 3 December 8, 2015 is VACATED. 4 Having carefully considered the papers submitted, and good cause shown, the Court 5 hereby GRANTS defendant Vega's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and GRANTS 6 the Estate's motion to transfer to the Western District of Texas. 7 I. BACKGROUND 8 According to the complaint, Vega applied for auto insurance with plaintiff in March 2014. 9 (Complaint ¶ 12.) On the application, Vega noted that he hauled "sand and gravel" and a "Single 10 Trailer," with the other boxes listed on the application form for those sections unchecked. (Id., 11 Ex. A at 2.) He also noted that he would not "rent, lease, or sub" his haul vehicle(s) to third 12 parties. (Id., Ex. A at 2.) After the application was submitted, plaintiff issued Vega a commercial Northern District of California United States District Court 13 auto policy, which remained in effect in January 2015, when Edgar Seurer was killed during an 14 accident in Bexar County, Texas. (Complaint ¶ 24.) The accident purportedly involved a tractor 15 owned and operated by Vega and an oversized/overweight trailer owned by UFP Transportation, 16 Inc., that was hauling building materials. (Id.)1 Vega was allegedly operating an overweight flat- 17 bed trailer hauling over-sized building materials for UFP San Antonio, LLC and UFP 18 Transportation, Inc., pursuant to a master agreement with Ibarra Trucking. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) At the 19 time of the accident, UFP Transportation, Inc. had a commercial auto policy issued by Travelers 20 Indemnity Company of Connecticut. (Id. ¶ 31.) The Estate has apparently asserted that Vega is 21 liable for Mr. Seurer's fatal injuries. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff seeks to rescind Vega's policy as a result 22 of purported misrepresentations and concealment in his application and seeks declaratory 23 judgment establishing that Ibarra Trucking and its insurer, but not plaintiff, are responsible for 24 indemnifying the underlying claim. (Id. ¶¶ 36-55.) Plaintiff also seeks equitable contribution for 25 any costs of defense or indemnity payments it has or will pay in connection with the underlying 26 claim. (Id. ¶¶ 56-59.) 27 1 Subsequent allegations in the complaint suggest Vega was driving the trailer, not the 28 tractor. (See, e.g., Complaint ¶ 25.) 2 1 II. PERSONAL JURISDICTION 2 A. Legal Standard 3 A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) challenges the Court's exercise 4 of personal jurisdiction over a defendant. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2). Where no federal statute 5 governs personal jurisdiction, the Court applies the law of the state in which it sits; here, 6 California law applies. Schwarzenegger v. Fred Martin Motor Co., 374 F.3d 797, 800 (9th Cir. 7 2004). California law allows for the exercise of "jurisdiction on any basis not inconsistent with 8 the Constitution of the state or of the United States." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 410.10. 9 Due process requires that the non-resident defendant have either a "substantial, continuous, 10 and systematic" presence in the forum state or sufficient "minimum contacts with [the forum state] 11 such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial 12 justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Where the non-resident Northern District of California United States District Court 13 defendant's forum-related activities are not "substantial, continuous, and systematic," the Court 14 must evaluate whether the specific activity giving rise to the plaintiff's causes of action is 15 sufficiently related to the forum state. See Perkins v. Benguet Consol. Mining Co., 342 U.S. 437, 16 446 (1952); Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 250-53 (1958). 17 The Ninth Circuit applies a three-part test to determine whether a non-resident defendant's 18 activities are sufficiently related to the forum state to establish personal jurisdiction: 19 (1) The non-resident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or 20 resident thereof; or perform some act by which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting 21 activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws; 22 (2) the claim must be one which arises out of or relates to the 23 defendant's forum-related activities; and 24 (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice, i.e. it must be reasonable. 25 26 Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d at 802 (citing Lake v. Lake, 817 F.2d 1416, 1421 (9th Cir. 1987)). The 27 plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the first two parts. Boschetto v. Hansing, 539 F.2d 28 1011, 1016 (9th Cir. 2008). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either of these parts, then personal 3 1 jurisdiction is not established in the forum state. Pebble Beach Co. v. Caddy, 453 F.3d 1151, 1555 2 (9th Cir. 2006). If the plaintiff carries this burden, then "the defendant must come forward with a 3 'compelling case' that the exercise of jurisdiction would not be reasonable." Id. (citing 4 Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d at 802). 5 Where, as here, the motion to dismiss is based on written submissions—rather than an 6 evidentiary hearing—the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. 7 Schwarzenneger, 374 F.3d at 800. The plaintiff must make this showing with respect to each 8 claim. Fiore v. Walden, 657 F.3d 838, 858 (9th Cir. 2011). A plaintiff makes a "prima facie" 9 showing by producing admissible evidence which, if believed, would be sufficient to establish the 10 existence of personal jurisdiction. Ballard v. Savage, 65 F.3d 1495, 1498 (9th Cir. 1995). In 11 deciding whether such a showing has been made, a district court must accept as true the 12 uncontroverted allegations in the complaint and conflicts between facts contained in the parties' Northern District of California United States District Court 13 affidavits must be resolved in a plaintiff's favor. AT&T v. Compagnie Bruxelles Lambert, 94 14 F.3d 586, 588 (9th Cir. 1996). 15 B. Analysis 16 Pro se defendant Vega moves to dismiss for a purported lack of personal jurisdiction. His 17 supporting declaration provides additional details lacking in the complaint regarding the 18 circumstances surrounding his insurance application. Specifically, he states that he applied for the 19 policy with a local agent in San Antonio, Texas, and paid premiums directly to that agent. In 20 opposing the motion, plaintiff does not contradict these circumstances or cite any case law 21 wherein personal jurisdiction was established in like circumstances. Indeed, plaintiff asserts no 22 specific factual allegations establishing Vega had any knowledge that he was applying for or 23 obtaining a policy connected to California. To the contrary, the documents attached to the 24 complaint and presumably provided to Vega reflect that plaintiff is a Vermont corporation, making 25 no mention of its principal place of business being in California. (See Dkt. No. 1-2 at 4.) 26 Moreover, as noted by Vega and alleged in the complaint, the policy at issue was apparently 27 limited to coverage in or around Texas. Thus, Vega's motion to dismiss for lack of personal 28 jurisdiction is GRANTED. 4 1 III. TRANSFER UNDER 28 U.S.C. SECTION 1404(a) 2 A. Legal Standard 3 "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may 4 transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." 28 5 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The purpose of section 1404(a) is to "prevent the waste of time, energy and 6 money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and 7 expense." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964) (internal quotation marks omitted). 8 Courts considering transfer must first determine whether the action could have been brought in the 9 target district in the first instance. See Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960). The 10 action could have been brought in a court that has subject matter jurisdiction over the claims and 11 personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and where venue would have been proper. See id. 12 If the action could have been brought in the target district, courts then undertake an Northern District of California United States District Court 13 "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Stewart Org., Inc. v. 14 Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622) (internal quotations 15 omitted). In conducting this step of the analysis, the district court has broad discretion in deciding 16 whether to grant transfer. See Ventress v. Japan Airlines, 486 F.3d 1111, 1118 (9th Cir. 2007); 17 Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000). Relevant factors the Court 18 may consider include: 19 (1) plaintiffs' choice of forum, (2) convenience of the parties, (3) convenience of the witnesses, (4) ease of access to the evidence, (5) 20 familiarity of each forum with the applicable law, (6) feasibility of consolidation with other claims, (7) any local interest in the 21 controversy, and (8) the relative court congestion and time of trial in each forum. 22 Vu v. Ortho-McNeil Pharm., Inc., 602 F. Supp. 2d 1151, 1156 (N.D. Cal. 2009); see also Royal 23 Queentex Enters. v. Sara Lee Corp., No. C-99-4787, 2000 WL 246599, at *2 (N.D. Cal. March 1, 24 2000) (citing Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986)); 25 Jones, 211 F.3d at 498-99 ("A motion to transfer venue under § 1404(a) requires the court to 26 weigh multiple factors in its determination [of] whether transfer is appropriate in a particular 27 case." (citing Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. at 29)). This list is non-exclusive and courts may consider 28 5 1 other factors. See Williams v. Bowman, 157 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1106 (N.D. Cal. 2001) (noting that 2 this list of factors "does not exhaust the possibilities" and highlighting differing combinations of 3 factors used by courts in conducting this analysis). The moving party carries the burden to show 4 that the transferee district is the more appropriate forum. Jones, 211 F.3d at 499. 5 B. Analysis 6 As noted above, the Court has granted defendant Vega's motion to dismiss, and so need 7 not consider his alternative request for a transfer of venue. Therefore, the Court addresses only the 8 Estate's unopposed2 motion to transfer. 9 1. This Action Could Have Been Brought in the Western District of Texas 10 Plaintiff does not dispute that this action could have been brought in the Western District 11 of Texas. First, plaintiff alleges diversity jurisdiction, which would present the Western District, 12 like this District, with subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action. (Complaint ¶ 10.) Northern District of California United States District Court 13 Second, according to the allegations in the complaint, most of the defendants are Texas residents 14 or else conduct business within the state, likely subjecting them to general or specific personal 15 jurisdiction within the state. See Guardian Royal Exch. Assur., Ltd. v. English China Clays, 16 P.L.C., 815 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex. 1991). Third, venue would have been proper in the Western 17 District at the time this suit was filed because a substantial part of the events or omissions relevant 18 to this case—namely, the insurance application and the accident in question—occurred there. See 19 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2); Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. Tejas Concrete & Materials Inc., 982 F. Supp. 2d 20 714, 721 (W.D. Tex. 2013) (noting venue may be proper in multiple districts and the "substantial 21 part" test does not require that the transferee venue be the best venue). For all of these reasons, 22 step one in the analysis is satisfied. 23 2. Convenience and Fairness Factors Weigh in Favor of Transfer 24 The Court now moves to the second step of the analysis and considers the relevant 25 convenience and fairness factors, namely: (a) plaintiff's choice of forum; (b) convenience to the 26 2 27 Plaintiff failed to file an opposition to the Estate's motion by the deadline. However, plaintiff did file a perfunctory opposition to Vega's motion to transfer, so the Court will address 28 the relevant factors below. 6 1 parties; (c) convenience to witnesses; and (d) any local interest in the controversy.3 The Court 2 addresses each in turn. 3 a. The Plaintiff's Choice of Forum 4 While a plaintiff's choice of forum always weighs against transfer under section 1404(a), a 5 court considering transfer must determine how much weight to give this choice under the 6 circumstances. See, e.g., Vu v. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., 602 F.Supp.2d 1151, 1156-57 7 (N.D. Cal. 2009); Getz v. Boeing Co., 547 F.Supp.2d 1080, 1082-83 (N.D. Cal. 2008). Generally, 8 a plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to considerable weight and a defendant must make a strong 9 showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting this choice. Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth 10 Edison Co., 805 F.2d at 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986). However, the plaintiff's choice is given less 11 deference where the plaintiff is not a resident of the district and the operative facts did not occur in 12 Northern District of California that district. See Vu, 602 F.Supp.2d at 1156. While plaintiff's principal place of business is in United States District Court 13 California, many of the relevant circumstances occurred outside of this District. Nevertheless, this 14 factor weighs against transfer. 15 b. Convenience of the Parties 16 "Convenience of the parties is an important factor to consider for transfer of venue." Flint 17 v. UGS Corp., 2007 WL 4365481, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 12, 2007). In this case, the Western 18 District will be a more convenient forum for most if not all of the defendants, who are located in 19 or near the state. Moreover, courts in this District have recognized that transfer is less 20 inconvenient for plaintiffs at the outset of litigation. See U.S. ex rel. Swan v. Covenant Care Inc., 21 1999 WL 760610, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 21, 1999) ("Plaintiffs will not be inconvenienced by a 22 transfer of the action at this point because the litigation is relatively young, and this court has not 23 yet become greatly involved in this litigation."). This litigation is still in its infancy, as the 24 pleadings are not yet settled. The Court finds that this factor favors transfer. 25 26 27 3 28 The other factors were not briefed and do not appear particularly relevant. 7 1 c. Convenience of the Witnesses 2 The relative convenience to the witnesses is the most important factor in a section 1404(a) 3 analysis, and the convenience of non-party witnesses is more important than the convenience of 4 the parties. Clark v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., 2010 WL 5173872, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 15, 2010). 5 As to plaintiff's claims regarding purported misstatements in the insurance application, the agent 6 who sold the policy is purportedly located in Texas, and the accident in question also occurred 7 there, such that a number of percipient witnesses are also located in the state. While plaintiff's 8 principal place of business is in California and thus a number of its employees may be located 9 here, plaintiff has not demonstrated that those individuals are likely witnesses in this matter and, 10 moreover, the convenience of a party's employee witnesses is entitled to little weight because they 11 can be compelled by their employers to testify regardless of venue. See STX, Inc. v. Trik Stik, Inc., 12 708 F. Supp. 1551, 1556 (N.D. Cal. 1988) (noting that the convenience of a party's employee Northern District of California United States District Court 13 witnesses "must be discounted" in the analysis). Thus, this factor favors transfer. 14 d. Local Interest in the Controversy 15 Finally, the Court considers the local interest in deciding local controversies. See Van 16 Slyke v. Capital One Bank, 503 F. Supp. 2d 1353, 1365 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (citing Decker Coal, 805 17 F.2d at 843). Here, as noted above, many of the specific events at issue in this dispute occurred in 18 or around the Western District. See Vu, 602 F. Supp. 2d at 1157 (finding that, while the transferee 19 district's interest was not substantially stronger than the transferor's, it "nevertheless remains 20 stronger because the events at issue took place there"). The Court finds this factor to weigh in 21 favor of transfer. 22 e. Balancing the Discretionary Factors 23 Balancing the fairness and convenience factors favors transfer to the Western District of 24 Texas. The vast majority of the events giving rise to plaintiff's suit occurred there and almost all 25 of the defendants are located in the area, as are most of the anticipated witnesses. The Court 26 therefore concludes that transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and the witnesses and 27 promote the interests of justice. 28 8 1 IV. CONCLUSION 2 For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS defendant Vega's motion to dismiss and 3 GRANTS the Estate's motion to transfer this action to the Western District of Texas. 4 The Clerk is directed to transfer the file in this case to the Western District of Texas. 5 This Order terminates Docket Numbers 41, 54. 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. 7 Dated: November 30, 2015 8 ______________________________________ YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS 9 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE 10 11 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9