Nicholas Malfitano Feb. 3, 2016, 8:54am


PHILADELPHIA – A federal court has denied a motion from Geico Advantage Insurance Company to transfer a contract lawsuit filed against it seeking uninsured motorist coverage to the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

Despite an argument from Geico relating to prioritizing convenience of the parties, Judge Berle M. Schiller rejected this stance and opted to keep the breach of contract lawsuit filed by Alexandra Kuczynski in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Kuczynski resides in Delaware, while Geico is based in Maryland.

On May 21, Kuczynski was driving in Wilmington, Del., when her vehicle was hit by a car whose driver ran a stop sign, and then fled the scene. Kuczynski sustained serious injuries requiring medical attention. At the time of the accident, Kuczynski was insured by Geico under a policy which provided for uninsured motorist benefits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Thus, Kuczynski made a claim under the policy for uninsured motorist benefits.

With no argument of improper venue in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Geico believed convenience of the parties dictate a transfer to federal court in Delaware – while Kuczynski countered Geico had not met its burden of proving a transfer was in the case’s best interest and the plaintiff’s choice of forum was entitled to “great deference.”

It was left to the federal court to weigh the public and private factors associated with possible venue transfer, also known as the Jumara factors.

Private factors include: “(1) the plaintiff’s choice of forum; (2) the defendant’s choice of forum; (3) where the claims arose; (4) the convenience of the parties given their relative physical and financial condition; (5) the convenience of the witnesses to the extent they may be unavailable for trial in a given forum; and (6) the location of books and records to the extent they could not be produced in the alternative forum.”

Public factors include: “(1) the enforceability of the judgment; (2) practical considerations of trial logistics; (3) the relative court congestion of the two fora; (4) the local interests of each forum in deciding local controversies; (5) the public policies of the fora; and (6) the judges’ relative familiarity with the applicable law.”

Schiller said in this case, the private factors are largely “neutral” and do not warrant a transfer.

“Normally, the plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to great weight. Here, however, Kuczynski’s choice is entitled to less deference because she does not reside in the chosen forum and the incident giving rise to her claim occurred outside of her chosen forum,” Schiller said.

“[The] plaintiff lives in Delaware and the car accident underlying her uninsured motorist claim occurred in Delaware. Moreover, the insurance policy was issued in Delaware, and Kuczynski sought medical treatment in Delaware. These facts all favor transfer to the District of Delaware,” Schiller added.

However, Schiller further stated Geico should not be “inconvenienced or harmed financially by litigating in this District rather than the District of Delaware,” and that “the close proximity of the districts at issue here makes a transfer unnecessary for the convenience of the parties.”

As to the public factors in play, Schiller also labeled them as “neutral.”

“Because this is a breach of contract case likely to proceed to mandatory arbitration, practical considerations of trial logistics may never become an issue,” Schiller said. “There is simply no public interest factor that tips the scales in favor of transfer. Because Geico has failed to offer any compelling reason why transfer is appropriate, plaintiff’s choice of venue prevails.”

Schiller then denied Geico’s motion to transfer the case to Delaware.

“In about the time Geico claims you could save money on car insurance, you could also hop on I-95 and travel between the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the District of Delaware,” Schiller remarked. “The burden of demonstrating the need for a transfer rests with the defendant and that burden has not been met here. Geico’s motion to transfer venue to the District of Delaware is denied.”

The plaintiff is represented by Steven Schatz and Dana Klayman Weitz of Master Weinstein Schatz Moyer, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Cary R. Breon of the Law Office of Sue Ann Eckell, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-06271

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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