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SISTER PHILOMENA MALVEAUX v. CHRISTIAN BROTHERS SERVICES

November 30, 2010

SISTER PHILOMENA MALVEAUX, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTIAN BROTHERS SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Sister Philomena Malveaux ("Sister Philomena") has filed this breach of contract action against Defendant Christian Brothers Services ("Christian Brothers") seeking payment of benefits under an insurance contract to cover damages sustained by Sister Philomena when she was struck by an uninsured motorist in the District of Columbia. In lieu of filing an answer, Christian Brothers has filed a [4] Motion to Transfer Venue to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which is opposed by Sister Philomena. Christian Brothers argues that transfer is warranted because venue is improper in this district and alternatively argues that the case should be transferred for the convenience of the parties and witnesses pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Upon thorough consideration of the parties' briefing and the relevant case law and statutory authority, the Court finds that venue is proper in this district and that transfer is not in the interest of justice at this time. Accordingly, the Court shall DENY Defendant's [4] Motion to Transfer Venue for the reasons explained below.

I. BACKGROUND

Sister Philomena Malveaux is a member of a religious order that has an insurance agreement with Defendant Christian Brothers Services. Compl. ¶ 2. Christian Brothers does business nationally and is headquartered in Romeoville, Illinois. Id. ¶ 3. Christian Brothers provides automobile underinsurance benefits to over 1500 religious orders, including the one to which Sister Philomena belongs. Id. At the time the Complaint was filed on April 14, 2010, Sister Philomena resided in Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 2.

On or about January 13, 2010, Sister Philomena was walking within a crosswalk in the District of Columbia and was struck by a car, causing her to be thrown high into the air and crash hard on the ground. Id. ¶ 4. Sister Philomena suffered significant injuries, including a fractured knee. Id. Sister Philomena was treated for her injuries at Howard University Hospital, where she had surgery performed on her knee, and after discharge she required extensive rehabilitative services. Id. ¶ 5. Her hospital bill totaled $66,000, with an additional $50,000 in nursing care costs. Id. In addition, it appears that Sister Philomena will need knee replacement surgery at an expected cost of over $45,000. Id.

The driver of the vehicle that struck Sister Philomena was uninsured. Sister Philomena filed a claim under her own auto insurance policy and obtained the maximum benefits of $25,000. Id. ¶ 6. Sister Philomena's religious order has a contract for underinsured and uninsured auto benefits for an amount up to $1 million. Id. ¶ 7. Sister Philomena submitted an underinsured claim to Christian Brothers seeking payment for $166,000 in medical bills, as well as additional claims for pain and suffering. Id. ¶ 9. However, Christian Brothers has not paid the claims.

In supporting affidavits filed with its transfer motion, Christian Brothers avers that Sister Philomena has been called on by the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Holy Family to relocate to New Orleans, Louisiana to obtain medical care and recuperate. See Affidavit of Sister Eva Regina Martin ¶¶ 1, 6. According to the Congregational Leader, Sister Philomena has been living in Louisiana since May 2010 and will not be relocated to Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 6. Christian Brothers further avers that Christian Brothers Services, Inc. is the Plan Administrator for The Religious & Charitable Risk Pooling Trust of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and Affiliates' Plan Document, which provides financial protection to the Sisters of the Holy Family for general liability claims. See Affidavit of Elton Sherill ¶¶ 2-3. Christian Brothers explains that the trust document provides that interpretation of the benefit plan is to be governed by Illinois law. Id. ¶ 4. In addition, Christian Brothers avers that decisions regarding coverage and payments involving the trust document are made by trust personnel in Illinois. Id. ¶ 5. According to a Liability Claim Consultant for Christian Brothers, a trial held in Washington, D.C. would substantially inconvenience witnesses for the trust. Id.

II. LEGAL STANDARD AND DISCUSSION

Defendant Christian Brothers Services seeks to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Christian Brothers' primary argument in favor of transfer is that venue is improper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a). Although Christian Brothers seeks transfer rather than dismissal of this action, the Court nevertheless considers Defendant's pre-answer motion as one brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). If venue is improper in this district, the Court must either dismiss the case or transfer it to a court in which venue is proper. See 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) ("The district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought."). Alternatively, Christian Brothers argues that venue should be transferred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) for the convenience of the parties and witnesses. The Court shall address each of these arguments below.

A. Venue Is Proper in the District of Columbia

Defendant contends that this case must be transferred because venue is improper in this district. Venue in diversity actions is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a), which provides as follows:

A civil action wherein jurisdiction is founded only on diversity of citizenship may, except as otherwise provided by law, be brought only in (1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (3) a judicial district in which any defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced, if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought.

28 U.S.C. § 1391(a). For purposes of venue, "a defendant that is a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced." Id. § 1391(c).

Defendant focuses its briefing on the third subsection of § 1391(a), arguing that venue is not proper under that subsection because there is another district-the Northern District of Illinois-in which the action may otherwise be brought based on personal jurisdiction. However, Defendant fails to address the first subsection of § 1391(a), which provides that venue for corporate defendants may lie in any district where they can be subject to personal jurisdiction. Defendant concedes in its brief that it does business nationally, and it does not raise any affirmative objections to this Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction in its motion. Indeed, Defendant implicitly concedes that this Court has personal jurisdiction over it by arguing that venue is improper under § 1391(a)(3) because the Northern District of Illinois also has personal jurisdiction over it. By failing to raise such a defense in its pre-answer motion, Defendant has waived any claim that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(1); see also Cooper v. Farmers New Century Ins. Co., 593 F. Supp. 2d 14, 21 (D.D.C. 2008) (finding venue proper under ยง 1391(a) where corporate defendant objected to venue but not personal jurisdiction in Rule 12(b)(3) motion). Moreover, D.C.'s long-arm statute explicitly provides for personal jurisdiction over claims arising from a person's "contracting to insure . . . any person . . . or risk . . . located . . . ...


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