INSURANCE: Personal jurisdiction found over non-contracting GEICO entities in 2nd amended complaint challenging subrogation practices… Molloy.
James Lee Const. and James & Tracy Lee represent a putative class challenging subrogation practices of GEICO and related entities. There are 4 motions pending. This order addresses only the personal jurisdiction component of GEICO’s motion to dismiss.
The Court previously granted GEICO’s motion to dismiss the non-contracting GEICO entities for lack of personal jurisdiction based in part on rejection of boilerplate allegations of personal jurisdiction based on a conspiracy theory. (MLW 8/15/20). GEICO again seeks to dismiss the GEICO entities with which Lees do not hold an insurance policy for lack of jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), arguing that the 2nd amended complaint fails to comply with Rule 8(a)(2), the law of the case doctrine forecloses Plaintiffs’ attempt to reintroduce these previously dismissed entities, and Plaintiffs’ claims are not based on GEICO Indemnity’s and GEICO Casualty’s forum-related conduct.
Although a bit unusual in the personal jurisdiction context, GEICO first relies on Rule 8(a)’s demand for “a short and plain statement of the claim” to argue that Plaintiffs’ 2nd amended complaint presents a befuddling picture of how the non-contracting GEICO entities relate to this case that is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. This argument is better addressed in the context of analyzing their forum-related conduct.
GEICO further argues that this Court’s order dismissing the non-contracting GEICO entities mandates dismissal. But law of the case does not apply in the context of amended pleadings following a dismissal without prejudice. Askins (9th Cir. 2018). While a defendant is free to argue that the amended pleading does not cure the deficiencies identified in the original complaint and “the district court may decide the second motion to dismiss in the same way it decided the first,” the “court is not bound by any law of the case.” Id. The Court must therefore consider personal jurisdiction over the non-contracting GEICO entities anew.
Montana courts apply a 2-step test to determine whether they have personal jurisdiction over a non-resident. Milky Whey (Mont. 2015). First, they consider whether it exists under MRCivP 4(b)(1), which subjects parties to general jurisdiction if they are “found within the state of Montana” and to specific jurisdiction “as to any claim for relief arising from the doing personally, or through an employee or agent, of any” of the enumerated acts in Rule 4(b)(1)(A)-(G). Second, courts consider whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with due process.
GEICO concedes that “GEICO Indemnity and GEICO Casualty conduct insurance operations, including subrogation activities in Montana.” Thus the GEICO entities, including the non-contracting entities “transact business within Montana” MRCivP 4(b)(1)(A). Step 1 of the specific jurisdiction inquiry is therefore satisfied.
The more complicated question is whether the exercise of jurisdiction is constitutional. The Due Process Clause requires that a defendant “have certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Int’l Shoe (US 1945). “Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on his own affiliation with the State, not based on the random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts he makes by interacting with other persons affiliated with the State.” Walden (US 2014). The “minimum contact” requirements must be met as to each individual defendant. Bristol-Myers (US 2017).
Plaintiffs argue that personal jurisdiction exists because they were harmed by the in-state conduct of the GEICO Payment Recovery Unit which “the participating GEICO affiliates jointly utilize, direct and support” for all their subrogation activities, including activities in Montana. GEICO responds that “Plaintiffs’ allegation that GEICO Indemnity and GEICO Casualty utilized the Payment Recovery Unit for subrogation activities on other claims with respect to other insureds is insufficient” to confer specific jurisdiction. It maintains that “Plaintiffs’ claims simply do not arise from any of GEICO Indemnity or GEICO Casualty’s forum-related conduct.” Its argument is unpersuasive in light of Ford Motor (Mont. 2019).
GEICO premises its due process argument on the ground that Plaintiffs fail to causally connect the non-contracting entities’ forum-related conduct to Lees’ specific claims, relying on the Shute (9th Cir. 1990) test which asks whether “in the absence of” the defendant’s forum activity, the plaintiff’s “injury would not have occurred.” But as Ford Motor just made clear, such a “causation-only approach” improperly narrows the inquiry: “We have never framed the specific jurisdiction inquiry as always requiring proof of causation — i.e., proof that the plaintiff’s claim came about because of the defendant’s in-state conduct.” Rather, specific jurisdiction may also exist where a claim “relates to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.”
Plaintiffs have alleged that all the named GEICO entities utilize the Property Recovery Unit and jointly developed its subrogation procedures. They have also alleged that it operates within Montana and specifically worked on Lees’ claim. GEICO concedes that both GEICO Casualty and GEICO Indemnity utilize the Unit “for subrogation recoveries of their insureds under the insurance policies.” Plaintiffs’ wrongful subrogation claims therefore at minimum “relate to” the non-contracting GEICO entities’ use of the Unit and its subrogation of insurance claims in Montana. Moreover, these claims can only be brought in Montana in light of Montana’s unique subrogation laws and the fact that Lees are Montana citizens. Given the “strong relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation,” specific jurisdiction exists. Id.
GEICO’s motion to dismiss is denied insofar as it seeks to dismiss GEICO Indemnity and GEICO Casualty for lack of personal jurisdiction. Its other arguments will be addressed by separate order.
James Lee Const. and Lee v. GEICO, 44 MFR 240, 3/25/21.
Alan Lerner (Lerner Law Firm), Kalispell, Allan McGarvey & Jinnifer Mariman (McGarvey Law), Kalispell, Brian Joos & Judah Gersh (Viscomi, Gersh, Simpson & Joos), Whitefish, and Evan Danno (Danno Law Firm), Kalispell, for Plaintiffs; Courtney Henson (Snell & Wilmer – Tucson), Sheila Carmody (Snell & Wilmer – Phoenix), and Ian McIntosh & William Morris (Crowley Fleck), Bozeman, for GEICO.