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Jackson v. Greenwich Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

July 31, 2019

STEVEN JACKSON
v.
GREENWICH INSURANCE COMPANY, SHANE BENOIT, TESTING HOLDINGS USA, INC., AND/OR INTERTAK AKA INTERTEK USA, INC., GEICO AND LIBERTY PERSONAL INSURANCE COMPANY

          APPLICATION FOR WRITS DIRECTED TO CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2018-10830, DIVISION "G-11" Honorable Robin M. Giarrusso, Judge

          Peter R. Brigandi, Jr. THE BRIGANDI LAW FIRM, LLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/RELATOR

          Terry Thibodeaux THE THIBODEAUX LAW FIRM, LLC P.O. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/RESPONDENTS

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins

          SANDRA CABRINA JENKINS JUDGE

         Plaintiff/relator, Steven Jackson, seeks review of the trial court's March 19, 2019 judgment granting the exception of improper venue in favor of defendants/respondents, Shane Benoit, Greenwich Insurance Company, Testing Holdings USA, Inc., and Intertek USA, Inc., and transferring this case to the 24thJudicial District Court in Jefferson Parish. Based on our de novo review of this case, in light of the applicable law and jurisprudence, we find the trial court erred in granting defendants' exception of improper venue without conducting a contradictory hearing to determine whether plaintiff was in bad faith when he filed suit in Orleans Parish. Accordingly, we vacate and set aside the trial court's judgment and remand this matter to the trial court to conduct a contradictory hearing and rule anew on the exception of improper venue.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 26, 2017, Mr. Jackson, an Orleans Parish domiciliary, was involved in an automobile accident with Shane Benoit, a Jefferson Parish domiciliary, in Kenner, Louisiana, Jefferson Parish. According to the accident report taken at the scene of the accident by Kenner Police Department, Mr. Jackson was driving a vehicle owned by Claudell Anderson and insured by GEICO, and Mr. Benoit was driving a vehicle owned by Intertek and insured by Greenwich.

         Prior to filing suit, between November 2017 and June 2018, Mr. Jackson's attorney sent three letters addressed to York Risk Services Group, the insurance adjuster for defendants, requesting declaration insurance policy limits. Plaintiff did not receive any response from the insurance adjuster.

         On October 26, 2018, plaintiff filed his petition for damages in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, naming the following defendants: Mr. Benoit, the alleged tortfeasor; Testing Holdings and/or Intertek, the alleged employers of Mr. Benoit; Greenwich, the alleged liability insurer for Mr. Benoit, Testing Holdings, and/or Intertek; GEICO, the liability insurer for the vehicle driven by plaintiff; and Liberty Personal Insurance Co., plaintiff's uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM") insurer. Along with his petition for damages, plaintiff filed and requested service on defendants for his first set of interrogatories and requests for production and inspection of documents. Among the requested information and documents, plaintiff sought certified copies of all insurance policies that may provide coverage to defendants.

         On December 19, 2018, defendants Mr. Benoit, Intertek, Testing Holdings, and Greenwich, filed declinatory exceptions of insufficiency of citation, insufficiency of service of process, lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant, and improper venue.[1] At the hearing on the exceptions, on February 15, 2019, the trial court heard arguments regarding the exception of improper venue only. Defendants argued that proper venue for this action is in East Baton Rouge or Jefferson Parish only, based on where the accident occurred and because their insurance policies were in excess of $15 million, and that plaintiff had no reason to join his UM insurer in this suit, except to obtain venue in Orleans Parish. However, defendants did not offer or introduce copies of the insurance policies or declaration pages at the hearing.[2] The trial court then left the matter open for 30 days to allow defendants to supplement the record with the insurance policy declaration pages, and the trial court stated it would issue its judgment "depending on what I see."

         On March 11, 2019, defendants submitted a letter to the trial court stating that certified copies of all effective insurance policies had been provided to plaintiff's counsel; and enclosed with the letter, defendants submitted to the trial court redacted insurance policy declaration pages issued by Greenwich, Navigator Insurance Company, and American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company.[3]

         On March 19, 2019, the trial court issued a judgment and written reasons for judgment granting the exception of improper venue in favor of defendants and transferring the matter to the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish.[4] On that same date, the trial court filed the letter and declaration pages, submitted by defendants, into the record of this case as Exhibits "Court 1" and "Court 2."

         Plaintiff timely filed a notice of intent to apply for supervisory review of the trial court's March 19, 2019 judgment. Plaintiff also requested a stay of proceedings pending a decision on its writ application by this Court and, if writs are timely sought, final decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The trial ...


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