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BOTKIN v. SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA

April 14, 2003

DANIEL B. BOTKIN, SARAH BURNET, IN HER CAPACITY AS EXECUTOR ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF JANE O'BRIEN, DECEDENT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, INC., AND DOES 1-100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William Alsup, United States District Judge

ORDER TRANSFERRING ACTION TO THE DISTRICT COURT FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
INTRODUCTION

In this insurance-coverage dispute, defendant Safeco Insurance Company of America, Inc. argues that the case should be transferred to the district court for the Central District of California. Because this order finds that all of the material witnesses except plaintiff Botkin are located in the Central District of California or out-of-state entirely, it finds that convenience to witnesses requires transfer in the interest of justice. Accordingly, the Clerk shall TRANSFER this case to the DISTRICT COURT FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA.

STATEMENT

This action arises from a dispute between plaintiff Daniel B. Botkin and Safeco over coverage under his automobile-insurance policy. Since 1983 and until four months before the filing of this suit, Mr. Botkin was a resident of Santa Barbara, California, which is in the Central District. Mr. Botkin purchased a Safeco automobile-insurance policy for the period January 19 through July 19, 2002. He bought it through Manchester Insurance Agency, Inc., which is also located in Santa Barbara, California. Mr. Botkin's life partner, Jane M. O'Brien, was listed as a driving member of his household on the policy. Glenn Estabrook, the Manchester employee who sold Mr. Botkin the policy, allegedly told him that both he and Ms. O'Brien were equally and fully covered by the policy.

In February 2002, Ms. O'Brien was tragically killed by an uninsured drunk motorist. Mr. Botkin sought coverage from Safeco for Ms. O'Brien's death under the policy. Ms. O'Brien was not a named insured on the policy. Furthermore, Ms. O'Brien and Mr. Botkin were not legally married, nor had they filed a notice of domestic partnership. On these grounds, Safeco denied coverage. Mr. Botkin's uninsured-motorist claim was handled by various Safeco employees working in Safeco's offices in Fountain Valley, Orange County and in Glendale, Los Angeles County, California — both counties within the Central District.

Plaintiff Sarah Burnett is the executrix of the estate of Ms. O'Brien. She is a resident of the state of Florida. On December 17, 2002, Ms. Burnett and Mr. Botkin filed suit against defendant Safeco in San Francisco Superior Court. Safeco was served on December 19, 2002. On January 17, 2003, Safeco removed the instant action here and on January 22, filed an answer.

In response to Safeco's removal, on January 29, plaintiffs filed a second action in San Francisco Superior Court. This second action was the same as the first action, but in an apparent effort to defeat removal, it added non-diverse defendants Manchester Insurance Agency, Inc. and Glenn Estabrook.*fn1

On February 14, Safeco filed the instant motion to transfer this case to the United State District Court for the Central District of California, noticing a hearing for March 27. On March plaintiffs filed a notice of voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a), which notice was improper since an answer had already been filed. Plaintiffs did not file the opposition to defendants' motion to transfer due on March 13, and Safeco did not file the reply due March 20. On March 21, this Court struck plaintiffs notice of dismissal and continued the hearing on the motion to transfer. Oral argument was heard on April 10.

For the benefit of the transferee court, this order highlights two other motions which currently are pending in this Court in this case. On March 27, plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss this action on the grounds that it is identical to the second state-court action. Additionally, on March 28, Safeco filed a motion for leave to file a third-party complaint against Manchester Insurance Agency, Inc. and Glenn Estabrook.

ANALYSIS

General Standards for Transfer.

28 U.S.C 1404(a) provides for transfer by a district court. It states, in pertinent part:

For the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.
First, the party seeking the transfer has the burden to establish that the transferee court would have had subject-matter jurisdiction, defendants would have been subject to personal jurisdiction, and venue would have been proper. Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960).

Here, the subject-matter jurisdiction requirement is met based on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Safeco is a resident of the state of Washington, with its principal place of business in Seattle. The personal-jurisdiction requirement is met since Safeco consents to jurisdiction. Proper venue is dictated by 28 U.S.C. § 1391 (a), which provides that: "A civil action wherein jurisdiction is founded only on diversity of citizenship may, except as otherwise provided by law, be brought only in . . . (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred . . ." Here, Safeco transacts business in Los Angeles and Orange counties within the Central District of California, and the employees who handled Mr. Botkin's claim work in those counties. The insurance agency and agent from whom Mr. Bokin purchased the policy are located in Santa Barbara county within the ...


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