Judge Noel L. Hillman of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, sitting in Trenton, recently dismissed a case before her on the grounds that the New Jersey court was an inappropriate place to hear the dispute. The case is First Colonial Insurance Co., et. al, v. Custom Flooring, Inc., et. al., 2007 WL 1651155 (D.N.J. June 4, 2007). The claims in the case involved a flooring project in a building in Minnesota. The general contractor on the job was a New Jersey Corporation named Stone Cor. There was a suit filed in Minnesota over defects in the flooring installation against Stone Cor and its subcontractor Custom Flooring, Inc. This suit was eventually settled, with participation from one of Custom Flooring’s insurance companies, First Colonial. Stone Cor was also an additional insured on a policy issued by Farmer’s Insurance Exchange, which denied coverage in the Minnesota case and declined to provide a defense. The New Jersey action was filed by First Colonial and Stone Cor against Farmers, seeking a declaratory judgment on coverage, e.g. that Farmer’s was obligated to provide a defense to Stone Cor in the Minnesota action, and that it owed a share of the settlement. There was also pending litigation in Illinois, which Stone Cor and First Colonial were parties to, which involved many of the same claims.
In examining the case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, Judge Hillman saw a case about construction in Minnesota, governed by Illinois law, against Farmers, a California corporation, and where the majority of evidence was located outside New Jersey. Farmers argued that the New Jersey case should be dismissed, because the concurrent Illinois action involved the same parties, the subject matter of the claims and the evidence are all outside New Jersey, and it would be easier for all involved to resolve all the issues in a single alternate forum, in Illinois.
Stone Cor argued that the alternate forum was not an adequate forum, since its claims would be subject to a Statute of Limitations defense there. In fact, Stone Cor had filed a claim against Farmers in Illinois, and had voluntarily withdrawn it, rather than face a motion to dismiss on Statute of Limitations grounds. The New Jersey action was begun shortly thereafter. The Judge found that, other than the fact that Stone Cor was located in New Jersey, nothing else about the case had any connection at all with the state. None of the other parties were citizens fof New Jersey, and none of the events underlying the lawsuit took place in New Jersey. The fact that Stone Cor may not be able to recover on its claims in Illinois was insufficient to avoid dismissal. Stone Cor’s withdrawal of its claims in Illinois suggested forum shopping, and the court was not inclined to reward that behavior. The case was dismissed in favor of the still-pending action in Illinois.