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American Safety Cas. Ins. Co. v. Mijares Holding Co., LLC

Florida Court of Appeal, Third District

December 28, 2011

AMERICAN SAFETY CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
MIJARES HOLDING COMPANY, LLC, et al., Appellees.

Page 1090

Kubicki Draper and Caryn L. Bellus, Miami, and Christopher J. Bailey, for appellant.

Aran Correa Guarch & Shapiro and Craig B. Shapiro, Coral Gables; and Hunter, Williams & Lynch and Christopher Lynch, Miami, for appellees.

Before RAMIREZ and SHEPHERD, JJ., and SCHWARTZ, Senior Judge.

On motion for rehearing

RAMIREZ, J.

We deny the appellee's motion for rehearing, but substitute the following opinion for our original opinion.

Page 1091

American Safety Casualty Insurance Company appeals from an order denying its motion to dismiss on the basis of improper venue. We reverse because the two insurance contracts which form the basis of the claims against American contain mandatory and enforceable Georgia forum selection clauses. The trial court erred when applying a limited exception to the well-settled rule under Florida law of enforcing mandatory forum selection clauses.

Appellee Mijares Holding Company, LLC is a Florida company which conducts business in Miami-Dade County. Mijares owns Bulk Express Transport Inc., which provides specialty trucking services within this state. In 2004, Mijares purchased commercial motor vehicle liability insurance from American and allegedly co-defendant Odyssey American Reinsurance Corporation.

In July 2007, during the 2007-2008 coverage period, a Bulk Express Transport vehicle was involved in an accident. Mijares allegedly settled the resulting personal injury claims with the consent and knowledge of both American and Odyssey. Despite the accident and resulting settlement, Mijares signed another release form with American in 2008. According to American, in executing the 2008 release, Mijares acknowledged in writing that it had reported no claims during the 2007-2008 policy period and agreed to indemnify American for any claims which it could have reported during that same period.

Mijares subsequently sought reimbursement from American and Odyssey. Mijares alleges that both carriers rejected its reimbursement claim on the $1 million settlement. Mijares sued and brought a total of ten counts against American and Odyssey. The counts against American included: count I, rescission of the American policies; count II, declaratory judgment against American (seeking a declaration that the American policies are void as against Florida public policy); and count VI, breach of contract against American.

American moved to dismiss, asserting that Georgia was the proper venue for any claims relating to the rights and obligations of the insurance policy. American's motion was based on section III of the Coverage Form for the 2007-2008 American policy agreement, in which American alleged Mijares specifically and expressly agreed that the Superior Court of Cobb County, Georgia " shall have jurisdiction and venue" in determining the parties' respective rights and obligations under the agreement. The trial court denied American's motion to dismiss.

The interpretation of a contractual forum selection clause is a question of law, such that our standard of review is de novo. See Celistics, LLC v. Gonzalez, 22 So.3d 824, 825 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009); Weisser v. PNC Bank, N.A., 967 So.2d 327, 330 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007).

The trial court erred when it denied American's motion to dismiss, which sought to enforce a venue selection clause. Florida courts have long recognized that " [f]orum selection clauses are presumptively valid." Corsec, S.L. v. VMC Int'l Franchising, LLC,909 So.2d 945, 947 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005). They " provide a degree of certainty to business contracts by obviating jurisdictional struggles and by allowing parties to tailor the dispute resolution mechanism to their particular situation." Manrique v. Fabbri,493 So.2d 437, 439 (Fla.1986). Forum selection clauses reduce litigation over venue, thereby conserving ...


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