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Gardner v. The Standard Fire Insurance Co.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

October 25, 2017

KURT GARDNER, Appellant,
v.
THE STANDARD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY and ALLSTATE FIRE AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal of non-final order from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Jeffrey Dana Gillen, Judge; L.T. Case No. 502017CA001511XXXMB.

          Shelly J. Stirrat of Appellate Services, PLLC, West Palm Beach, and Jack M. Sobel of Schwed, Adams, Sobel & McGinley, PA, Palm Beach Gardens, for appellant.

          Gabriel C. Dobrin of Law Offices of James W. Kehoe, III, Fort Lauderdale, for appellee The Standard Fire Insurance Company.

          Kuntz, J.

         The Plaintiff appeals an order transferring venue to Manatee County. In this lawsuit against two uninsured motorist insurers, one of the defendants filed a motion to transfer venue pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.060, and, later, a motion to transfer for forum non conveniens. The court granted the motion to transfer venue based upon Rule 1.060, and based upon that ruling denied the forum non conveniens motion as moot. Because the other defendant has an office in Palm Beach County, venue was proper in the county. Therefore, we reverse the court's order transferring venue.

         Background

         The Plaintiff, a resident of Broward County, and an at-fault and uninsured driver, who is a resident of Hillsborough County, were involved in a car accident on Interstate 75 in Manatee County. The Plaintiff filed uninsured motorist claims with his insurance companies, which are both foreign corporations. When both companies denied the claims, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Palm Beach County.

         The two insurers took different approaches in response to the lawsuit. Defendant Allstate answered the complaint, while defendant Standard Fire moved to transfer venue based on Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.060. Standard Fire later filed a separate motion to transfer for forum non conveniens.

         After both sides briefed Standard Fire's motions, the court held a hearing and issued a written order granting the motion to transfer, relying on Geico General Insurance Co. v. Graci, 849 So.2d 1196, 1199 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). The court then denied the motion to transfer for forum non conveniens as moot; however, it noted in the written order that the Plaintiff's arguments for transferring on this ground were not persuasive.

         The Plaintiff now appeals the court's order, arguing Palm Beach County is a proper venue for this lawsuit.

         Analysis

         At first glance, it is easy to understand why the court transferred this action. A lawsuit was filed against two foreign insurers arising from an automobile accident that occurred in Manatee County between residents of Hillsborough County and Broward County. With the exception of the location of the Plaintiff's attorney, there is no clear connection to Palm Beach County.

         However, the analysis is not so simple. In Florida, chapter 47, Florida Statutes (2016), governs the determination of proper venue, which is generally found in section 47.011. However, ...


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