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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.

January 14, 1999

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
AETNA CASUALTY & SURETY COMPANY; CITY INSURANCE COMPANY; HOME INSURANCE COMPANY; NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA



Before Sullivan, P.j., Mills And Waller, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan, Presiding Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/07/97

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. BILL JONES COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - INSURANCE

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 01/14/99

¶1. This appeal arises from the lower court's dismissal of the current action on January 7, 1997, based on the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens. The current action was filed on October 12, 1995, in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mississippi. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (hereafter MetLife) sought a declaration that it is entitled to insurance coverage based on excess policies issued to MetLife by the defendants. The complaint alleges that it is entitled to coverage for both the underlying asbestos bodily injury claims brought and continuing to be brought by Mississippi claimants, and for the underlying asbestos property damage case brought by the State of Mississippi involving buildings owned by the State.

¶2. On October 12, 1995, MetLife filed another action against the same four defendants in West Virginia involving asbestos bodily injury claims brought and continuing to be brought by West Virginia claimants. The next day, October 13, 1995, MetLife commenced an insurance coverage action in New Jersey involving asbestos bodily injury claims brought by New Jersey claimants. That same day MetLife also commenced a comprehensive action in Connecticut to resolve coverage issues relating to underlying asbestos bodily injury and property damage claims all over the United States with the exception of claims in Mississippi, West Virginia and New Jersey. The four defendants in this case filed a cross-claim in Connecticut asking the court to put in issue all fifty states. The Connecticut action involves seventeen additional defendants. Other than the Connecticut litigation, the four defendants in this case moved to dismiss each of the actions filed in Mississippi, New Jersey and West Virginia in favor of the Connecticut comprehensive action.

¶3. The New Jersey case was dismissed without prejudice based upon grounds of comity. That decision was affirmed on appeal in a per curiam opinion by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division on December 29, 1996. The West Virginia Court has taken the motion to dismiss on advisement after oral argument, with its determination pending.

¶4. A hearing was conducted on September 20, 1996, in the Circuit Court of Jackson County on the defendants' motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens. All parties concerned were represented by counsel and allowed to make factual and legal arguments pertaining to the motion to dismiss. After considering all the arguments, both factual and legal, the Circuit Court of Jackson County entered its Order on October 7, 1996, dismissing the action based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. It is from this Order that MetLife seeks reversal and remand for continuing litigation. STATEMENT OF THE UNDERLYING FACTS ¶5. This insurance coverage action involves many underlying claimants alleging both bodily injury and property damage in Mississippi based on alleged exposure to asbestos in plants and factories in Mississippi. The State also filed an underlying action alleging property damage to state owned buildings by the installation of asbestos or asbestos containing products. One of the defendants in each of these underlying claims is the appellant in this case, MetLife. MetLife has turned to its insurers for coverage of such claims. The primary insurance carrier is Travelers Indemnity Company. The Aetna policies at issue in this litigation "follow form to underlying policies issued by the Travelers Indemnity Company, except as otherwise provided in endorsements thereto."

¶6. The case sub judice is a contract action in which MetLife seeks to recover under contracts of insurance issued by the appellees between 1976 and 1986. The appellees in this action, Aetna Casualty & Surety Company (hereinafter Aetna), City Insurance Company, Home Insurance Company (hereinafter collectively referred to as Home) *fn1 , and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (hereafter National Union), are national liability insurance companies (hereinafter collectively referred to as appellees). These appellees issued insurance policies to MetLife which are termed "excess policies." New York and Connecticut were the center of all contracting and claims handling activity on MetLife's insurance program. Johnson & Higgins, the insurance broker which places the policies for MetLife, is located in New York. MetLife is a New York Corporation with its headquarters in New York City. Aetna is a Connecticut corporation with its home office in Hartford, Connecticut. None of the other appellees are incorporated or have their principal place of business in Mississippi. However, all four appellees as well as MetLife do business within the State of Mississippi and have extensive connections with this state.

STATEMENT OF THE LAW

Standard of Review

¶7. Following the United States Supreme Court's guidance, the trial court's dismissal of the action should only be reversed if the trial court abused its discretion or applied an erroneous legal standard. Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257 (1981). "[W]here the court has considered all relevant public and private interest factors, and where its balancing of these factors is reasonable, its decision deserves substantial deference." Piper Aircraft Co., 454 U.S. at 257. ¶8. MetLife submits six assignments of error to this Court that may be addressed in two distinct legal issues: 1) the application of forum non conveniens and 2) the alleged error of the trial court in granting the motion to dismiss without making any findings of fact. Finding no abuse of discretion or erroneous legal application, we affirm the lower court's dismissal of this case.

I. APPLICATION OF FORUM NON CONVENIENS

ΒΆ9. In reviewing a dismissal based upon forum non conveniens, we must consider the seven factors set out in Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v. ...


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