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Grisham v. Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

April 9, 2018

THOMAS W. GRISHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
GUARANTEE TRUST LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          AMENDED MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is the motion of Third-Party Defendant Platinum Supplemental Insurance, Inc., f/k/a Platinum Services, Inc. (“Platinum”) to sever and transfer the third-party claim in this matter to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (Doc. 28.) Third-Party Plaintiff Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company (“GTL”) opposes the motion, which is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Platinum's Motion.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Thomas W. Grisham filed this action on December 8, 2016, asserting breach of contract, vexatious refusal to pay, and defamation claims against Defendant GTL related to an insurance policy issued by GTL to Grisham. (Doc. 1.) In the Complaint, Grisham states that GTL issued a First Diagnosis Cancer policy to him with an effective date of November 4, 2014 (“Policy”). Derek Mays, described by Grisham as an agent of GTL, solicited and completed Grisham's insurance application. Grisham asserts that he provided Mays with honest and accurate responses to all questions asked of him. Specifically, he contends that he disclosed all diagnostic testing he had undergone, and that Mays advised him to respond “no” to Question #3. Grisham alleges that he was diagnosed with mantel cell lymphoma on November 11, 2014, which triggered benefits under the Policy. He claims that GTL wrongfully denied his claim for benefits on March 2, 2015.

         On October 18, 2017, GTL filed a Third-Party Complaint against Platinum, arguing that GTL is entitled to contractual indemnification and contribution from Platinum for any of Platinum's and its agents' actions contributing to the loss alleged in Grisham's Complaint. (Doc. 23.) According to the Third-Party Complaint, GTL and Platinum entered into a development and Exclusive Marketing Agreement on April 4, 2002 (“Contract”) and were parties to another agreement dated November 5, 2009 (“SIM Agreement”). Both the Contract and SIM agreement provided that GTL and Platinum would jointly develop various insurance products that would be sold exclusively by Platinum and underwritten by GTL. The Contract limited Platinum's authority to make, alter, or discharge any insurance policy except as authorized by the Contract or GTL. In the Contract, Platinum agreed that it was responsible for its, and its agents, compliance with all local, state, and federal laws and regulations, and that Platinum and its agents would abide by all rules, guidelines, and requirements established by GTL in conducting business under the Contract. Platinum also agreed that it would comply with and cause its agents to comply with, all of GTL's company procedures and rules concerning advertising policies, marketing guidelines, and GTL's code of ethical market conduct. Further, the Contract stated that Platinum would hold GTL and its agents harmless from any damages, liabilities, or claims relating to or arising from any act or omission by Platinum and its agents regarding the Contract or any applicable law, rule, or regulation. GTL alleged that Derek Mays was an agent of Platinum, and that Grisham claims Mays instructed him to answer portions of the application incorrectly in violation of the Contract. GTL contends that, if Grisham's claims are true, the actions of Platinum and its agent are within the terms of the indemnification and contribution provisions in the Contract between Platinum and GTL. GTL alleges that it is entitled to contractual indemnity and contribution from Platinum for Platinum and its agents' acts, including: making negligent misrepresentations concerning Grisham's answers to the insurance policy application; breaching the Contract with GTL by failing to indemnify and contribute to the defense of this lawsuit; negligent supervising and monitoring its agents in the marketing and selling of insurance policies that are underwritten by GTL; and intentional actions or omissions in the solicitation and procurement of the insurance policy application of Grisham.

         Past Litigation between GTL and Platinum Relevant to Motion to Sever[1]

         On December 11, 2017, Platinum filed the instant Motion to Sever and Transfer the Third-Party Complaint. Platinum states that GTL and Platinum have litigated aspects of their business relationship on two prior relevant occasions. See Platinum Supp. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co., No. 14-4767 (N.D. Ill); Guarantee Trust Life Ins. v. Platinum Supp. Ins., No. 2015-CH-17997, Cook County, Illinois. Both prior cases resulted in confidential settlement agreements. See Doc. 28-1 (“Settlement Agreement No. 1”); Doc. 28-2 (“Settlement Agreement No. 2”). Platinum argues that any claims GTL has arising out of Platinum's performance under any marketing agreement (including those claims alleged by Grisham in the instant action), have been resolved in the settlement of the previous Cook County lawsuit.

         The Cook County lawsuit involved allegations that Platinum breached the Marketing Agreement by not training or supervising its agents properly. The centerpiece of GTL's Cook County lawsuit was a separate lawsuit, the Casper Lawsuit. That suit was brought against GTL and Platinum by a policy holder in Colorado. The suit alleges that a sales agent retained by Platinum misrepresented terms of an insurance policy being sold. The alleged misrepresentations were the basis for the lawsuit filed against GTL and Platinum in Colorado state court. The case ultimately resulted in a jury verdict against GTL. After the jury verdict, GTL sought damages from Platinum for breach of the Marketing Agreement. Specifically, GTL alleged Platinum failed to properly train and supervise its sales force. GTL identified as elements of its damages the defense costs associated with defending the Casper Lawsuit and the potential damages awarded therein.

         On February 27, 2017, GTL and Platinum agreed to settle the Cook County lawsuit and reduced the terms of the settlement to a written agreement (“Settlement Agreement No. 2”). Settlement Agreement No. 2 contains a mandatory forum selection clause requiring any disputes relating to the Cook County lawsuit settlement be litigated in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. On March 31, 2017, Judge Thomas R. Allen entered an Order dismissing the Cook County lawsuit stating “[t]he parties agree that all claims that were filed or could have been filed in the Cook County litigation shall be deemed settled and resolved.” (Doc. 28-4 at p. 1.)

         On October 18, 2017, GTL filed the third-party action in the instant case. (Doc. 23.) GTL's third-party action includes claims that Platinum failed to train or supervise its agents. Platinum argues these claims are virtually identical to those brought and settled in the Cook County lawsuit. As a result, Platinum filed a declaratory judgment action against GTL in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (“Declaratory Judgment Action”). Platinum requests that the Court sever the third-party claim in this Court, and transfer it to the Northern District of Illinois, where it can be litigated in accordance with the terms of Settlement Agreement No. 2.

         Discussion

         As noted above, Platinum seeks to have this case transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) provides that, “[f]or the convenience of 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 or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         GTL makes the following arguments in opposition to Platinum's Motion: (1) Platinum has not met the burden for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); (2) the Motion defeats the purpose of Rule 14; and (3) this case does not arise out of the settlement agreement being litigated in the Northern District of Illinois. The undersigned will discuss these claims in turn.

         I. 28 U.S.C. ยง ...


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