MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief District Judge.
This litigation arises out of an incident that occurred at Electric Boat Corporation's property in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, in which an employee of a subcontractor performing work on the property sustained fatal injuries while engaged in his employment duties. The employee's widow initiated a wrongful death action against Electric Boat and PDS Engineering & Construction, Inc. in Washington County Superior Court. PDS had been hired by Electric Boat to make improvements to Electric Boat's property; PDS had subcontracted part of the project to International Door, Inc. (the decedent's employer). International Door held an insurance policy issued by The Cincinnati Indemnity Company, under which PDS and Electric Boat claim to have been included as additional insureds; Cincinnati Indemnity, however, has refused to defend and indemnify PDS and Electric Boat in the state court litigation.
PDS and its insurer, The Phoenix Insurance Company ("Plaintiffs"), have initiated a separate cause of action in this Court against Cincinnati Indemnity ("Defendant") seeking a declaratory judgment that International Door's insurance policy includes PDS and Electric Boat as additional insureds under International Door's commercial general liability and umbrella liability coverages. Plaintiffs are also alleging that Defendant breached its contractual obligations to them.
Defendant (an Ohio-based company) filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, or, in the alternative, to transfer the cause of action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Defendant argued that Michigan would be the proper venue because International Door, its insured, is incorporated in Michigan and the policy was issued in Michigan. Plaintiffs were granted leave to conduct jurisdictional discovery, and Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond held a hearing before issuing a Report & Recommendation. In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge found that the District of Rhode Island has neither general nor specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant and that this District is therefore an improper venue. Rather than recommending dismissal of the case, however, the Magistrate Judge recommended transferring it to the Eastern District of Michigan, as requested by Defendant. Plaintiffs filed a timely objection to the R&R.
II. Standard of Review
Pursuant to Rule 72(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court reviews de novo any part of an R&R addressing a dispositive motion to which an objection has been properly filed.
Plaintiffs object to the R&R on the bases that the Magistrate Judge erred by (1) finding no general personal jurisdiction in Rhode Island over Defendant, and (2) recommending transfer of the cause of action to the Eastern District of Michigan as the appropriate disposition of the motion.
A. General jurisdiction
Plaintiffs argue that the Magistrate Judge overlooked the evidence showing that Defendant consented to general personal jurisdiction when it signed the Uniform Consent to Service of Process form in 2007 and again in 2015.
Defendant responds to Plaintiffs' objection with the contentions that the Magistrate Judge squarely addressed Plaintiffs' argument regarding consent and concluded that the Uniform Consent to Service of Process form does not equate to consent to personal jurisdiction in Rhode Island. Defendant also asserts that Plaintiffs' consent argument is waived because it was raised during oral argument before the Magistrate Judge and not in Plaintiffs' initial memorandum in opposition to Defendant's motion.
Defendant, as a foreign company, was required by statute to designate the insurance commissioner for Rhode Island as an individual upon whom service of process could be served.
The form is clearly titled a "Uniform Consent to Service of Process" and is designed to fulfill that purpose in addition to complying with the statutory mandate in § 27-2-13.
Moreover, this Court has previously concluded that consent to personal jurisdiction was not established simply because the defendant had registered in Rhode Island for a contractor renovation license and had appointed an agent to receive service of process.
Even though Plaintiffs presented this Uniform Consent to Service of Process form as proof that Defendant had consented to jurisdiction for the first time during oral argument, the Magistrate Judge addressed the argument directly in his R&R: "[Defendant's] license to transact insurance business in Rhode Island and its designation of Rhode Island's Superintendent of Insurance as its agent to accept service of process do not tip the balance in favor of asserting general jurisdiction."
In addition, as the First Circuit has noted, "[c]onstitutional limitations on the exercise of personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants are rooted in principles of `fundamental fairness.'"
B. Specific personal jurisdiction
The Magistrate Judge also engaged in a thorough analysis of specific jurisdiction and found that the relatedness prong of specific jurisdiction
The Magistrate Judge also found that the purposeful availment prong of specific jurisdiction
Plaintiffs have not objected to the Magistrate Judge's findings or conclusions with respect to specific jurisdiction. After reviewing Plaintiff's memorandum and materials submitted in support of its opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's reasoning and accepts the R&R's conclusion that Plaintiffs have failed to establish specific jurisdiction over Defendant in this case.
C. Venue transfer
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss proposed an alternative outcome to dismissing the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue: transferring the case to the Eastern District of Michigan because "this matter revolves around the interpretation of an insurance policy issued by an Ohio corporation to a Michigan entity . . . and it would be most effective for the interpretation of a Michigan insurance policy to be interpreted in Michigan."
The Court agrees with Defendant's argument for transferring venue and with the Magistrate Judge that the interests of justice would be better served by transferring this case to the Eastern District of Michigan than by dismissing the case outright, especially because Defendant has requested this transfer and Plaintiffs have not opposed transfer to this venue.
For the reasons stated herein, the Court ACCEPTS the R&R (ECF No. 18) and GRANTS IN PART Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7). This case shall be transferred to the Eastern District of Michigan.
IT IS SO ORDERED.