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Lebbin v. Transamerica Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 30, 2018

GARY H. LEBBIN and THE LEBBIN-SPECTOR FAMILY TRUST, By and Through Its Trustees Roger M. Lebbin and Carole Sue Lebbin, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRANSAMERICA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Gary H. Lebbin and the Lebbin-Spector Family Trust, by and through its trustees Roger M. Lebbin and Carole Sue Lebbin ("the Trust"), have brought this civil action against Defendant Transamerica Life Insurance Company ("Transamerica") alleging breach of contract and related claims arising from Transamerica's termination of a life insurance policy because Gary Lebbin has now turned 100 years old. Presently pending before the Court is Transamerica's Motion to Transfer Venue. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 6, 1990, Gary and Bernice Lebbin ("the Lebbins") completed an application for a Transamerica life insurance policy in Delray Beach, Florida, without specifying the ultimate beneficiaries of the policy. At the time, Gary Lebbin was a Florida citizen and listed a Delray Beach address on the application, but he also maintained a residence in Maryland. Jack Kaye, a Transamerica agent, conducted the discussions and negotiations regarding the sale of the insurance policy with Gary Lebbin while in Florida.

         On June 25, 1990, the Lebbins formed the Trust in Montgomery County, Maryland, naming their children, Roger Lebbin and Carole Sue Lebbin, as Trustees ("the Trustees"). Two days later, on June 27, 1990, the Lebbins completed another application for a Transamerica life insurance policy, this time naming the Trust as the policy owner and beneficiary. This application was signed by Gary and Bernice Lebbin, as well as both Trustees on behalf of the policy owner, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, but the Lebbins continued to list their address as a residence in Delray Beach, Florida. On July 9, 1990, Transamerica issued life insurance policy number 92324057 ("the 92324057 Policy"), which insured the Lebbins for $2, 000, 0000. The policy was issued on a form approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

         The Lebbins completed a third application on December 17, 1991. They listed the same Delray Beach, Florida address as their residence and signed the application in Delray Beach. The Trustees also signed as policy owner. A life insurance illustration form, which shows the assumed cash value of the policy at various ages, states that it was presented by Jack Kaye on December 19, 1991 in Florida. On December 20, 1991, Transamerica issued policy number 92387187 ("the 92387187 Policy"), a $1, 200, 000 policy insuring the Lebbins. The 92387187 Policy was also issued on a form approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. A premium payment for the 92324057 Policy was made by Gary Lebbin, with a check listing his Delray Beach address, on October 21, 2014.

         Gary Lebbin is 100 years old and continues to live in Delray Beach, Florida. The Trust was formed in Maryland and is administered there. Roger Lebbin resides in and is a citizen of Maryland, and Carole Sue Lebbin is a Florida citizen and resides in Delray Beach, Florida but also maintains another residence in Maryland. Jack Kaye, the original agent who sold the 92324057 and 92387187 Policies ("the Policies"), is 89 years old and lives in South Florida. Lisa Fleming, the current servicing agent for the Policies who reviewed the Polices with Gary Lebbin at her office in Florida in 2010, lives and works in South Florida. Both Kaye and Fleming have asserted that it would be a hardship for them to travel to Maryland for a trial and other proceedings relating to this case. The accountant for the Trust, Dianne Fagerli, is based in Florida but has stated that it would not be a hardship for her to travel to Maryland. Transamerica is an Iowa corporation and maintains offices in both Florida and Maryland.

         DISCUSSION

         In their Motion to Transfer Venue, Transamerica seeks to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida "for the convenience of parties and witnesses" and "in the interest of justice" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Mot. Transfer at 1, ECF No. 19. Transamerica argues that such a transfer is warranted because Gary Lebbin initiated and negotiated the purchase of the Policies in Florida through a Florida agent, and all of the known witnesses in this case reside in Florida. In response, Plaintiffs emphasize the importance of a plaintiffs choice of forum, in this case, Maryland, and argue that Transamerica's claims of inconvenience in the absence of a transfer are speculative.

         I. Legal Standard

         Since the parties do not dispute that venue is proper in Maryland, the Court analyzes Defendant's request to transfer the case under the change of venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). See Lafferty v. St. Riel, 495 F.3d 72, 78 (3d Cir. 2007) (observing that transfer under § 1404(a) is appropriate "when venue is proper and [28 U.S.C. § 1406] should be used when venue is improper"). "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to another district court or division where it might have been brought[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (2012); see Kontoulas v. A.H. Robins Co., 745 F.2d 312, 315 (4th Cir. 1984). It is undisputed that this case could have been brought in the Southern District of Florida.

         To prevail on a motion under § 1404(a), the moving party "must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed transfer will better and more conveniently serve the interests of the parties and witnesses and better promote the interests of justice." Helsel v. Tishman Realty & Const. Co., 198 F.Supp.2d 710, 711 (D. Md. 2002). The Court weighs a number of case-specific factors in making this determination, including: (1) the weight accorded to the plaintiffs choice of forum; (2) witness convenience and access to sources of proof; (3) the convenience of the parties; and (4) the interest of justice. Trustees of the Plumbers & Pipefitters Nat'l Pension Fund v. Plumbing Servs., Inc. (“Trustees"), 791 F.3d 436, 444 (4th Cir. 2015); see also Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508-09 (1947); Brown v. Stallworth, 235 F.Supp.2d 453, 456 (D. Md. 2002).

         "[U]nless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiffs choice of forum should rarely be disturbed." Collins v. Straight, Inc., 748 F.2d 916, 921-22 (4th Cir. 1984). "[B]efore transfer is warranted, a defendant must demonstrate that the deference due plaintiffs choice of venue is clearly outweighed by other factors." Bd. of Trustees, Sheet Metal Workers Natl Fund. v. Baylor Heating & Air Cond, Inc., 702 F.Supp. 1253, 1256 (E.D. Va. 1988). In deciding a motion to transfer, a court may consider materials outside the pleadings. See Vanity Fair Mills, Inc. v. T. Eaton Co., 234 F.3d 633, 645 (2d Cir. 1956); Huang v. Napolitano, 721 F.Supp.2d 46, 47 n.2 (D.D.C. 2010); Citibank, N.A. v. Affinity Processing Corp., 248 F.Supp.2d 172, 176 (E.D.N.Y. 2003).

         II. Plaintiffs ...


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