Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Federal District Court transfers hazardous waste coverage case to state of the contaminated site

XTRA Intermodal leased and eventually purchased property in Fairmont City, Illinois.  The site was later discovered to be contaminated with hazardous waste.  XTRA requested coverage for the contamination claims from Federal Insurance Company under policies Federal had issued it in the 1980's and 1990's.

Federal filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, seeking rulings on the applicability of pollution exclusions and on how damages and costs of defense should be allocated among all of XTRA's insurers. 

In Federal Ins. Co. v. XTRA Intermodal, Inc., 2015 WL 4275181 (D. Mass.) (unpublished), the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts allowed XTRA's motion to transfer the case to the federal court in Illinois.

Federal asserted that venue was proper in Massachusetts because when it issued the policies to XTRA XTRA's corporate headquarters were located in Boston.  Additionally, some of the policies were brokered by insurance agencies in Massachusetts. 

The court noted that the insurance policies were issued more than twenty years ago and that there do not appear to be any modern-day connections linking the parties to Massachusetts.  XTRA moved its principal executive office out of Boston in 1999.   None of the insurers are headquartered in Massachusetts.

The court held that venue was more proper in Illinois because that state has a stronger, more immediate and more relevant connection to Illinois than to Massachusetts.  The underlying litigation is  there; additional insurance claims relevant to the site are likely to arise there; the site is located close to the federal courthouse there; and the interpretation and application of the policies will depend at least in part on the factual circumstances surrounding the contamination. 

The court  held that it was premature to conduct a choice of law analysis.  Even if Massachusetts law applied, that fact is given significantly less weight in a venue analysis when the law involves basic or well-established issues of law.

The court rejected Federal's argument that Illinois did not have a paramount interest in the resolution of the matter because the case would determine only who paid for the loss.  The court held that host states have a "paramount interest in the remediation of toxic waste sites, which extends to assuring that casualty companies fairly recognize the legal liabilities of their insureds." 

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