The factual basis for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia’s holding in Savarese v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2008 WL 4386835 (September 26, 2008), is narrow, but it presents an opportunity for the Court to review its holdings on venue from two better-known decisions, Morris v. Crown Equipment Corp., 633 S.E.2d 292 (W. Va. 2006) and In re FELA Asbestos Cases, 665 S.E.2d 687 (W. Va. 2008). Here is my post from last year on the West Virginia Legislature’s amendment of the venue statute in response to Morris.
Frank Savarese was a resident of Jefferson County, Ohio, who was involved in an automobile accident in Belmont County Ohio. He filed suit in Jefferson County against the other driver. Savarese received treatment for his injuries from medical providers in Ohio and West Virginia.
Subsequently, he filed a first-party bad faith claim in the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia against Allstate and several of its adjusters, resulting from their handling of his medical payments claims. The defendants removed the action to federal court, which remanded the case because the defendants failed to demonstrate that the amount in controversy was sufficient to establish federal jurisdiction. Once the action was back in state court, the defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and venue.
Savarese admitted that Ohio law governed his claims, but asserted that the West Virginia state court had jurisdiction to hear his case because Allstate had communicated with his lawyer, who was located in West Virginia, and because some of his medical providers were located in West Virginia.
The circuit court applied West Virginia Code § 56-1-1(c), which barred a nonresident of West Virginia from filing suit "unless all or a substantial part of the acts or omissions giving rise to the claim asserted occurred in this state." The court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (which the Supreme Court found was a mischaracterization, as the basis for the dismissal was lack of venue).
The Supreme Court made short work of Savarese’s appeal, especially the federal cases that he cited. The Court distinguished those decisions "because each involves circumstances where the underlying claim arose in the challenged jurisdiction or the defendant voluntarily directed communications into a jurisdiction in an effort to establish a business relationship or fraudulently induce action in that jurisdiction."
Savarese’s claim arose in Ohio, and Allstate and its adjusters were required to communicate with his lawyer in West Virginia simply because he retained a West Virginia lawyer. There was no venue in West Virginia because those communications did not, as Savarese claimed, satisfy the requirement that all or a substantial part of the acts or omissions giving rise to the claim occur in West Virginia.
Accordingly, we now hold that the retention by Mr. Savarese, an Ohio resident, of a West Virginia attorney to pursue medical payment claims under an Ohio insurance contract for an injury sustained in Ohio is insufficient to establish venue under West Virginia Code § 56-1-1(c) for a cause of action governed by Ohio law arising from the denial of payment of such medical claims where no party to the action is a West Virginia resident.