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Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Ins. Co. v. Allen

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 10, 2014

Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company
v.
Roger D. Allen et al

Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court. (CV-12-902576).

MAIN, Justice. Moore, C.J., and Bolin, Murdock, and Bryan, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 785

MAIN, Justice.

Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company (" Penn National" ) brought this action against Roger D. Allen, Homeland Vinyl Products, Inc. (" Homeland Vinyl" ), and Deric Miner, individually and as the personal representative of the estate of Jane Miner, in the Jefferson Circuit Court seeking a judgment declaring that it owed no duty of defense or indemnity to Allen for claims arising out of a fatal automobile accident that occurred in New Jersey. Allen, a New Jersey resident, moved the trial court to dismiss the claims against him for lack of personal jurisdiction. In response, the trial court dismissed the case in its entirety. Penn National appeals; we affirm.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On April 9, 2010, Allen and his girlfriend, Jane Miner, were involved in an automobile accident in Trenton, New Jersey. The couple was returning to their home in Trenton from a pleasure trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Allen was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, although the vehicle was a company car issued to Miner by her employer. He claimed something crossed the interstate in front of him; he swerved to avoid the object but lost control of the vehicle. The vehicle left the roadway and overturned. Miner died as a result of the accident.

Both Allen and Miner were residents of Trenton, New Jersey. Miner had moved from Alabama to New Jersey approximately nine months before the accident. At the time she moved to New Jersey, Miner was employed as a sales representative for Homeland Vinyl, an Alabama corporation headquartered in Birmingham. Miner continued to work for Homeland Vinyl following her move to New Jersey. Homeland Vinyl provided Miner with a company car, the vehicle involved in the April 2010 accident. At the time of the

Page 786

accident, the vehicle was registered in Alabama and bore an Alabama license plate. The vehicle, however, had been garaged in New Jersey for the nine months following Miner's move to New Jersey. The vehicle was insured by Penn National through a business automobile-liability policy issued to Homeland Vinyl.

On April 5, 2012, Miner's son, Deric Miner, individually and as personal representative of Miner's estate, filed a wrongful-death action against Allen in the Superior Court of New Jersey. The action alleged that Allen had operated the vehicle in a negligent or reckless manner and that his negligence or recklessness had caused the accident. When served with the New Jersey wrongful-death action, Allen notified his personal automobile-liability insurance carrier, Allstate Insurance Company (" Allstate" ). According to Allen, Allstate informed Allen that " they would take care of it."

Initially, rather than obtain counsel to represent Allen in the wrongful-death action, Allstate tendered Allen's defense to Penn National. We note that Penn National is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. On May 9, 2012, an Allstate claims representative sent the following correspondence to Penn National at its address in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

" Allstate N.J. Insurance Company is the personal automobile insurance carrier for Roger D. Allen who was the permissive driver of a vehicle owned by Homeland Vinyl Products and reportedly insured by Penn National Insurance.
" Our insured has been served with the enclosed lawsuit by the attorney representing the Estate of Jane Miner relative to the above captioned matter.
" As the primary insurance carrier for coverage in this matter, kindly assign the lawsuit to counsel to provide a defense of Roger D. Allen.
" Your prompt response and attention to this matter is appreciated."

On August 15, 2012, Penn National filed this declaratory-judgment action in the Jefferson Circuit Court seeking a judgment declaring that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify Allen in the New Jersey wrongful-death action. Specifically, the complaint asserted that Homeland Vinyl's guidelines with regard to the use of its company vehicles authorized only Miner to drive the vehicle and expressly prohibited use of the vehicle by any other person.[1] Penn National further asserted that, because Allen was not authorized to operate the vehicle, he did not qualify as a permissive user entitled to coverage under the Penn National policy issued to Homeland Vinyl. Penn National named Allen, Homeland Vinyl, and Deric Miner, individually and as the personal representative of Miner's estate, as defendants to its declaratory-judgment action. Of the parties, only Homeland Vinyl is an Alabama resident.

On February 26, 2013, Allen filed a Rule 12(b)(2), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion to dismiss Penn National's action against him on the ground that the Jefferson Circuit Court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. In support of his motion, Allen submitted affidavits evidencing his lack of contacts with Alabama. According to Allen's affidavit, he owns no real or personal property in Alabama; he does not work in Alabama; he does not pay taxes in Alabama; he has not ...


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