Lee et al v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

Filing 35

ORDER granting Defendant's 21 Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint; Plaintiffs' claims are DISMISSED for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, signed by Judge Robert S. Lasnik. (SWT)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 JUNG NYEO LEE, an individual; YI YEON CHOI, an individual; CHOON SOOK YANG, an individual; MAN SUN KIM, an individual; WOON JAE LEE, Personal Representative of the Estate of AE JA KIM, on behalf of such Estate and all statutory beneficiaries; MICHAEL SOHN, Personal Representative of the Estate of RICHARD SOHN, on behalf of such Estate and all statutory beneficiaries; JOHN CHOI, an individual; and YOONHEE CHOI, an individual, Plaintiffs, Case No. 2:16-cv-00084 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT v. INSURANCE CORPORATION OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, a foreign corporation, Defendant, 21 22 I. INTRODUCTION 23 This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Insurance Corporation of British 24 Columbia’s (“ICBC”) motion to dismiss. Dkt. #21. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant violated the 25 British Columbia Insurance (Vehicle) Act and certain Washington laws by denying them damages 26 for injuries they sustained in an accident as passengers aboard a bus owned and operated by ICBC’s 27 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT- 1 1 insured, Mi Joo Tour and Travel LTD (“Mi Joo”). Dkt #33 at 2. Defendant moves to dismiss, 2 contending that Plaintiffs lack subject matter and personal jurisdiction and that British Columbia 3 is the most appropriate forum. Dkt. #21 at 2-4. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds as 4 follows. II. BACKGROUND 5 6 ICBC is a Canadian corporation owned and subject to regulation by the British Columbia 7 Government and the British Columbia Utilities Commission. Dkt. #21 at 5. ICBC exclusively 8 provides universal public auto insurance to British Columbian citizens as well as driver licensing 9 and vehicle registration and licensing. Dkt. #21 at 6. ICBC is statutorily limited to insuring vehicles 10 registered in British Columbia and cannot solicit, market, or sell insurance in the United States. Dkt. 11 #21 at 6. Plaintiffs were commercial passengers on Mi Joo’s tour bus who were injured or killed 12 during an accident on I-84 near Pendleton, Oregon. Dkt. #33 at 3-4, Dkt. #21 at 7. ICBC insured 13 Mi Joo in British Columbia for bus tours commencing and traveling through the United States. Dkt. 14 #33 at 4. 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 On December 22, 2012, Plaintiffs paid for their trips and boarded the bus operated by Mi Joo in the State of Washington. Dkt. #33 at 4. The tour was scheduled to be conducted entirely in the United States, ending where they began. Dkt. #33 at 5. On December 30th, the bus crashed leaving 9 passengers dead and 36 severely injured. Dkt. #33 at 5. Plaintiffs first bought claims against Mi Joo which were litigated and settled through arbitration. ICBC helped negotiate the resolution agreement on Mi Joo’s behalf. Dkt. #21 at 8. ICBC paid the Plaintiffs $10 million in settlement funds as a third-party benefit in order to indemnify Mi Joo against Plaintiffs’ claims. Dkt. #21 at 8. Plaintiffs then filed a suit against ICBC in King County Superior Court for breach of contract, tortious breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and anticipated breach of the Washington Insurance Fair Conduct Act (“IFCA”). Dkt. #21 at 8. The case was removed to federal court in January of 2016. Dkt. #21 at 8. Plaintiffs claim that as “additional insureds” they are 26 27 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT- 2 1 entitled to certain benefits to be paid by ICBC including wage loss, medical reimbursement, and 2 funeral expenses. Dkt. #33 at 5. III. ANALYSIS 3 4 Defendant argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this matter because 5 ICBC is an instrumentality of a foreign state protected from suit under the Foreign Sovereign 6 Immunity Act (“FSIA”). Dkt. #21 at 12-14. Plaintiffs do not contest the nature of ICBC as an 7 instrumentality of a foreign state. Rather, they argue that two exceptions to FSIA immunity apply, 8 each of which is considered below. 9 Subject matter jurisdiction is necessary for a court to have the authority to adjudicate the type 10 of issue arising in the case. Plaintiffs have the burden of establishing that the Court has the power 11 to hear this dispute; if they cannot do so, then the case should be dismissed. State v. B.P.M., 97 Wn. 12 App. 294, 298 (1999). The FSIA is the exclusive source of subject matter jurisdiction over cases 13 regarding foreign states and their instrumentalities in United States courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1330; §1602. 14 FSIA grants foreign states, including their agencies and instrumentalities, immunity from the 15 jurisdiction of all courts of the United States, both federal and state. 28 U.S.C. §1602. 16 1. Commercial Activity Exception 17 There are a number of exceptions to this immunity from suit in United States jurisdictions, 18 including the commercial activity exception. This exception allows a suit to be brought against a 19 foreign state or instrumentality if the action is: 20 21 22 23 based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state; or upon an act performed in the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere; or upon an act outside the territory of the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere and that act causes a direct effect in the United States. 24 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(2). The statute defines commercial activity as “either a regular course of 25 commercial conduct or a particular commercial transaction or act.” 28 U.S.C. §1603(d). 26 constitute a direct effect in the United States sufficient to qualify for the exception, the plaintiff’s 27 cause of action must have a connection which follows as an immediate consequence of the 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT- 3 To 1 defendant’s commercial activity in the foreign state. Saudi Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U.S. 349, 358 2 (1993). Furthermore, only a plaintiff who bases their lawsuit on the formation of the insurance 3 contract as a named insured can avail themselves of the commercial activity exception to the FSIA 4 in the context of a foreign sovereign insurance company. W. Protectors Ins. Co. v. Ins. Corp., 2009 5 WL 159212 at *4 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 22, 2009). 6 The commercial activity of ICBC, namely the issuing of the insurance to Mi Joo, happened 7 in British Columbia and was not carried out in the United States. Plaintiffs’ claims must therefore 8 arise from a direct effect of the sale of the insurance policy. The existence of the policy in no way 9 caused the accident at issue. Plaintiffs claim, however, that they are named insureds under the 10 contract and entitled to sue directly for coverage. Plaintiffs were not named in the insurance policy 11 or involved in the formation of the contract between Mi Joo and ICBC. Dkt. #25 at 11. Rather, they 12 argue that “occupants” of insured vehicles are defined as insureds under to the British Columbia 13 Insurance (Vehicle) Act. Dkt. #25 at 11. Neither the term “occupants” nor an expansive definition 14 of “insureds” can be found anywhere in the Insurance (Vehicle) Act. Dkt. #21-2 at 44. 15 Plaintiffs rely on Dumont v. Saskatchewan Government Ins., 258 F.3d 880 (8th Cir. 2001), 16 to show that the passengers of the tour bus were covered under ICBC’s insurance policy as insureds 17 giving rise to a direct causal connection between the commercial activity in British Columbia and 18 their coverage claims. Dkt. #25 at 11. However, in Dumont, the plaintiffs were intended 19 beneficiaries of the insurance contract and therefore entitled to recovery as insureds. Unlike 20 Plaintiffs here, they were not simply occupants of an insured vehicle who had no involvement with 21 the formation of the insurance policies. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Ins. Co. of B.C., 2010 22 WL 331786 at *9-10 (D. Oregon Jan. 25, 2010). Plaintiffs may have had a right to coverage under 23 the policy, but they were not named insureds. ICBC’s negotiation and sale of a policy to Mi Joo in 24 Canada is not causally connected to the accident which gave rise to these claims. Plaintiffs cannot 25 prove that their cause of action follows as an immediate consequence of ICBC’s commercial activity 26 and therefore cannot avail themselves of the commercial activity exception to the FSIA. 27 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT- 4 1 2. Tortious Act Exception 2 Plaintiffs also allege that ICBC committed a tortious act by failing to provide them with 3 insurance benefits in bad faith in violation of the IFCA. In order to establish the tortious act 4 exception to sovereign immunity, there must be damages “sought against a foreign state for personal 5 injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the 6 tortious act or omission of that foreign state...” 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(5). In addition, the claim cannot 7 be based on “the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary 8 function regardless of whether the discretion be abused.” 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(5)(A). To analyze the 9 discretionary function exception to this claim, the Ninth Circuit has established a two-pronged test 10 where the court will first look to “the nature of the conduct, rather than the status of the actor” and 11 then will examine the acts to determine if they were “grounded in social, economic, or political 12 policy.” Joseph v. Office of Consulate General of Nigeria, 830 F.2d 1018, 1026 (9th Cir. 1987). If 13 the action taken involves the exercise of policy judgment, even by subordinates on the operational 14 level, then it falls under the discretionary function exception and sovereign immunity cannot be 15 overcome. Id. 16 ICBC made a choice on how to implement and issue policy benefits. That choice is a 17 discretionary decision that does not abrogate sovereign immunity even if tortious. The nature of the 18 conduct is grounded in social, economic, and political policy judgement of the foreign government 19 by choosing who is insured under their national policy and who gets to collect on that insurance, 20 especially with regards to individuals who were never named insureds in the policy and had no part 21 in its formation. 22 Plaintiffs’ arguments in favor of granting them exceptions to the FSIA and allowing them to 23 bring suit against ICBC fail, and subject matter jurisdiction cannot be established. The Court need 24 not consider other arguments for dismissing the case. 25 26 27 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT- 5 1 IV. CONCLUSION 2 For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ first amended complaint, 3 Dkt. #33, is GRANTED. Plaintiffs’ claims are DISMISSED for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. 4 The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter a judgment in favor of Defendant against Plaintiffs. 5 6 7 8 Dated this 24th day of August, 2017. A Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT- 6

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