On June 5, 2009, in response to the appeal filed by Myron Corporation, a New Jersey appellate court held that Atlantic Mutual Insurance Corp. was responsible for Myron’s counsel fees incurred in fending off Atlantic’s Illinois declaratory judgment action pursuant to NJ Rule 4:42-9(a)(6). The coverage dispute centered on defense coverage for numerous cases filed against Myron, alleging that junk faxes sent by Myron violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Atlantic defended Myron in the cases under a reservation of rights. After the Seventh Circuit ruled that insurance coverage was not available for TCPA claims in an unrelated case [Am. States Ins. Co. v. Capital Assoc. of Jackson County, Inc.], Atlantic decided it was a good time to file a DJ action against Myron in Illinois federal court.
The problem with this brilliant strategy was that, as the Illinois court wrote, dismissing the case: “a New Jersey court has the greatest interest in resolving an insurance coverage dispute arising from policies which appear to have been issued in New Jersey to a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey.” Once in the hands of a New Jersey court, Atlantic lost. The court held that Atlantic owed a defense to Myron for the TCPA cases. The parties then settled, except on the issue of whether Myron was entitled to counsel fees for both the New Jersey and Illinois insurance coverage litigations under NJ Rule 4:42-9(a)(6).
Things didn’t improve for Atlantic on appeal:
We agree with Myron that, unless the insured can recover its counsel fees for out-of-state litigation in this situation, an insurer could wear down the insured financially through forum-shopping. In this case, there is no doubt that Atlantic filed its action in Illinois to take advantage of a favorable Seventh Circuit ruling on coverage. While this may have been good legal strategy from Atlantic’s point of view, it imposed costs on Myron to fight its way out of what the Illinois court found was an inappropriate forum, and to get the case back into an appropriate venue.