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Rodriguez v. Wolfe

Rodriguez v. Wolfe

Court Discusses Whether Forum Non Conveniens Precluded it from Exercising Quasi in Rem Jurisdiction

The decedent who was a passenger in one of the motor vehicles involved in a car accident died in Florida after the defendant was DWI driving while intoxicated. The defendant pled guilty and was sentenced for vehicular manslaughter. The administrator of the decedent’s estate sought to attach insurance policy issued to the defendant in connection with the cause of action arising out of accident in Florida. The decedent was a member of the United States Navy who resided in Florida but was a domiciled in New York prior to entering the Navy. The decedent’s administrator who was his father was a domicile of New York as well as the fact that the estate was being processed in New York, demonstrated that the estate was a resident of New York. The criminal defendant however opposed the motion on the ground that New York was not the appropriate forum but Florida was the forum to bring the motion.

The trial court then considered the decisions of Seider v. Roth, 17 N.Y.2d 111 after it established that a New York resident was seeking to acquire quasi in rem jurisdiction by attaching the defendant’s insurance policy. The decision of Donawitz v. Danek, 42 N.Y.2d 138, Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, O’Connor v. Lee-Hy Paving, 437 F.Supp. 994 and Torres v. Tow Motor Division of Caterpillar were considered by the court in analyzing Seider. Since the decedent’s estate sought no personal jurisdiction over the defendant as such the insurance policy was at the heart of the cause of action. Therefore, the court could exercise quasi in rem jurisdiction by attaching the insurance policy issued to the defendant which provided an obligation to defend the claim in New York. Furthermore, any hardship experienced by the witnesses in appearing at a New York trial involving an automobile accident in Florida could not be greater than the loss sustained by the administrator of the decedent’s estate in his individual capacity. The defendant’s argument that the doctrine of forum non conveniens precluded the court from exercising quasi in rem jurisdiction by attaching insurance policy was unmeritorious.

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