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Nguyen v. Anthem Companies, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

April 10, 2016




Presently pending and ready for review in this action for declaratory judgment is a motion to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota filed by Defendant Eugene Robinson (“Defendant”). (ECF No. 19). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion to transfer venue will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Huong Nguyen (“Plaintiff”) came to the United States from Vietnam in early 2012. On August 25, 2012, Plaintiff and her then-husband, John Pho, were involved in an automobile accident in Lincoln County, South Dakota. Seth Kroger crossed the median and struck Plaintiff’s vehicle, severely injuring Plaintiff and Mr. Pho. Plaintiff was airlifted to a hospital and treated for her injuries. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 17-20).

After the accident, Mr. Pho and Plaintiff recovered at the home of Mr. Pho’s mother. (ECF No. 19, at 2-3). Mr. Pho retained Defendant, an attorney, to represent him in bringing personal injury claims against the estate of the deceased driver, Mr. Kroger. Plaintiff relied on her husband’s recommendation of counsel and also retained Defendant to represent her. The Retainer Agreement was signed in South Dakota. Under its terms, Defendant would receive one-third of all sums recovered, in addition to sales taxes. (ECF Nos. 1 ¶¶ 31-32; 1-2, at 2). Defendant contacted Mr. Kroger’s auto insurance carrier, De Smet Insurance Company of South Dakota (“De Smet”) to file a claim. On March 26, 2013, De Smet responded to Defendant noting its intention to make the $250, 000.00 policy limit available to Plaintiff, inclusive of other insurance payments and subrogation demands, in exchange for a release of claims against the insured and Mr. Kroger’s estate. (ECF Nos. 1 ¶ 34; 1-3, at 2).

At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was a third-party beneficiary of Mr. Pho’s health insurance policy with Anthem BlueCross BlueShield (“Anthem”) that Mr. Pho obtained through his employer. During treatment and recovery, Plaintiff incurred medical bills of approximately $178, 000.00. Through subrogation, Anthem sought to recover $119, 441.75 from Plaintiff for medical bill payments. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 21-23).

In early 2013, marital problems developed between Plaintiff and Mr. Pho. Plaintiff alleges that she “believe[d] that [Mr. Pho] was conspiring with Defendant [] to settle the case, split the proceeds of the settlement between them, and prevent her from receiving any compensation for her injuries.” (Id. ¶ 37). In or around March 2013, Plaintiff left Mr. Pho and moved in with her sister in Virginia. According to Plaintiff, she continued to receive treatment while in Virginia.

Shortly after her move, Plaintiff retained the services of the Nguyen Law Firm, LLC and attorney Thai Nguyen. (See ECF No. 19-6). Plaintiff allegedly terminated Defendant’s representation before any settlement was reached between Plaintiff and De Smet, and Mr. Nguyen agreed to represent Plaintiff in her settlement negotiations. According to Plaintiff, she lost trust that Defendant would act in her best interest. Plaintiff asserts that she “had legal grounds to terminate [the Retainer Agreement] with Defendant, ” including, inter alia, Defendant’s alleged breaches of contract and fiduciary duties. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 42-45). In his answer, Defendant denies that Plaintiff had any justification to terminate the Retainer Agreement and disputes that he breached any contractual or fiduciary duties owed to Plaintiff. (ECF No.5 ¶¶ 18-21). Defendant contends that he fulfilled his obligations to Plaintiff and negotiated a settlement in the amount of $250, 000.00 from De Smet on Plaintiff’s behalf on March 26, 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 9-11; ECF No. 19, at 3). The settlement was not finalized because, according to Defendant, Plaintiff left South Dakota. (ECF No. 26, at 3).

Upon learning that Plaintiff had secured new representation, Defendant sought to contact Mr. Nguyen regarding a settlement and the division of fees. According to Defendant, however, “Mr. Nguyen failed to answer any of Defendant[’s] letters [or telephone calls].” (Id. at 10). As a result, Defendant notified Mr. Nguyen that he would be seeking assistance from the Maryland Bar Association “in communicating with [Mr. Nguyen] to settle this case expeditiously.” (ECF No. 19-2).

Represented by Mr. Nguyen, Plaintiff settled her claim with De Smet by entering into a release of claims (the “Release”) on July 28, 2015. (ECF Nos. 20, at 13; 26, at 10). Under the terms of the Release, Plaintiff was to receive $250, 000.00 in exchange for releasing all claims arising directly or indirectly from the accident. (ECF No. 20-1, at 17). Plaintiff also agreed “to satisfy any lien upon or any right to reimbursement from the monetary consideration for which provision is made herein that may exist in favor of [Defendant] arising by reason of an attorney-client relationship.” (Id. at 18). Furthermore, Plaintiff agreed “to satisfy the subrogation claims of [Anthem], LeMars Insurance Company, and any other insurer or health provider, if any.” (Id.). Although the Release appears to have been signed in Maryland, it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of South Dakota.” (Id.). At present, the parties do not dispute that the proceeds remain with De Smet in South Dakota. (See ECF Nos. 19, at 5; 20, at 13-14; 26, at 3).

Defendant placed an attorney’s lien on Plaintiff in the amount of $88, 485.09, which represents attorney fees, sales tax, and costs incurred by Defendant. (See ECF Nos. 1 ¶ 47; 19, at 5). Plaintiff alleges that “[t]here exists an actual controversy of a justiciable issue between Plaintiff and Defendant” regarding the attorney’s lien. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 47). Plaintiff currently resides in Virginia. Defendant is a resident of South Dakota, and Mr. Nguyen practices law in Maryland. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15).

B. Procedural Background

On August 3, 2015, Plaintiff commenced this action for declaratory judgment against Anthem and Defendant. The two-count complaint seeks declaratory judgment reducing Anthem’s subrogation request (Count I) and striking both Defendant’s ...

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