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Republic Fire & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Estate of Jeane

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

January 31, 2017

REPUBLIC FIRE & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
THE ESTATE OF LARRY W. JEANE, SR, JOHANNA JEANE, SARAH BARBER, JAMIE TURNER, ELIZABETH SPIVEY AND WALLCE SPIVEY

          PEREZ-MONTES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          ORDER

          DEE D. DRELL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Sarah Barber, Jamie Turner, Elizabeth Spivey, and Wallace Spivey ("State Court Plaintiffs") and adopted by The Estate of Larry Jeane and Johana Jeane ("the Jeanes") against Republic Fire and Casualty Insurance Company's ("Republic") suit for a declaratory judgment. (Doa'21, 37, 1). Republic sought declaratory judgment against State Court Plaintiffs and the Jeanes asking us to find Republic has no obligation to defend or indemnify The Estate of Larry W. Jeane in the underlying state court suit. For the following reasons, the State Court Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED.

         This suit arises out of a July 18, 2014 accident wherein Larry W. Jeane, a permitted operator of a pick-up truck owned by the City of Pineville, crossed the centerline of La. Hwy. 107 in Pineville, Louisiana and struck State Court Plaintiffs' vehicle head-on. (Doc. 1, p. 4). State Court Plaintiffs brought suit on January 9, 2015 in the 9th Judicial District Court ("JDC") of Louisiana against the Louisiana Municipal Risk Management Agency Group Self-Insured Fund, the City of Pineville, Shelter Mutual Insurance Company, the Rapides Parish Police Jury, the State of Louisiana, the City of Pineville City Marshall's Office, and ABC Insurance Company claiming that the deceased, Larry W. Jeane, was acting in the course and scope of his employment as a Pineville City Marshall at the time of the accident. (Doc. 1, p. 4; 9th JDC Civil Suit No. 251, 753). State Court Plaintiffs brought the suit against the City of Pineville and State of Louisiana seeking to impose liability based on respondeat superior or vicarious liability. (Doc. 1, p. 4). State Court Plaintiffs amended their suit adding as defendants the Estate of Larry W. Jeane, Sr. and Republic as defendants on March 17, 2015 and March 14, 2016, respectively. (Doc. 21 -2, p. 7, 12). Republic is the personal automobile insurer of Johanna Jeane and provided an umbrella policy for both Larry W. and Johanna Jeane at the time of the accident. (Doc. 1, p.6).

         Republic filed the declaratory judgment action in this court on February 4, 2016 before it was added as a defendant in the underlying state court suit. (Doc. 1, p. 1). Republic requests a declaratory judgment that it has "no obligation to indemnify the Estate of Larry W. Jeane, Sr." (Doc. 1, p. 4). State Court Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Dismiss Republic's declaratory judgment action on April 28, 2016, which was adopted by the Jeanes on May 10, 2016. (Doc. 37). Republic filed a timely opposition to the motion on May 10, 2016. (Doc. 36).

         Concurrently on October 19, 2016, Republic filed a motion for summary judgment in the underlying state suit, claiming that Republic's personal auto policy and personal umbrella policy did not provide insurance coverage for the claims of State Court Plaintiffs. On December 12, 2016, after a hearing on the motion for summary judgment, Judge George Metoyer, Jr., of the 9thJDC, found Republic's personal auto policy did not provide insurance coverage to the Estate of Larry W Jeane Sr. but the umbrella insurance policy did, therefore, the motion for summary judgment was granted in part and denied in part. Subsequently, Republic filed a notice of intent to apply for supervisory and remedial writs regarding the ruling of Judge Metoyer's summary judgment on January 9, 2017.

         I. Legal Standard

         The Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §2201(a) states that "in a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction (subject to exceptions), any court of the United States . . . may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought." The Supreme Court interpreted the Declaratory Judgment Act as conferring "on federal courts unique and substantial discretion in deciding whether to declare the rights of litigants." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co. 515 U.S. 277, 286 (1995).

         The analysis regarding whether to retain a declaratory judgment action requires a federal district court to determine: "(1) whether the declaratory action is justiciable; (2) whether the court has the authority to grant declaratory relief; and (3) whether to exercise its discretion to decide or dismiss the action." Sherwin-Williams Co. v. Holmes County, 343 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2003). It is undisputed and likewise found by this Court that the first two prongs are here satisfied.

         Under the third prong, the Court must exercise its discretion about whether to decide or dismiss the case. The Fifth Circuit has identified the following seven nonexclusive factors to consider when making this determination:

1) Whether there is a pending action in which all of the matters in controversy may be fully litigated;
2) Whether the plaintiff filed suit in anticipation of a lawsuit filed by the defendant;
3) Whether the plaintiff engaged in forum shopping in bringing the suit;
4) Whether possible inequities exist in allowing the declaratory plaintiff to gain precedent in time or ...

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