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Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange v. Jourdan

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 19, 2017

FEDERATED RURAL ELECTRIC INSURANCE EXCHANGE
v.
IRIS JOURDAN, ET AL.

         SECTION: “J” (1)

          ORDER

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this case, Declaratory Defendants are the heirs of Lawrence “Cotton” Jourdan. Mr. Jourdan was a member of the Board of Directors of Washington, St. Tammany Electric Cooperative, Inc. The Board of Directors of Washington, St. Tammany Electric Cooperative, Inc. have an insurance policy (“Federated policy”) with Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange (“Federated”) which provides several forms of coverage, including uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. On or about March 8, 2016, Mr. Jourdan was walking across a street and was struck by a vehicle. Tragically, Mr. Jourdan died from the injuries he suffered as a result of this incident. Thereafter, Federated filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a judgment that Mr. Jourdan is not an insured under the uninsured/underinsured portion of the Federated policy. Declaratory Defendants also seek a declaratory judgment that Mr. Jourdan was in fact insured at the time of the incident and asks this Court to issue a judgment finding that the Declaratory Defendants are entitled to Mr. Jourdan's insurance proceeds.

         On March 27, 2017, this Court ordered the parties to brief the applicability of Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277 (1995) and St. Paul Insurance Co. v. Trejo, 39 F.3d 585, 590-91 (5th Cir. 1994). (R. Docs. 33, 36.) These cases are implicated in this case because Defendants' opposition to Federated's Motion to Strike Jury (R. Doc. 19) provided the following:

The Jourdan heirs also filed a wrongful death and survival action in Franklinton Parish against the driver and Federated. Iris Nell Spinks Jourdan, et al. vs. Allmerica Financial Benefit Insurance Company, et al., 22nd Judicial District Court No. 110, 195, Div. H, Parish of Washington, State of Louisiana. In their state court suit, the Jourdan heirs allege that, at the time of the accident, Mr. Jourdan was performing his duties as a member of the Co-op's board and was thus insured under the UM coverage in Federated's policy issued to the Coop.

(R. Doc. 19-1, at 3 n.1.) On April 4, 2017, Federated filed a memorandum addressing the above-mentioned cases. Federated contends that its declaratory judgment action is justiciable, that this court has the authority to grant declaratory relief, and that this court should exercise its discretion to decide this declaratory judgment action. (R. Doc. 38.) On April 5, 2017, Declaratory Defendants filed a memorandum essentially adopting Federated's position and contending that this Court should exercise its discretion to decide this action. (R. Doc. 40.)

         In analyzing whether to decide or dismiss a declaratory judgment suit, a federal district court must 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. Axis Oilfield Rentals, LLC v. Mining, Rock, Excavation and Constr., LLC, 2016 WL 6995105, at *3 (E.D. La. Nov. 30, 2016) (citing Sherwin-Williams Co. v. Holmes Cty., 343 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2003)).

         This action is clearly justiciable as there is an actual controversy between the parties as to whether Lawrence “Cotton” Jourdan was insured at the time of the incident, and whether Declaratory Defendants are entitled to any proceeds from Mr. Jourdan's insurance policy. See Ironshore Specialty Ins. Co. v. Tractor Supply Co., 624 F. App'x 159, 163 (5th Cir. 2016). However, the Court must determine whether it has the authority to grant relief. “[A] district court does not have authority to consider the merits of a declaratory judgment action when: (1) the declaratory defendant previously filed a cause of action in state court; (2) the state case involved the same issue as those in the federal court; and (3) the district court is prohibited from enjoining the state proceedings under” 28 U.S.C. § 2283. Sherwin-Williams, 343 F.3d at 388 n.1. Here, Declaratory Defendants filed a wrongful death and survival action against the driver of the vehicle who struck Mr. Jourdan and Federated in state court in Washington Parish, Louisiana. Further, the precise issue before this Court is presently pending before the state court. Specifically, the Declaratory Defendants admit that in their state court suit they allege that, “at the time of the accident, Mr. Jourdan was performing his duties as a member of the Co-op's board and was thus insured under the UM coverage in Federated's policy issued to the Co-op.” (R. Doc. 19-1, at 3 n.1) (emphasis added). Federated contends, and Declaratory Plaintiffs agree, that “Federated filed [the present] declaratory action before the Jourdans filed their state action against Federated and other defendants.” (R. Doc. 38 at 2-3) (emphasis added). Accordingly, it appears that this Court has authority to consider the merits of this declaratory judgment action. See Cherokee Ins. Co. v. Babin ex rel. Rogers, No. 06-612, 2007 WL 2381928, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Aug. 17, 2007) (holding that the court had authority to decide a declaratory judgment action when there was no state court action involving the same parties filed prior to the declaratory judgment action being filed); Endurance Specialty Ins. Co. v. City of Baton Rouge, No. 14-642, 2015 WL 333059, at *2 (M.D. La. Jan. 23, 2015) (“The Court agrees with the holdings of other district courts that ‘a federal court does not lack authority to consider a declaratory judgment action if no state court action was pending at the time the federal complaint for declaratory relief was filed, regardless of the reason no state court action had been filed.'”).

         Therefore, the only remaining inquiry is whether this Court should exercise its discretion to consider the merits of this declaratory judgment action. This Court is required to examine several non-exclusive factors to determine whether it should decide or dismiss this declaratory judgment action. Sherwin-Williams, 343 F.3d at 388 (citing Trejo, 39 F.3d 585). These factors include:

(1) whether there is a pending state 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 in allowing the declaratory plaintiff to gain precedence in time or to ...

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