United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
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.)
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)).
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.'”).
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 ...