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Rockhill Insurance Co. v. J.M. Drilling, LLC

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

October 30, 2018

ROCKHILL INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
J.M. DRILLING, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, MOTION TO DISMISS, OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO TRANSFER OR STAY ROCKHILL'S DECLARATORY ACTION AND TRANSFERRING THIS MATTER PURUSANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1404

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On March 26, 2018, Plaintiff Rockhill Insurance Company filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment against Defendant J.M. Drilling, LLC.[1] (ECF No. 2.) Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, to Transfer or Stay Rockhill's Declaratory Action. (ECF No. 15.) Plaintiff has responded to the motion (ECF No. 16), and Defendant has filed a reply to the response. (ECF No. 19.) The Court finds that the portion of the motion seeking to transfer the action is well taken and should be GRANTED, and, therefore, this matter is hereby TRANSFERRED to the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division. All other portions of Defendant's motion are DENIED.

         Background

         Plaintiff has not objected to Defendant's recitation of the background of this matter. Consequently, the Court will adopt Defendant's version of the events leading up to the present lawsuit as follows.

         The declaratory judgment action in this Court arises out of a Louisiana personal injury case. In that case, John and Amy Thibodeaux, individually and on behalf of their daughters, Gabrielle Thibodeaux and Emily Thibodeaux, filed suit against J.M. Drilling and others as a result of injuries allegedly sustained by John Thibodeaux during a work-related accident. The personal injury case was filed in the 15th Judicial Court for the Parish of Lafayette, Louisiana, on August 24, 2015. In January 2017, all defendants in the Underlying Thibodeaux Lawsuit were dismissed except for J.M. Drilling who remained as the sole defendant.

         On March 21, 2018, the Louisiana State Court granted the Underlying Thibodeaux Plaintiffs' partial motion for summary judgment on liability and also granted a motion in limine which effectively found no comparative fault against John Thibodeaux, leaving only the issue of damages for trial. A jury trial was held March 26-29, 2018, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Underlying Thibodeaux Plaintiffs in the amount of $3, 698, 118. On April 6, 2018, the Louisiana State Court entered judgment against J.M. Drilling for the amount awarded by the jury and in favor of Bellsouth Communications, LLC, Intervenor, against J.M. Drilling for the amount of worker's compensation benefits paid to John Thibodeaux through the date of the jury trial.

         Admiral Insurance Company was J.M. Drilling's primary commercial liability insurer, with limits of $1, 000, 000.00. Admiral accepted coverage for the allegations in the Underlying Thibodeaux Lawsuit and retained counsel to defend J.M. Drilling. J.M. Drilling's excess insurer was Rockhill Insurance Company. Rockhill's commercial follow form excess insurance policy had limits of $5, 000, 000.00. The Rockhill excess policy lists Admiral as the underlying primary insurer in the Schedule of Underlying Insurance.

         On March 26, 2018, Rockhill filed this declaratory judgment action against J.M. Drilling, seeking a declaration that Rockhill has no duty to defend and indemnify any party for any of the claims asserted in the Underlying Thibodeaux Lawsuit. The action was brought by Rockhill under the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act. The only parties to this suit are Rockhill and J.M. Drilling.

         On April 12, 2018, the Underlying Thibodeaux Plaintiffs filed a separate declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division, Civil Action No. 6:18-0050. In the Louisiana Federal Action, the Underlying Thibodeaux Plaintiffs named as defendants J.M. Drilling, Admiral Insurance Company, Rockhill Insurance Company, and Bellsouth Telecommunications. Rockhill has filed a Motion to Transfer the Louisiana Federal Action to this Court, which is opposed by the Underlying Thibodeaux Plaintiffs, J.M. Drilling, and Bellsouth. J.M. Drilling has filed a cross-claim against Rockhill for breach of contract and bad faith in the Louisiana Federal Action; thus, both declaratory and coercive claims exist in that case.[2]

         Defendant J.M. Drilling has moved this Court to dismiss the present action under Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that the Underlying Thibodeaux Plaintiffs and Bellsouth, the workers compensation carrier that intervened in the Underlying Thibodeaux Action, are necessary and indispensable parties who have not been joined in this case and cannot be joined because of this Court's lack of personal jurisdiction over them.[3] In the alternative, Defendant asks the Court to decline to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction over this action in light of the Louisiana Federal Action pending in the Western District of Louisiana. Finally, if the Court declines to dismiss the action, Defendant requests that this case be stayed or transferred to the Western District of Louisiana.

         Plaintiff's response addresses the portion of Defendant's motion seeking to dismiss the action but does not address the portion seeking to transfer or stay the action.

         Analysis

         The Court need not decide whether this matter should be dismissed because the Court finds that the matter should be transferred to the Western District of Louisiana under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) provides that, “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” The purpose of § 1404(a) is to protect litigants, witnesses, and the public against unnecessary expense and inconvenience. See Mardini v. Presidio Developers, LLC, 2011 WL 111245 at *6 (E.D. Tenn. Jan.13, 2011) (citing Inghram v. Universal Indus. Gases, Inc., 2006 WL 306650 at *4 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 8, 2006)). The district court has broad discretion over whether to transfer a case under this section. Phelps v. McClellan, 30 F.3d 658, 663 (6th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).

         To transfer an action under § 1404(a) the following three requirements must be met: “(1) the action could have been brought in the transferee district court; (2) a transfer serves the interest of justice; and (3) transfer is in the convenience of the witnesses and parties.” Applied Energy Techs., Inc. v. Solar Liberty Energy Sys., Inc., 2009 WL 2777079 at *5 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 27, 2009) (citation omitted). Moreover, deciding a motion to transfer venue under § 1404(a) requires consideration of certain “case-specific factors.” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (citing Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)).

A district court should consider the private interests of the parties, including their convenience and the convenience of potential witnesses, as well as other public-interest concerns, such as systemic integrity and fairness, which ...

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