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Duplantis v. Odom

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 12, 2019

GERARD DUPLANTIS d/b/a JERRY LEE'S KWIK SHOP
v.
KEVIN ODOM, JACK HARLESS, AND HARLESS AGENCY, INC. d/b/a FIRST LOUISIANA INSURANCE

          Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Trial Court Number 659813 Honorable Timothy E. Kelley, Judge

          Brian M. Caubarreaux Marksville, LA Attorneys for Appellant Emily G. Meche Plaintiff- Gerard Duplantis d/b/a Wesley K. Elmer Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop

          Scott T. Winstead Phoebe A. Hathorn New Orleans, LA Attorneys for Appellees Doris Royce Defendants - Kevin Odom, Phoebe A. Hathorn Jack Harless and Harless Agency, Inc. d/b/a First Louisiana Insurance

          BEFORE: WELCH, CHUTZ, AND LANIER, JJ.

          WELCH, J.

         The plaintiff, Gerard Duplantis ("Duplantis") d/b/a Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop, appeals a judgment sustaining a declinatory exception raising the objection of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissing, without prejudice, his petition for damages against the defendants, Kevin Odom, Jack Harless, Harless Agency, Inc. d/b/a First Louisiana Insurance ("First Louisiana Insurance"), and American Automobile Insurance Company. For reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the district court and issue this memorandum opinion in compliance with Uniform Rules-Courts of Appeal, Rule 2-16.1(B).

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the catastrophic flooding that occurred in August 2016 in East Baton Rouge Parish and the surrounding parishes. During the flood, Duplantis sustained damages to the building and business of Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop, and thereafter contacted his insurance broker, First Louisiana Insurance to file a claim for losses from the flood. However, Duplantis was subsequently notified that coverage for the losses he sustained due to the flood were not covered by the insurance policy that he was issued. Therefore, Duplantis commenced these proceedings on July 24, 2017, in district court seeking damages for First Louisiana Insurance's negligence or failure to procure proper insurance coverage and for its breach of contract.

         According to the allegations of the petition, when Duplantis purchased the property on which Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop was located, he contacted his retail insurance agency, First Louisiana Insurance, and requested that insurance coverage be procured for Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop. In 1983 and in 2001, East Baton Rouge Parish suffered floods, which resulted in losses sustained by Duplantis at Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop. Duplantis filed a claim for the losses due to the 2001 flood for which he received compensation; however, the coverage amount was not sufficient. Therefore, after the 2001 flood, Duplantis requested that First Louisiana Insurance procure adequate types and amounts of insurance coverage for any damage to the building and contents of Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop to ensure that he would not suffer a loss should any future flooding occur, and First Louisiana Insurance agreed to procure coverage to protect Duplantis from future losses from a flood. Duplantis subsequently sent payment to First Louisiana Insurance to secure the type and limits of insurance that he requested and was provided with a policy by First Louisiana Insurance through New Hampshire Insurance Company and processed by Flood Insurance Processing Center. Duplantis has paid the premium on that policy each year.

         Following the August 2016 flood, which caused extensive damage to Jerry Lee's Kwik Shop, Duplantis reported the damage to First Louisiana Insurance, made a demand for payment, and advised First Louisiana Insurance that a claim would be made under the previously requested flood coverage. At the beginning of the claims process, Duplantis discovered that First Louisiana Insurance had failed to procure contents coverage or advise him that such coverage was available under the flood insurance policy and that First Louisiana had failed to properly name him as the insured under the flood insurance policy obtained (i.e., the named insured on the policy was "Gerald" Duplantis rather than "Gerard" Duplantis). Thereafter, First Louisiana Insurance denied the existence of coverage for flood insurance and provided Duplantis with a document indicating that flood insurance was excluded from his policy. In addition, New Hampshire Insurance Company, through the Flood Insurance Processing Center, subsequently denied the claim made by Duplantis on the basis that he did not own the property on which he made the claim.

         According to the record, on August 4, 2017, the plaintiff also filed a companion complaint in the United States District Court, Middle District of Louisiana ("federal court"), essentially asserting the same claims against the defendants for its failure properly procure insurance, its failure to insure the building and the business with flood insurance provided by the National Flood Insurance Program ("NFIP") under the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 4001, et seq. ("National Flood Insurance Act"), and for the manner in which his claim was processed. Named as an additional defendant in the federal court suit was New Hampshire Insurance Company, the National Flood Insurance Program insurer, which was not a party to the state district court action.

         In response to the Duplantis's petition, the defendants filed a declinatory exception raising the objection of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Essentially, the defendants asserted that Duplantis's claims could not be heard in district court because those claims arose under the National Flood Insurance Act and thus, fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal court. The defendants also maintained that Duplantis's state law procurement-based claims would be subject to the federal court's pendent jurisdiction. Pursuant to a written judgment signed on April 16, 2018, the state district court sustained the objection of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed, without prejudice, Duplantis's petition for damages. From this judgment, Duplantis has appealed.

         On appeal, Duplantis contends that the district court erred in: (1) sustaining the defendants' objection of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissing the plaintiffs state law claims since his suit asserted well-recognized state law claims and causes of action; and (2) refusing to stay the state law action (in the district court) pending a determination by the federal court regarding pendent jurisdiction.

         JURISDICTION ...


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