United States District Court, W.D. Missouri.
ORDER (1) GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO
DISMISS, (2) DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND (3) DENYING AS MOOT DEFENDANTS'
MOTION TO STAY SUMMARY JUDGMENT PROCEEDINGS
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE
the Court is Defendants John Mino, Carol Mino, and Mino Farms
(“Mino Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (doc. 24),
requesting the Court to dismiss, or alternatively, to stay
this case in light of an equitable garnishment proceeding
involving the same parties that is pending in state court.
Based on the same arguments, the Wise
Defendants and the Lang Defendants have filed
separate motions to dismiss (docs. 26 & 27), which
incorporate the Mino Defendants' suggestions in support.
Also pending, Plaintiff Westfield Insurance Company
(“Westfield”) has filed a motion for summary
judgment (doc. 28); and the Lang Defendants have filed a
motion to stay summary judgment briefing and proceedings
(docs. 31), which is joined by the Mino Defendants (doc. 34)
and the Wise Defendants (doc. 35). Westfield has filed
suggestions in opposition to the motions to stay summary
judgment briefing and proceedings (doc. 37). For the reasons
that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions to
dismiss (docs. 24, 26 & 27), and DENIES as moot the
motion for summary judgment (doc. 28) and motions to stay
summary judgment briefing and proceedings (doc. 31, 34 &
case arises out of a fatal car crash involving the Lang
Defendants, their son, and Scott Popeko (a party previously
dismissed, Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 15). (Doc. 1 at
7, ¶ 25.) Popeko was allegedly driving a truck owned by
Defendant Mino Farms, Inc. to make a delivery, a trip
undertaken by Popeko as part of the joint farming operation
involving the Mino Defendants and the Wise Defendants
(including Defendant Wise Family Trust). (Doc. 1 at 7-8,
¶¶ 26-34.) In 2015, the Lang Defendants brought a
diversity action in this district for wrongful death and
personal claims against the Mino and Wise Defendants, among
others, seeking damages stemming from the collision, Case No.
5:15-cv-06069-DGK (“the underlying claim”). (Doc.
1-1.) In the underlying claim, the Lang Defendants allege
that the accident resulted in the death of their nine-month
old son and personal injuries to Angela Lang.
the underlying claim (Case No. 5:15-cv-06069-DGK) was still
pending, on August 3, 2016, Westfield filed the instant
action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §
2201, (doc. 1.). In the instant action, Westfield seeks the
interpretation of an insurance policy, (“the
Policy”), issued to Defendants Wise Enterprises, Inc.
(a party previously dismissed, D.E. 16) and Wise Family
Trust. Westfield requests this Court to declare that the
Policy provides no coverage for the underlying claim and that
Westfield has no duty to indemnify Defendants Wise
Enterprises, Inc., and Wise Family Trust for any liability in
the underlying claim.
August, the underlying claim was finally resolved. In the
following month, a Missouri state court, (Jackson County
Circuit Court of Missouri, Case No. 1616-CV22373), entered a
judgment confirming an arbitration award on the underlying
claim in favor of the Lang Defendants and against the Mino
and the Wise Defendants, to be satisfied jointly and
on October 20, 2016, the Lang Defendants, as judgment
creditors, initiated a separate equitable garnishment action
pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 379.200 in Missouri state
court, (Jackson County Circuit Court of Missouri, Case No.
1616-CV25188), in which the Lang Defendants seek to collect
insurance proceeds to satisfy their judgment from the Policy
as well as additional policies issued by another insurer,
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State
Farm”). (Doc. 25-1.) In the equitable garnishment
proceeding, the Lang Defendants name as defendants:
Westfield, the Mino Defendants, the Wise Defendants, and
State Farm. The petition has two counts: Count I against
Westfield for Equitable Garnishment, Breach of Contract, and
Bad Faith Refusal to Defend and Indemnify, and Count II
against State Farm for Equitable Garnishment, Breach of
Contract, and Bad Faith Refusal to Defend and Indemnify.
Defendants move this Court to abstain from exercising
judgment over the instant action which Westfield has filed
seeking declaratory judgment. Defendants argue this action
should be dismissed, or in the alternative, it should be
stayed because the parties will have the opportunity to
litigate the same issues in the equitable garnishment
proceeding pending in Missouri state court. Westfield opposes
the motions, arguing (1) the motions are deficient as
untimely because they were not filed prior to Defendants'
Answers, and (2) the Court should retain jurisdiction over
the matter because the issues are ripe for adjudication.
Timeliness of the Motions to Dismiss
motions to dismiss raise principles of abstention. Plaintiff
contends that Defendants' motions to dismiss are untimely
motions pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b) lists certain defenses that may be asserted
by motion. Rule 12(b) goes on to state that “[a] motion
asserting any of these defenses must be made before pleading
if a responsive pleading is allowed.” Rule 12(h)(2)
then provides that a motion to dismiss for the failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted can be raised
even after an answer has been filed. Thus, even if Plaintiff
correctly characterizes the motions as being filed pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6), Plaintiffs argument is without merit
because Rule 12(h)(2) contemplates that a 12(b)(6) defense
may be raised as late as trial. Therefore, the Court is not
compelled to deny the motions to dismiss on the ground that
they are untimely.
declined to deny the motions to dismiss as untimely, the
Court decides whether to abstain in light of the equitable
garnishment proceeding in Missouri. Under the Declaratory
Judgment Act, a court “may declare the rights
and other legal relations of any interested party seeking
such declaration[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2201 (emphasis
added). As shown by the statute's express language, it is
well established that “district courts possess
discretion in determining whether and when to entertain an
action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even when the suit
otherwise satisfies subject matter jurisdictional
prerequisites.” Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515
U.S. 277, 282 (1995) (citing Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co.
of Am., 316 U.S. 491, 494-95 (1942)). Accordingly, the
Supreme Court held in Wilton that the standard under
which district courts decide whether to dismiss or stay a
federal declaratory judgment action in favor of a parallel
state court proceeding is the discretionary standard set
forth in Brillhart.
Brillhart, “[t]he key consideration for the
district court is ‘to ascertain whether the issues in
controversy between the parties to the federal action . . .
can be better settled by the state court' in light of the
‘scope and nature of the pending state court
proceeding.'” Evanston Ins. Co. v. Johns,
530 F.3d 710, 713 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Capitol Indem.
Corp. v. Haverfield, 218 F.3d 872, 874 (8th Cir. 2000)
(citing Brillhart, 316 U.S. at 495 (1942))).
“If so, the district court must dismiss the federal
action because ‘it would be uneconomical as well as
vexatious for a federal court to proceed in a declaratory
judgment suit where another suit is pending in ...