United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Nicole Walsh moves to dismiss Plaintiff Geico Casualty
Company's complaint for declaratory judgment, on the
basis that a parallel proceeding involving the same parties
is pending in state court. Doc. 4. For the following reasons,
the motion to dismiss is granted.
February 14, 2016, Nicole Walsh was seriously injured in an
automobile accident with Adam Arbuckle. Walsh and Arbuckle
subsequently entered into an agreement under Missouri Revised
Statute § 537.065, whereby Arbuckle acknowledged that he
was at fault, but the parties agreed Walsh would bring a
lawsuit in Jackson County, Missouri to determine the extent
of her injuries and the value of her damages. After obtaining
a judgment, the agreement will limit Walsh's right to
collect to any available insurance coverage, and potentially
a bad faith claim. Walsh subsequently brought suit against
Arbuckle in state court on January 9, 2017.
also had underinsured motorist coverage through her own
insurer, Geico. She filed a UIM claim after her collision
with Arbuckle, and took the position that her policy, which
covers three vehicles, permits “stacking.” Walsh
asserts, therefore, that her policy has a combined limit of
$150, 000. In December 2016, Geico informed Walsh that it
would agree to pay $50, 000, but that it believes the policy
does not permit stacking. Walsh informed Geico's attorney
that she intended to litigate the issue, and in light of the
dispute, Geico filed the present declaratory judgment action
on June 15, 2017.
6, 2017, Walsh moved for leave to amend the petition in her
state court case against Arbuckle, seeking to add Geico as a
defendant and obtain judicial interpretation of the insurance
policy. The next day, before that motion was granted, Walsh
filed the present motion to dismiss, arguing that the issues
in this declaratory judgment action can be better settled in
the parallel state court action. Geico responded first by
noting that Walsh had not yet been granted leave to amend her
state court petition, and second that in the event Geico was
added to the state court case, it would simply remove that
case to federal court and consolidate it with this
declaratory judgment action.
was subsequently granted leave to amend the petition in her
state court case against Arbuckle, and shortly thereafter
Geico indeed removed it to this Court. However, before the
Court consolidated the two cases, it determined that complete
diversity did not exist among the parties in Walsh's
lawsuit against Arbuckle. Therefore, the Court remanded that
action back to the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri.
See Walsh v. Arbuckle, No. 4:17-CV-00664, 2017 WL
4512586 (W.D. Mo. Oct. 10, 2017).
declaratory judgment action against Walsh remains, and so do
Walsh's arguments in favor of dismissal. However,
Geico's opposition brief was premised entirely on removal
of the state court case. Therefore, after it ordered remand,
the Court granted Geico two weeks to file any amendments to
its opposition of this Motion to Dismiss. Geico declined to
file any amendment.
argues that Geico's declaratory judgment action should be
dismissed because it involves no matter of federal law, and
because it can be more appropriately adjudicated in the
parallel state court action, which involves the same parties,
policy, and coverage issue.
respect to cases brought under the Declaratory Judgment Act,
district courts possess “unique and substantial
discretion” in determining whether to hear the case,
“even when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter
jurisdictional prerequisites.” Wilton v. Seven
Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 282, 286 (1995); Royal
Indem. Co. v. Apex Oil Co., 511 F.3d 788, 793 (8th Cir.
2008) (“[I]n a declaratory judgment action, a federal
court has broad discretion to abstain from exercising
jurisdiction . . . .”). “[T]he normal principle
that federal courts should adjudicate claims within their
jurisdiction yields to considerations of practicality and
wise judicial administration.” Wilton, 515
U.S. at 288.
determining whether to abstain from exercising jurisdiction
because of a parallel state court proceeding, the Court must
consider “the scope and nature of the pending state
court proceeding, ” and determine whether the issues
“can be better settled by the state court.”
Capitol Indemnity Corp. v. Haverfield, 218 F.3d 872,
874 (8th Cir. 2000). “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 a state court presenting the same issues, not
governed by federal law, between the same
parties.'” Id. at 874-75 (quoting
Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co., 316 U.S. 491, 495
threshold question in determining whether to dismiss this
suit is “whether there are parallel proceedings in
state court that present an opportunity for the same issues
to be addressed.” Atain Specialty Ins. Co. v.
Frank, No. 4:12-CV-01290-NKL, 2013 WL 12145863, at *3
(W.D. Mo. Mar. 25, 2013). “Suits are parallel if
substantially the same parties litigate substantially the
same issues in different forums.” Scottsdale Ins.
Co. v. Detco Indus., Inc., 426 F.3d 994, 997 (8th Cir.
2005). Factors relevant to whether proceedings are parallel
include “the scope of the pending state court
proceeding and the nature of defenses open there.”
Wilton, 515 U.S. at 282-83 (quotation omitted).
Evaluating these factors “entails consideration of
whether the claims of all parties in interest can
satisfactorily be adjudicated in that proceeding, whether
necessary parties have been joined, whether such parties are
amenable to process in that proceeding, etc.”
Id. at 283
the parties and issues before the Court are identical to
those that are before the state court. The state court case
involves both Geico and Walsh, and also involves the exact
same auto policy and UIM endorsement. Geico answered
Walsh's amended state court petition, and asserted
affirmative defenses that raise the exact same coverage
issues as are raised here. Furthermore, interpretation of the
insurance contract is governed by Missouri ...