United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jeremy Richards and Karlee Richards moved to dismiss or stay
this declaratory judgment action by Plaintiff Great American
Alliance Insurance Company in light of a garnishment
proceeding that the Richards brought in state court against
Great American. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
GRANTS the motion to dismiss.
2014, at the age of sixteen, Ms. Richards, along with her
Searcy Baptist Church youth group, attended a summer camp
sponsored by Student Life, a division of Lifeway Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, at Windermere
Baptist Conference Center in Missouri. While there, Ms.
Richards was injured when she fell from a zip-lining course.
To date, Ms. Richards has undergone more than 25 surgeries
and incurred medical expenses exceeding $1.8 million as the
result of that fall.
Richards subsequently sued, inter alia, Devin
Stutes, Searcy's youth leader at the time of the camp and
head chaperone for the trip to Windermere, and Amanda Stutes,
another chaperone for the trip to Windermere. The suit was
filed in the Circuit Court of Morgan County. On November 18,
2016, the Stutes tendered a claim to Great American seeking
defense and indemnity for the claims against them, asserting
that they were additional insureds under a policy that Great
American issued to Lifeway. On December 7, 2016, Great
American denied the Stutes' tender.
February 28, 2017, Great American filed this action, seeking
a declaration “that no liability coverage exists under
the Great American policy issued to Lifeway for any of the
claims asserted against Defendants Devin Stutes and Amanda
Stutes in the Underlying Lawsuit, that Great American owes
neither a duty to defend them nor a duty to indemnify them
from the claims and allegations asserted in the Underlying
Lawsuit, for its costs . . . .” Doc. 1.
10, 2017, the Stutes were dismissed from the Morgan County
action. However, that same month, the Richards filed a new
lawsuit in Jasper County against the Stutes and others.
judgment was entered in the Richards' Jasper County
action against tortfeasors Windermere Baptist Conference
Center, Inc. and Amanda Stutes and Devin Stutes on October
24, 2017. The Richards then filed a garnishment application
on January 5, 2018 naming Great American as garnishee and
seeking to garnish proceeds, payments, and obligations under
four specified policies. Doc. 48-3. The application was filed
pursuant to Chapter 525 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri.
Doc. 64-1, at 2.
January 12, 2018, the Richards moved to stay or dismiss this
action in light of the garnishment proceeding in state court,
and Great American filed a motion for summary judgment. On
February 2, 2018, Great American removed the garnishment
proceeding to federal court, on the basis of diversity.
See Richards v. Great American Alliance Insurance
Company, No. 18-5011-SRB. In papers in opposition to the
Richards' motion to dismiss this case, Great American
argued that, because there no longer was a state court
action, there was no basis for the Court to abstain. Doc. 64.
In reply, the Richards asked the Court to stay consideration
of their motion to dismiss until after the Richards moved to
remand the garnishment proceeding to state court. Doc. 70.
March 2, 2018, the Richards voluntarily moved for dismissal
without prejudice of the garnishment proceeding.
Richards, No. No. 18-5011-SRB, Doc. 10. The
garnishment proceeding was dismissed on March 27, 2018.
Id., Doc. 17.
April 6, 2018, the Richards filed a new garnishment
proceeding, this time, pursuant to Missouri Revised Statutes
courts possess “unique and substantial
discretion” in determining whether to hear cases
brought pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, “even
when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter
jurisdictional prerequisites.” Wilton v. Seven
Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 282, 286 (1995); see also
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 . . . .”). In such cases, “the
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 ...