United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
declaratory judgment action concerns insurance coverage
related to a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Jackson
County, Missouri (“Underlying
Lawsuit”). The Underlying Lawsuit stems from a car
accident between Defendants Patricia Hollandsworth
(“Hollandsworth”) and Richard Aguilar
(“Aguilar”). After Plaintiff Geico Casualty
Company (“GEICO”) moved to intervene in the
Underlying Lawsuit, Aguilar voluntarily dismissed his case
before the Court are Aguilar's and Hollandsworth's
motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
(Docs. 6 and 8). Defendants argue that because the Underlying
Lawsuit was dismissed, there is no case or controversy
between the parties and GEICO's complaint is moot. For
the following reasons, the motions are DENIED.
August 25, 2017, Aguilar sued Hollandsworth in state court
for damages arising out of an auto accident. Hollandsworth
sought coverage under an insurance policy issued by GEICO.
GEICO determined Hollandsworth was not covered by the policy,
but offered to provide Hollandsworth with a defense subject
to a reservation of rights. In a letter sent to
Hollandsworth, GEICO stated “GEICO is providing you
with a defense subject to this reservation of rights with
regard to the claims asserted by Plaintiff Richard Aguilar,
in a lawsuit styled Aguilar v. Hollandsworth, No.
1716-CV20532 pending in the Circuit Court of Jackson County,
Missouri.” Hollandsworth rejected GEICO's offer and
demanded that GEICO provide an unconditional defense.
March 2, 2018, Hollandsworth notified GEICO that she had
entered into an agreement with Aguilar, pursuant to Mo. Rev.
Stat. § 537.065, to limit Aguilar's recovery
presumably to the limits of the GEICO policy. Upon that
notice, GEICO moved to intervene in the Underlying Lawsuit.
Before the state court could rule on GEICO's motion,
Aguilar voluntarily dismissed his case without prejudice.
contend that because the Underlying Lawsuit was dismissed,
this case is now moot, and must be dismissed for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction.
ripeness doctrine flows both from the Article III
‘cases' and ‘controversies' limitations
and also from prudential considerations for refusing to
exercise jurisdiction.” Pub. Water Supply Dist. No.
10 of Cass Cnty., Mo. v. City of Peculiar, Mo., 345 F.3d
570, 572 (8th Cir. 2003). It is well settled that the
ripeness inquiry requires the examination of both “the
fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the hardship
to the parties of withholding court consideration.”
Id. at 572-73. A party seeking judicial relief must
necessarily satisfy both prongs to at least a minimal degree.
Neb. Pub. Power Dist. v. MidAmerican Energy Co., 234
F.3d 1032, 1039 (8th Cir. 2000).
fitness prong requires examination of the definiteness or
certainty of a claim, to “safeguard against judicial
review of hypothetical or speculative disagreements.”
Id. at 1038. “Whether a case is
‘fit' depends on whether it would benefit from
further factual development.” Pub. Water
Supply, 345 F.3d at 573. “The case is more likely
to be ripe if it poses a purely legal question and is not
contingent on future possibilities.” Id. An
insurance coverage dispute is “fit” for review
where it presents a purely legal issue involving the
interpretation of the insurance policy and does not depend on
the facts developed in the underlying liability case.
See, e.g., Capitol Indem. Corp. v. Miles,
978 F.2d 437, 438 (8th Cir. 1992) (refusing to dismiss as
unripe an insurer's declaratory judgment action to
determine indemnity coverage because insured made a demand
and the insurer contends it owes the insured no money,
establishing a controversy between the parties).
hardship prong recognizes that a party need not wait until a
threatened injury actually occurs, but requires examination
of the immediacy and extent of the alleged threatened harm.
Neb. Pub. Power, 234 F.3d at 1038. “Abstract
injury is not enough. It must be alleged that the plaintiff
has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some
direct injury as the result of the challenged statute or
official conduct.” O'Shea v. Littleton,
414 U.S. 488, 494, (1974) (internal quotations and citations
omitted). The threatened “injury must be
‘certainly impending.'” Paraquad, Inc. v.
St. Louis Hous. Auth., 259 F.3d 956, 958-59 (8th Cir.
2001) (quoting Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat'l
Union, 442 U.S. 289, 298 (1979)).
argues there is a controversy between the parties because
Aguilar's case was dismissed without prejudice,
allowing him to re-file it, Hollandsworth has not withdrawn
her claim for coverage or admitted there is no coverage under
the GEICO policy, Aguilar has not released Hollandsworth or
GEICO from liability, and Hollandsworth does not state she
will refrain from pursuing coverage under the GEICO policy in
some other forum.
respond that GEICO limited its offer to defend subject to a
reservation of rights only as to the Underlying Lawsuit and
because that case has been dismissed, there is no controversy
between the parties.
Court finds GEICO satisfies both the fitness and hardship
prongs because its claimed injury is not contingent on any
future possibilities nor is it speculative. GEICO meets the
fitness prong because this lawsuit is purely a question of
law, namely, was Hollandsworth a covered individual under the
policy. No. additional factual development is necessary to
decide this case. Additionally, the Court finds GEICO's
alleged injury is impending because the dispute between the
Defendants is not resolved. Aguilar has not released
Hollandsworth or GEICO from liability, Hollandsworth has not
withdrawn her claim against GEICO, nor has she stated she
will not pursue coverage under the GEICO policy. Cf.
Acuity v. Exceptional Prof'ls, Inc., No.
08-3374-CV-S-RED, 2010 WL 11508580, ...