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Canopius Ins. Inc. v. Arbor Experts, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi.

July 5, 2013

CANOPIUS INSURANCE INC., PLAINTIFF
v.
ARBOR EXPERTS, LLC, GARRETT L. EVANS, EMILY C. EVANS, MICHAEL AUDIFFRED, KYMBLE AUDIFFRED AND R. SCOTT BOOTH, DEFENDANTS

Page 778

For Canopius U.S. Insurance Inc., Plaintiff: Edward J. Currie, Jr., Joseph W. Gill, LEAD ATTORNEYS, CURRIE, JOHNSON, GRIFFIN, & MYERS - Jackson, Jackson, MS; William H. Creel, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, CURRIE, JOHNSON, GRIFFIN, & MYERS, PA - Jackson, Jackson, MS.

For Arbor Experts, L.L.C., Emily C. Evans, Garret L. Evans, Defendants: Rance N. Ulmer, LEAD ATTORNEY, RANCE N. ULMER, ATTORNEY, Bay Springs, MS.

For Michael Audiffred, Kymble Audiffred, Defendants: Sam S. Thomas, UNDERWOOD/THOMAS, PC, Madison, MS.

For R. Scott Booth, Defendant: W. Terrell Stubbs, TERRELL STUBBS, ATTORNEY, Mendenhall, MS; William Kannan Stubbs, THE STUBBS LAW FIRM, Mendenhall, MS.

OPINION

Tom S. Lee, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Page 779

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This cause is before the court on the motion of defendant Scott Booth to dismiss, or in the alternative, to stay proceedings. Plaintiff Canopius Insurance Inc. has responded to the motion and the court, having considered the memoranda of authorities, together with attachments, submitted by the parties, concludes that the motion should be granted.

On October 4, 2012, Scott Booth filed suit in the Circuit Court of Smith County, Mississippi against Arbor Experts, LLC, and its owners, Garrett L. Evans and Emily C. Evans, and against Michael Audiffred and Kymble Audiffred, alleging claims for negligence, gross negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress relating to a December 5, 2011 accident on the Audiffreds' property in which Booth was struck in the head with a front-end loader owned by Arbor Experts and operated by Garrett Evans. At the time of the accident, Arbor Experts was insured under a commercial general liability issued by Omega U.S. Insurance, Inc., Canopius US's predecessor in interest. On October 29, 2012, Canopius received notice of the lawsuit and Canopius is currently providing a defense under reservation of rights

Page 780

to Arbor Experts, Garrett Evans and Emily Evans in the state court action.

On April 15, 2013, Canopius filed the present action against all the parties in the Smith County action seeking a declaratory judgment that its policy affords no coverage for Booth's claims in the state court case. On May 20, 2012, within days of being served with process herein, Booth filed an amended complaint in the underlying action adding Canopius as a defendant and seeking a declaratory judgment that there is coverage under the Canopius policy for his injuries. Soon thereafter, on May 30, he filed the present motion to dismiss, in which he asserts that this court should abstain from proceeding with this declaratory judgment action in deference to the pending state court action. In the alternative, he asks the court to stay this action pending resolution of the underlying action.

The Declaratory Judgment Act states: " In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, ... any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration" . 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). Unlike other kinds of cases, over which the district courts have a " virtually unflagging obligation" to exercise their jurisdiction notwithstanding that there is a pending state court action involving the very same issues, see Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States,424 U.S. 800, 817, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976), the Declaratory Judgment Act " has been understood to confer on federal courts unique and substantial discretion in deciding whether to declare the rights of litigants," Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 286, 115 S.Ct. 2137, 132 L.Ed.2d 214 (1995). See also id. at 288 (stating that " [i]n the declaratory judgment context, the normal principle that federal courts should adjudicate claims within their jurisdiction yields to considerations of practicality and wise judicial administration" ). In Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Company of America, the Supreme Court recognized district courts' discretion to dismiss a declaratory judgment action when a parallel suit not governed by federal law and presenting the same issues is pending ...


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