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United National Insurance Co. v. Jackson Redevelopment Authority Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 12, 2015

UNITED NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
JACKSON REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Defendant,

ORDER

CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.

Before the Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to the Brillhart-Wilton abstention doctrine. Docket No. 11. After considering the facts, arguments, and applicable law, the motion will be granted.

I. Factual and Procedural History

According to the Amended Complaint, the Jackson Redevelopment Authority Board of Commissioners (JRA) made a fire insurance claim to United National Insurance Company (United National) on a property which was not insured at the time of loss. Docket No. 4. In fact, says United National, JRA's insurance agent directed United National to cancel coverage only five hours before the "catastrophic, " "multi-million dollar" fire. Id. at 5.

The fire occurred on April 22, 2014. United National filed this declaratory action on June 13 seeking a judicial determination that no insurance coverage was in effect at the time of loss, as it had timely processed the cancellation.

On July 11 - the same day its answer was due in this Court - JRA filed a lawsuit in state court against United National, the insurance agent, and an involved insurance broker seeking a declaratory judgment about coverage, as well as damages for breach of contract, bad faith denial of insurance, and gross negligence. This motion followed.

II. Legal Standard

"Where a district court is presented with a claim such as was made here, it should ascertain whether the questions in controversy between the parties to the federal suit... can better be settled in the proceeding pending in the state court." Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co. of Am., 316 U.S. 491, 495 (1942).

Where, as here, the case is justiciable and the federal court has authority to grant a declaratory judgment, the question of which court would better resolve the dispute is highly discretionary. See Orix Credit Alliance, Inc. v. Wolfe, 212 F.3d 891, 895 (5th Cir. 2000). The federal court is to consider the following nonexclusive factors:

1) whether there is a pending state action in which all of the matters in controversy may be fully litigated,
2) whether the plaintiff filed suit in anticipation of a lawsuit filed by the defendant,
3) whether the plaintiff engaged in forum shopping in bringing the suit,
4) whether possible inequities in allowing the declaratory plaintiff to gain precedence in time ...

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