The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARY LANCASTER, District Judge
This is an action for declaratory judgment under the
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201 ("Act"). Jurisdiction
is predicated upon diversity of citizenship under
28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, seeks a
determination that its insured, defendant John Svitesic, may not
maintain claims for uninsured motorist benefits for injuries he
sustained in a motorcycle accident.
For the reasons stated below, we decline to exercise
jurisdiction over this action.
The Declaratory Judgment Act does not mandate that federal
district courts exercise jurisdiction over every declaratory judgment action. Rather, the Act provides that
[i]n 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, whether or
not further relief is or could be sought. Any such
declaration shall have the force and effect of a
final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as
28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) (emphasis added). The Act affords district
courts "unique and substantial discretion in deciding whether to
declare the rights of litigants." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co.,
515 U.S. 277, 286 (1995); see also State Auto Ins. Cos. v.
Summy, 234 F.3d 131
, 133 (3d Cir. 2000). The Supreme Court has
referred to the Act as "an enabling Act, which confers a
discretion on the courts rather than an absolute right upon the
litigant." Wilton, 515 U.S. at 287 (internal quotations
omitted) (citations omitted); see also Summy,
234 F.3d at 136. Thus, under the Act, district courts possess discretion in
determining whether and when to entertain a declaratory judgment
action, even when the suit otherwise satisfies the prerequisites
for subject matter jurisdiction.
The district courts' discretionary power to decline to hear
declaratory judgment actions, however, is not open-ended. For
instance, a district court does not have absolute discretion to
"decline jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment action when the
issues include federal statutory interpretation, the government's choice of a federal forum, an issue of sovereign
immunity, or inadequacy of the state proceeding." Summy,
234 F.3d at 134 (citing United States v. Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, Dep't of Envtl. Res., 923 F.2d 1071, 1076-79 (3d
Cir. 1991)). None of these exceptions are present here. Indeed,
this action presents the all too common case of an insurance
company coming to federal court, under diversity jurisdiction, to
receive declarations on purely state law matters.
The court of appeals in Summy specifically noted that "[t]he
desire of insurance companies and their insureds to receive
declarations in federal court on matters of purely state law has
no special call on the federal forum." See id. at 136. This
principle is especially relevant because the interest of a state
"in resolving its own law must not be given short shrift simply
because one party or, indeed, both parties, perceive some
advantage in the federal forum." Id. Finally, when state law is
well established, there is even less reason for federal district
courts to exercise jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment
action, and, thus, district courts should rarely do so. See
There are no federal questions present in this dispute. The
requested relief would require us only to apply well-settled
state law. See Richmond v. Prudential Property and Cas. Ins.
Co., 856 A. 2d 1260 (Pa.Super. 2004); See also Prudential
Property & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Colbert, 813 A.2d 747 (2002);
Kmonk-Sullivan v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 788 A.2d 955 (2001);
Winslow-Quattlebaum v. Maryland Ins. Group, 752 A.2d 878 (Pa.
2000). There simply is no federal interest at stake here. There
factors weigh heavily against exercising jurisdiction over this
There is, however, a salient factor in Wilton and Summy not
present in this case, namely a parallel action pending in the
state court. Undeniably, both the Supreme Court in Wilton and
the court of appeals in Summy reasoned that a pending parallel
state court action is one of the factors that favor declining
jurisdiction in declaratory judgment actions. The Supreme Court
in Wilton expressly did not address the issue of whether a
district court should decline jurisdiction in declaratory
judgment actions in the absence of parallel state court
proceedings. Wilton, 515 U.S. at 290. The Wilton court
implicitly indicated, however, that there are other factors,
besides the existence of parallel state proceedings, that call
for declining to exercise jurisdiction in a declaratory judgment
action. See id. at 288 n. 2. Other courts also have concluded
that, although it is a factor for the district court to consider,
the existence of a parallel state court proceeding is not a
necessary predicate for a district court to decline jurisdiction
in a declaratory judgment action. See, e.g., Aetna Cas. &
Sur. Co. v. Ind-Com Elec. Co., 139 F.3d 419, 423 (4th Cir. 1998) (holding that there is no requirement that a state action be
pending before a federal court may decline to exercise
jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment action); Golden Eagle
Ins. Co. v. Travelers Cos., 103 F.3d 750, 754 (9th Cir.
1996), overruled on other grounds by Gov't Employees Ins. Co.
v. Dizol, 133 F.3d 1220 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc).
We also find support for this position in Summy. A fair
reading of Summy indicates that the existence of a parallel
state proceeding, although present there, is not a prerequisite
to the district court's proper exercise of discretion to decline
jurisdiction over the case. Rather, it is but one factor a
district court should consider. See Summy,
234 F.3d at 134-35.
Thus, although there is no parallel state court proceeding
pending in this case, that factor is not determinative, and in
the court's view, the absence of a parallel state proceeding is
clearly outweighed by the lack of any federal interest in this
Finally, while a party's objection to a district court's
exercise of jurisdiction in a declaratory judgment case is a
factor that would support the decision to decline jurisdiction,
it is not a necessary one. In other words, a district court may
decline jurisdiction in a declaratory judgment action sua
sponte. Id. at 136.
In sum, this dispute is not governed by federal law and there are no federal interests at stake. The state law to be
applied is well-settled. The state court is perfectly capable of
resolving this dispute in accordance with its own law. Therefore,
under the circumstances of this case, and in the exercise of our
discretion, we will not exercise jurisdiction over this
declaratory judgment action.
Therefore, this 15th day of November, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED
that plaintiff's declaratory judgment action is dismissed,
without prejudice, to the parties' right to ...