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Hartford v. Keystone Automotive Operations

January 29, 2007

THE HARTFORD, PLAINTIFF
v.
KEYSTONE AUTOMOTIVE OPERATIONS AND CHARLES DAVIS, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Charles Davis's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

Background*fn1

Defendant Charles Davis was involved in a motor vehicle accident on September 9, 2005, while operating a tractor trailer owned by Defendant Keystone Automotive Operations (hereinafter "Keystone"). The accident occurred on northbound Interstate 81 in Syracuse, New York. Another motorist, John Kubis, negligently caused the accident by forcing the tractor trailer to leave the travel portion of the highway and hit a guardrail. Kubis fled the scene. He was later identified as the result of an investigation by the Syracuse Police Department.

Defendant Davis suffered severe and permanent personal injuries in the accident. Kubis has an automobile insurance policy with liability limits of $25,000.00. This liability coverage limit is insufficient to compensate Defendant Davis for his injuries, thus he is pursuing a claim for underinsured motorist ("UIM") benefits from the Plaintiff The Hartford, the insurance company that insured the tractor trailer he was operating. By correspondence dated November 17, 2005, Defendant Davis demanded arbitration of the UIM claim and selected James A. Wetter, as his arbitrator. (Def. Ex. B). The defendant further asked that the insurance company choose their arbitrator. (Id.). After not hearing from the plaintiff, Defendant Davis, on December 17, 2005, filed a Writ of Summons against the plaintiff in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and also presented a Petition to Appoint Plaintiff's Arbitrator and a Neutral Arbitrator. (Def. Ex. C).

The Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas appointed Raymond Wendolowski as the neutral arbitrator and issued a Rule Returnable scheduling a hearing on defendant's petition for January 23, 2006. (Id.).

Plaintiff notified Defendant Davis by correspondence dated January 6, 2006, that Jeffrey Pollock of the Law Office of Harold E. Villetto, would be representing them and that they chose Robert Smith as their arbitrator. (Def. Ex. D).

Although it appeared as if the plaintiff was going to proceed with the state court arbitration, on March 3, 2006, the plaintiff insurance company filed the instant complaint asserting that the subject insurance policy does not provide for UIM coverage. (Doc. 1). The complaint seeks a declaratory judgment stating that Hartford is not required to pay Defendant Davis any UIM benefits. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 21-22). The complaint further seeks an injunction enjoining Defendant Davis from pursuing UIM benefits through arbitration in the matter pending in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at ¶ 23-24).

Defendant Davis filed the instant motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, bringing the case to its present posture.

Discussion

Defendant Davis argues the we should abstain from exercising jurisdiction in this declaratory judgment action. After a careful review, we agree.

The plaintiff's complaint seeks relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a), which provides as follows:

"In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction. . . any court of the United States, upon filling of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration . ..." (emphasis added).

Even where other jurisdictional prerequisites are met, we may decline to hear an action brought for declaratory relief.*fn2 The United States Supreme Court has held "that district courts possess discretion in determining whether and when to entertain an action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter jurisdictional prerequisites." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 282 (1995). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has indicated that the Declaratory Judgment Act "contemplates that district courts will exercise discretion in determining whether to entertain such actions." State Auto Ins. Co. v. Summy, 234 F.3d 131, 133 (3d Cir. 2001). In ...


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