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Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Co v. Archer

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 4, 2018

ALLSTATE FIRE AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD AND DIANA ARCHER, Defendants. DIANA L. ARCHER and HAROLD L. ARCHER, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTATE FIRE AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge

         The parties to these related actions seek declaratory relief with respect to the terms of a motor vehicle insurance policy issued to Harold and Diana Archer by Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate"). In Allstate's action against the Archers, captioned at l:17-cv-331, Allstate seeks a declaration that the Archers are not entitled to recover stacked underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits under the terms of their Allstate policy. In their own action, captioned at l.T8-cv-85, the Archers seek a declaration to the opposite effect. The sole legal issue presented in both actions is whether the Archers properly waived the stacking of UIM benefits under the policy, in accordance with the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("PMVFRL"), 75 Pa.C.S. § 1701, et seq., as that law has been interpreted by the Pennsylvania appellate courts.

         Presently pending before the Court are two motions. In the action brought by Allstate, the Archers have filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). (No. 1:17-cv-331, ECF No. 9). In the related action, the Archers have filed a Motion to Remand the matter to the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County. (No. 1:18-cv-85, ECF No. 6). Each motion is fully briefed and ripe for review.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In April 2011, Allstate issued an automobile insurance policy to the Archers providing coverage for two vehicles: a 2005 Chevy Silverado and a 2003 GMC Sierra. Compl. (No. 1:17-cv-331) ¶¶ 8-9. The policy provided for UIM coverage of $100, 000 per person and $300, 000 per accident on each of the covered vehicles. Id. ¶ 27. At the time of the issuance of the policy, Harold Archer executed a stacked coverage waiver wherein he waived stacking of underinsured motorist benefits. Id. ¶ 10.

         In 2013, the Archers acquired a third vehicle, a 2005 GMC Sierra, and sought to add it to their existing policy. Id. ¶ 12. Allstate issued an Amended Policy Declaration reflecting the addition of the 2005 GMC Sierra, but did not obtain a new stacking rejection form. Id. ¶¶ 19, 32-33.

         On March 3, 2015, Diana Archer was operating the 2005 Chevy Silverado when she was involved in an accident with another motorist. Id. ¶ 25. Following the accident, Archer made a claim for UIM benefits pursuant to her Allstate policy. Id. ¶ 29. The Archers contend that, because they were never asked to sign a new stacked coverage waiver form when they added the 2006 GMC Sierra to their policy, Diana Archer is entitled to stacked insurance benefits amounting to $300, 000 (representing the limit of $100, 000/person stacked x 3 vehicles). Id. ¶¶ 30, 32. Allstate contends that a new stacked coverage waiver form was not required based on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's holding in Sackett v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 940 A.2d 329 (Pa. 2007) ("Sackett IF). Id. ¶ 33. Accordingly, Allstate believes the maximum available UIM coverage is the $100, 000/person unstacked UIM benefit. Id. ¶ 34.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 15, 2017, Allstate filed the declaratory judgment action captioned at 1:17-cv-331 seeking a determination that the UIM stacked coverage waiver signed by Harold Archer precluded the Archers from seeking stacked UIM benefits. No. 1:17-cv-331, ECF No. 1. The Archers moved to dismiss that action on February 21, 2018. Id., ECF Nos. 9 and 10.

         Meanwhile, on February 18, 2018, the Archers filed their own declaratory judgment action with respect to the same legal issue in the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Allstate removed the Archers' state court action to this Court on March 13, 2018. No. 1:18-cv-18, ECF No.l. The Archers filed the instant motion to remand on March 19, 2018. Id., ECF No. 6.

         III. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

         Each of the complaints in this action seeks only declaratory relief. The Declaratory Judgment Act ("DJA") authorizes district courts to "declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration" Esurance Insurance Company v. Bowser, 710 Fed.Appx. 110, 111 (3d Cir. 2018) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a)). This jurisdiction is discretionary, rather than compulsory, and should be exercised pursuant to a "general policy of restraint when the same issues are pending in a state court" or where duplicative litigation would result. Reifer v. Westport Insurance Corp., 751 F.3d 129, 146 (3d Cir. 2014). Similarly, where applicable state law is "uncertain or undetermined, district courts should be particularly reluctant" to exercise jurisdiction pursuant to the DJA. State Auto Ins. Co. v. Summy, 234 F.3d 131, 135 (3d Cir. 2000).

         A challenge as to whether a court should exercise its discretionary jurisdiction under the DJA is appropriately brought as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), "a court must grant a motion to dismiss if it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear a claim." In re Schering Plough Corp. Intron/Temodar Consumer Class Action, 678 F.3d 235, 243 (3d Cir. 2012). Because a motion regarding DJA jurisdiction "challenges subject matter jurisdiction without disputing the facts alleged in the complaint, " such a motion is characterized as a facial attack and the court is required to "consider the allegations of the complaint as true." Davis v. Wells Fargo, 824 F.3d 333, 346 (3d Cir. 2016). In considering a facial challenge, courts are to apply the same standard as on review of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. See Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294, 299 n.l (3d Cir. 2006) (explaining "that the standard is the same when considering a facial attack under Rule 12(b)(1) or a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)") (citation omitted).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Declaratory Judgment Act ("DJA") authorizes district courts to "declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration." 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). Because the statute states that a federal court "may declare the rights ... of any interested party, " the jurisdiction conferred by the statute is discretionary, and "district courts [are] under no compulsion to exercise it." State Auto Ins. Companies v. Summy, 234 F.3d ...


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