United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
H. Payne United States District Judge
the Court is Defendants' Motion to Abstain and Dismiss or
Stay (Dkt 64). Plaintiff opposes the requested relief. (Dkt.
67). After consideration of the briefs, and for the reasons
stated below, Defendants' Motion is
State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State
Farm”) filed this declaratory judgment action in this
Court against Defendants Cameron Ray (“Cameron”)
and Jennifer Ray (“Jennifer”) (together,
“Defendants”). State Farm seeks a declaratory
judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201, regarding the
existence of coverage and its duty to indemnify and defend
Cameron or pay medical expenses to Jennifer under a
Farm/Ranch policy issued to Cameron by State Farm.
to the Complaint, on April 5, 2015, Jennifer was at her home
with several friends in Latta, Oklahoma, when Cameron arrived
at the home and shot Jennifer and two friends. (Dkt. 2,
¶¶ 8-9). On April 20, 2015, Cameron was charged
with seven counts in the District Court of Pontotoc County,
Oklahoma, related to the shooting incident, in No.
CF-2015-202 (the “Criminal Case”). (Id.
¶ 10). On October 21, 2016, a jury found Cameron guilty
on two counts of Assault and Battery with a Deadly Weapon-one
count as to Jennifer and one count as to Charles Tad
Price-and recommended a sentence of 15 years as to each
count. (Id. ¶ 11). Cameron has appealed his
conviction, and the appeal remains pending in the Oklahoma
Court of Criminal Appeals. (Id. ¶ 13).
January 25, 2017, Jennifer sued Cameron in the District Court
of Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, in No. CJ-2017-30 (the
“Underlying Lawsuit”). The Petition in the
Underlying Lawsuit alleges that Cameron was negligent and
reckless in injuring Jennifer, and that he acted with
reckless disregard for the safety of Jennifer and others.
(Id. ¶ 7). Jennifer seeks medical, property,
and other expenses, as well as punitive damages, against
time of the shooting incident, there was in effect a
Farm/Ranch policy issued to Cameron by State Farm.
(Id. ¶ 14). Jennifer is seeking coverage under
this policy for claims she made against Cameron in the
Underlying Lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 15). In this
declaratory judgment action, State Farm alleges the policy
does not cover Jennifer's bodily injury or property
damage resulting from the shooting incident, because the
policy covers only accidents, not willful or malicious acts
by the insured. (Id. ¶¶ 17-23). State Farm
further alleges the policy does not cover Jennifer's
bodily injury because she was an “insured” under
the policy, and the policy excludes bodily injury to any
“insured.” (Id. ¶¶ 24-26). The
policy defines “insured” to include the
insured's spouse if a resident of the insured's
household, and State Farm alleges Jennifer and Cameron were
married at the time of the shooting incident and Jennifer may
have been a resident of Cameron's household.
(Id. ¶ 26).
Farm also alleges Cameron failed to provide details of the
shooting incident in writing to State Farm or its agent as
soon as practicable following the incident, which violated
the policy's “Duties After Loss” condition
and negates coverage. (Id. ¶¶ 27-29).
Finally, State Farm alleges Jennifer failed to provide State
Farm with a written proof of claim as soon as practicable,
which violated the policy's “Duties of an Injured
Person” condition of the policy and negates medical
payments coverage. (Id. ¶¶ 30-33). State
Farm further alleges it has no duty to defend or indemnify
Cameron for claims made against him in the Underlying
Lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 34).
have now moved for this Court to abstain from exercising
jurisdiction over this action and dismiss the Complaint.
(Dkt. 64). In the alternative, Defendants ask the Court to
stay proceedings in this case until pertinent issues in the
Underlying Lawsuit and the Criminal Case have been resolved.
State Farm opposes all of Defendants' requested relief.
(Dkt. 67). The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for
contend the Court should decline to exercise its jurisdiction
over State Farm's declaratory judgment action and either
dismiss or stay this case pending resolution of the
Underlying Lawsuit. Defendants argue the resolution of this
action would not resolve the entire Underlying Lawsuit.
Defendants further argue this lawsuit is an improper attempt
to characterize Jennifer's negligence claim as an
intentional tort claim, which the court in the Underlying
Lawsuit already rejected. Defendants contend this case
presents the same material issues of fact that are presented
in the Underlying Lawsuit, which rest on whether the
liability alleged in the Underlying Lawsuit arises from
negligence. State Farm disagrees with Defendants'
position and asks the Court to retain jurisdiction over this
case and proceed without further delay.
Standard of Review
Declaratory Judgment Act “confers upon courts the
power, but not the duty, to hear claims for declaratory
judgment.” Mid-Continent Cas. Co. v. Vill. at Deer
Creek Homeowners Ass'n, 685 F.3d 977, 980 (10th Cir.
2012) (citing Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S.
277, 286-87 (1995)); Pub. Affairs Assoc., Inc. v.
Rickover, 369 U.S. 111, 112 (1962)). Therefore, whether
to entertain a declaratory judgment action is a matter
committed to the trial court's sound discretion.
Kunkel v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 866 F.2d
1269, 1273 (10th Cir. 1989) (citing Alabama State
Fed'n of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450, 462
(1945)). In exercising this discretion, the Court is mindful
that declaratory judgment can be particularly useful
“in actions wherein insurance companies seek to have
their liability declared.” Horace Mann Ins. Co. v.
Johnson By and Through Johnson, 953 F.2d 575, 579 (10th
deciding whether to hear a declaratory judgment action, the