United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS AND
DENYING MOTION TO INTERVENE
L. LUDINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
January 30, 2018, Plaintiff Essentia Insurance Company
(“Essentia”) filed a complaint seeking
declaratory judgment and naming George Clark
(“Clark”) as the Defendant. ECF No. 1. On March
2, 2018, Clark filed a motion to dismiss wherein he argues
that the Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction
over this action for declaratory relief. ECF No. 7. In the
motion, Clark explains that a state court action is pending
which will resolve the questions raised by Essentia's
present action. A week later, the Titan Indemnity Company
(“Titan”) filed a motion to intervene as a
plaintiff. ECF No. 8. For the following reasons, the motion
to dismiss will be granted and the motion to intervene will
pleading stage, all well-pleaded factual allegations are
assumed to be true. Essentia “is a Missouri insurance
company with its principal place of business in
Virginia.” Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1. Clark is a resident
of Saginaw, Michigan. Id. at 2.
7, 2016, Essentia issued a “classic automobile policy .
. . with effective coverage . . . to June 7, 2017 . . . to
Clarence Farver for a 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300E.”
Id. As required by Michigan law, the policy
“provided no-fault personal protection insurance
[“PIP benefits”].” Id. Mr. Farver
died on January 3, 2017, leaving behind a will which is
currently being probated in the Saginaw County Probate Court.
Id. at 3. The will allegedly names Katherine Stone
as the personal representative of the estate and directs that
all of Mr. Farver's tangible personal property, including
his motor vehicles, be delivered to Ms. Stone in her
individual capacity. Id.
the provisions of the will, Clark was operating the 1989
Mercedes-Benz on March 28, 2017, when he was severely injured
in a single-vehicle accident. Id. Clark subsequently
made a claim for personal protection insurance benefits from
Essentia, relying upon the policy issued to the late Mr.
Farver. Id. “During the course of
Essentia's investigation, Clark and his wife . . .
provided statements in which they alleged that Farver gave
them the vehicle before he died.” Id. at 3-4.
The Clarks have provided “a purported signed title from
Farver, ” but Essentia alleges that the
“purported signature of Farver on the title is not
Farver's signature.” Id. at 4. And
Essentia further alleges that Clark's attorney has
admitted that the “title to the vehicle was never
legally transferred to Clark after Farver's death.”
Id. Clark maintains that he “reasonably
believed he could use the Vehicle after Farver's
death.” Id. Essentia disagrees.
complaint advances one count seeking a declaratory judgment
that Clark unlawfully took the vehicle in question such that
Clark is not entitled to personal insurance protection
benefits under M.C.L. § 500.3113(a).
February 6, 2018 (one week after Essentia filed its complaint
seeking declaratory judgment), Clark filed a state court
action against Progressive Michigan Insurance Company, Titan
Indemnity Company, and Essentia Insurance Company. State
Court Compl., ECF No. 7, Ex. 1.
state court complaint, Clark alleges that, sometime before
Clark was injured in the accident, state court Defendant
Progressive “executed and delivered to Plaintiff's
spouse, Marianne Maurer Clark, . . . a certain automobile
policy . . . that included a Michigan Personal Injury
Protection Endorsement.” Id. at 2. The policy
issued to Ms. Clark did not identify her husband as a named
insured or driver. Id. at 3.
state court complaint also explains that, at the time of
Clark's accident, he was driving a Mercedes-Benz vehicle
titled in the name of and registered to Clarence Farver.
Id. The Mercedes was insured by state court
Defendant Essentia. Similarly, the state court complaint
alleges that “[a]t some point before Clarence
Farver's death, Defendant Titan Indemnity Company
executed and delivered to Farver . . . a certain automobile
Policy . . . insuring a second motor vehicle owned by
Farver.” Id. at 4. The Titan Policy
“provided security for payment of No Fault PIP benefits
as an insurer of Clarence Farver, the ‘owner
or registrant of [the vehicle involved in Clark's
accident].” Id. (emphasis in original) Clark
alleges that his use of the Mercedes was “permissive,
based on antemortem representations of
asserts, first, that “Defendant Progressive is
obligated to provide statutorily mandated coverage for PIP
benefits to and on behalf of Plaintiff.” Id.
at 5. He alternatively believes that “Defendants Titan
and Essentia stand in the same level of priority”
regarding his claim for PIP benefits, and that they
“are obligated to provide statutorily mandated coverage
for PIP benefits.” Id.at 4-5.
motion to dismiss, Clark argues that the Court should abstain
from exercising jurisdiction over this suit because the
dispositive issue raised by Essentia will be resolved in a
currently pending state court suit. The general rule is that
“the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar
to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal
court having jurisdiction.” McClellan v.
Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282 (1910). See also RSM
Richter, Inc. v. Behr Am., Inc., 729 F.3d 553, 557 (6th
Cir. 2013) (“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held . .
. that the mere pendency of a state-court case concerning the
same subject matter as a federal case is not reason enough to
abstain.”). But, in limited circumstances, abstention
is warranted. Although federal courts generally have a
“virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the
jurisdiction given them, ” Colorado River Water
Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800
(1976), “[e]xercise of jurisdiction under the
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) is not
mandatory.” Bituminous Cas. Corp. v. J & L
Lumber Co., 373 F.3d 807, 812 (6th Cir. 2004). See
also Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co. of Am., 316 U.S. 491,
495 (1942) (“Ordinarily it would be uneconomical as
well as vexatious for a federal court to proceed in a
declaratory judgment suit where another suit is pending in a
state court presenting the same issues, not governed by
federal law, between the same parties. Gratuitous
interference with the orderly and comprehensive disposition
of a state court litigation should be avoided.”).
Sixth Circuit has cautioned that, in “insurance
coverage diversity cases, . . . ‘declaratory judgment
actions seeking an advance opinion on indemnity issues are
seldom helpful in resolving an ongoing action in another
court.'” Bituminous Cas. Corp. at 812
(quoting Manley, Bennett, McDonald & Co. v. St. Paul
Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 791 F.2d 460, 463 (6th
Cir.1986)). “Such actions for an advance determination
in the nature of an advisory opinion should normally be
filed, if at all, in the court that has jurisdiction over the
litigation which gives rise to the indemnity problem.
Otherwise confusing problems of scheduling, orderly
presentation of fact issues and res judicata are
created.” Manley, 791 F.2d at 463.
Sixth Circuit has identified five factors with relevance to
question of whether a district court should exercise
jurisdiction over a suit for declaratory judgment:
(1) whether the declaratory action would settle the
(2) whether the declaratory action would serve a useful
purpose in clarifying the ...