United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
FEDERICO A. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is an insurance breach of contract claim by Ministerio
Evangelistico International against its insurer, United
Specialty Insurance Company, to recover for water damage to
its property allegedly covered by the policy. Ministerio owns
a church that incurred water damage from a leaky roof.
Ministerio and United dispute the policy's coverage of
the property damage. Ministerio brings two counts: (1) breach
of contract and (2) declaratory relief. This cause comes
before this Court upon United's Motion to Dismiss Count
action began in state court on December 22, 2015, when
Ministerio filed a three-count complaint for: (1) breach of
contract; (2) willful tortious breach of Fla. Stat. §
624.155 (bad faith); and (3) declaratory relief. In state
court, United moved to dismiss Counts 2 and 3. The state
court granted United's motion to dismiss both counts
"with leave to amend to include specific policy
provisions that [Ministerio] claims [are] ambiguous." On
November 3, 2016, Ministerio filed an amended two-count
complaint, including only breach of contract and declaratory
relief. On December 22, 2016, United removed the case to this
Court after Ministerio first indicated that the amount in
controversy exceeded $75, 000.
Court has subject matter jurisdiction based on the
parties' diversity of citizenship. In a diversity case,
federal courts apply federal law to procedural matters and
apply the law of the forum state to substantive matters.
See Coccaro v. GEICO Gen. Ins. Co., 648
Fed.App'x 876, 880 (11th Cir. 2016) (citing Erie R.R.
Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). Florida's
Declaratory Judgment Act is a procedural mechanism that
confers subject matter jurisdiction on Florida's circuit
and county courts; it does not confer any substantive rights.
Id. Because declaratory relief presents a procedural
issue, this Court construes Ministerio's claim for
declaratory relief under the federal Declaratory Judgment
Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201.
federal Act grants federal courts discretion to decide
whether to issue declaratory relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a)
("In an 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.") (emphasis added). "The point of a
declaratory judgment is to permit 'actual controversies
to be settled before they ripen into violations of law, '
not to adjudicate past conduct." Great Lakes
Reinsurance (UK) PLC v. TLU Ltd., No. 07-61259, 2008
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24318, at *5 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 27, 2008).
order on a motion to dismiss a petition for declaratory
judgment should not reach the merits of the suit, but should
only determine the question of whether or not the plaintiff
is entitled to a declaration of rights." Tobon v.
Am. Sec. Ins. Co., No. 06-61912, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
44589, at *7 (S.D. Fla. June 20, 2007). Moreover, "[a]
court must dismiss a claim for declaratory judgment if it is
duplicative of a claim for breach of contract and, in effect,
seeks adjudication on the merits of the breach of contract
claim." Miami Yacht Charters, LLC v. Nat'l Union
Fire Ins. Co., No. 11-21163, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
57041, at *5 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 24, 2012). See also Fernando
Grinberg Trust Success Int'l Props. LLC v. Scottsdale
Ins. Co., No. 10-20448, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69229, at
*3 (S.D. Fla. June 21, 2010) ("[A] trial court should
not entertain an action for declaratory judgment on issues
which are properly raised in other counts of the pleadings
and already before the court, through which the plaintiff
will be able to secure full, adequate and complete
relief.") (quoting Mcintosh v. Harbour Club
Villas, 468 So.2d 1075, 1080-81 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.
1985)). "Questions regarding whether a contract was
adequately performed [are] unrelated to the purpose behind
the Declaratory Judgment Act. Eisenberg v. Standard Ins.
Co., No. 09-80199, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99663, at *6
(S.D. Fla. Oct. 26, 2009).
argues that the declaratory relief claim should be dismissed
for three reasons: (1) it is duplicative and will be resolved
by the breach of contract claim; (2) it is vague and fails to
allege a present need for a declaration; and (3) it is
improper because it seeks a declaration regarding the amount
of damages and not whether there is coverage. In response,
Ministerio recites the standards for declaratory relief, but
does not challenge United's arguments or cite authority
that indicates the declaratory relief claim should be allowed
no less than eight supporting cases from the Southern
District of Florida, United first argues that the declaratory
relief claim should be dismissed because it is duplicative
and will be resolved by the breach of contract claim. This
Court agrees. If the determination of Ministerio's breach
of contract claim involves the same factual dispute as the
declaratory relief claim, then Ministerio "will be able
to secure full, adequate and complete relief through the
breach of contract claim" and consequently "the
declaratory action must be dismissed." See Fernando
Grinberg, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69229, at *4.
breach of contract claim alleges that United "breached
the contract by failing to fully cover and pay for the damage
and/or loss to [Ministerio]'s property." The
declaratory relief claim asks this Court to "determine
and declare [Ministerio]'s and [United]'s rights,
duties and obligations with respect to the losses, costs or
expenses incurred as the result of the subject loss under the
terms, provisions, conditions and endorsements of the subject
policy." By requesting a declaration "with respect
to the losses, costs or expenses incurred as a result of the
subject loss, " Ministerio is effectively seeking a
judgment concerning the amount of damages-relief already
fully accessible to Ministerio under its breach of contract
claim. See Berkower v. USAA Cas. Ins., No. 15-23947,
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118223, at *13-14 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 1,
2016) (dismissing similar declaratory relief claim as
duplicative of breach of contract claim). A determination of
the breach of contract claim involves the same actual dispute
as the declaratory relief claim, namely, to what extent the
water damage is covered by the insurance policy. In other
words, Ministerio will be able to secure full, adequate and
complete relief through the breach of contract claim. "A
petition seeking a declaratory judgment that alleges breach
of duties and obligations under the terms of a contract and
asks the court to declare those terms breached is nothing
more than a petition claiming breach of contract."
Eisenberg, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99663, at *6.
Therefore, Ministerio's declaratory action should be
on the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that
United's Motion to Dismiss Count 3 is GRANTED. This Court
exercises its discretion to dismiss Ministerio's claim
for declaratory relief. The rights and legal relations of the
parties are being adjudicated through the breach of contract
claim, which will resolve all the disputed issues before this
Court. Therefore, declaratory relief is ...