United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
DALTON JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Mattamy Homes Corporation, Mattamy Orlando LLC, and Mattamy
Florida LLC (collectively,
"Mattamy") move the Court to
abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiffs
declaratory judgment action and dismiss it. (Doc. 41
("Motion").) Plaintiff responded.
(Doc. 45.) On review, the Motion is due to be denied.
declaratory judgment action stems from a lawsuit in the
Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit in and for Orange
County, Florida ("State Court
Action"). See Granite State Ins. Co.
v. L. Pellinen Constr., Inc., et al.,
No. 2017-CA-011094-O (Fla. Cir. Ct 2017). Mattamy owned and
operated a development project involving the construction of
a residential home in Kissimmee, Horida. (Doc. 39, pp. 19,
21, ¶¶ 21-26, 38-39.) L. Pellinen Construction
("Pellinen") was the general
contractor for the project and managed the construction and
framing of the home. (Id. at 21-22, ¶ 40.)
Pellinen subcontracted with Hasan Heosig, Inc.
("Hasan") to complete the work.
(Id. at 23, ¶ 47.)
December 22, 2016, Hasan employee Esdras Isaias
Ambrocio's stood on a wooden truss to frame the roof of
the home when, without warning, the truss splintered and
broke, causing him to fall almost twenty feet and strike his
head on a concrete slab below
("Accident"). (Id. at 23,
¶¶ 48-51.) Mr. Ambrocio suffered "catastrophic
and life devastating injuries." (Id. at 23-24,
¶ 52.) Following the Accident, Hasan's workers'
compensation carrier, Granite State Insurance Company
("Granite"), paid Mr. Ambrocio
benefits over $800, 000 for his past and present medical and
life care needs. (Id. at 25-26, ¶¶ 60-61.)
Seeking to recover for the benefits paid to Mr. Ambrocio,
Granite initiated the State Court Action, asserting a single
count of negligence against Pellinen and Mattamy and several
counts of negligence and strict liability against other
entities that purportedly manufactured or supplied the wooden
truss. (Id. at 26-44, ¶¶ 62-145.)
suit followed years later. Pellinen, the general contractor,
had a commercial general liability insurance policy
("Policy") from Plaintiff
Endurance American Specialty Insurance Company
("Endurance"), which it acquired
before the Accident. (Id. at6, ¶ 25.) After the
State Court Action arose, Endurance sued Pellinen and Mattamy
in federal court, requesting the Court declare Endurance has
no duty to defend or indemnify Pellinen, Mattamy, or any
other party in the State Court Action due to exclusions in
the Policy that preclude coverage ("Declaratory
Judgment Action"). (Id. at 9-13,
now moves the Court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction
and dismiss the Declaratory Judgment Action in favor of the
pending State Court Action. (Doc. 41.) With Plaintiff's
response (Doc. 45), the matter is ripe.
Declaratory Judgment Act allows federal courts to
"declare the rights and other legal relations of any
interested party seeking such declaration." 28 U.S.C.
§ 2201(a). It is "an enabling Act, which confers a
discretion on the courts rather than an absolute right upon
the litigant." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515
U.S. 277, 287 (1995). "It only gives the federal courts
competence to make a declaration of rights; it does not
impose a duty to do so." Ameritas Variable Life
Insurance Co. v. Roach, 411 F.3d 1328, 1330 (11th Cir.
2005) (citing Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co. of
America, 316 U.S. 491, 494 (1942)). With this
discretion, the Supreme Court has stated that "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."
Brillhart, 316 U.S. at 495. District courts must
determine "whether the questions in controversy between
the parties to the federal suit, and which are not foreclosed
under the applicable substantive law, can better be settled
in the proceeding pending in the state court."
Id. District courts may "decline to entertain a
declaratory judgment action on the merits when a pending
proceeding in another court will fully resolve the
controversy between the parties." Ven-Fuel, Inc. v.
Dep't of the Treasury, 673 F.2d 1194, 1195 (11th
with these precepts and "considerations of federalism,
efficiency, and comity," the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the Eleventh Circuit set forth a non-exhaustive list of
factors for district courts to consider when determining
whether to exercise jurisdiction over a declaratory action
when parallel state proceedings are pending:
(1) the strength of the state's interest in having the
issues raised in the federal declaratory action decided in
the state courts;
(2) whether the judgment in the federal declaratory action
would settle the controversy;
(3) whether the federal declaratory action would serve a
useful purpose in clarifying the legal relations at issue;
(4) whether the declaratory remedy is being used merely for
the purposes of 'procedural fencing' - that is, to
provide an arena for res judicata or to achieve a