United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action presents the question of whether State Farm Fire and
Casualty Company ("State Farm") has a duty under
its homeowner39;s insurance policy with Defendant Alex
Lincoln Carpenter to defend or indemnify Carpenter regarding
bodily injury claims asserted against him by Defendant Ryan
Taylor. [See Record No. 1.] State Farm has moved for
a declaratory judgment that it is under no such duty, and
Taylor has moved for a declaratory judgment that it is.
[Record Nos. 22, 25] For the reasons that follow, State
Farm39;s motion will be granted, and Taylor39;s motion
will be denied.
incident giving rise to this action took place outside of
Rosebud39;s Bar and Silk39;s Lounge around 2:55 a.m. on
Sunday, November 9, 2014. [Record Nos. 22-4, p. 1; 25-2, p.
12] The bars had just closed for the night, and a group of
patrons remained, milling about in the street. [Record No.
25-2, pp. 12, 19-21, 26] According to Carpenter, he and
William James were looking for a group of friends when they
were approached by Wade Fisher. [Id. at 20-21]
Fisher, Carpenter39;s former co-worker, and James,
Carpenter39;s friend, had developed an interest in the same
woman during the evening. [Id. at 16-17] The woman
apparently showed more interest in James than Fisher,
creating some animosity. [Id. at 18-19]
accused James of stealing a cell phone.[1" name="FN1" id="FN1">1] [Id. at
21, 42-43] Carpenter believes this was a "made up cell
phone that didn39;t exist" and Fisher "was just
fishing for a fight completely at that point" because
James "was going to take his pretty little blond
home." [Id. at 21-22, 43] Carpenter knew Fisher
to be aggressive from past interactions so he allegedly
attempted to deescalate the situation by taking James to the
other side of the street. [See Id. at 22-23.] But
Fisher followed James and Carpenter across the street. When
Carpenter tried to intervene again, Fisher pushed him
"aggressively in the chest" to get him out of the
way. [Id. at 25-26] Carpenter "kind of fell
back" into the street, and had to catch his balance.
[Id. at 26] When he gathered himself and
"re-approached the situation," he found Fisher and
three others surrounding James in a corner against a wall and
a few trash cans. [Id. at 26-28]
to Carpenter, one of the men (who turned out to be Ryan
Taylor) had his hands around James39; shoulders.
[Id. at 27-28] Carpenter believed that James39;
safety was being threatened, "thought within a split
second," and decided to "hit the guy that had his
hands around [James39;] shoulders." [Id. at
28-29] He swung at Taylor from a couple of feet away,
"trying to punch him." [Id. at 29, 44]
Without a particular target in mind, Carpenter aimed
generally for Taylor39;s head, realizing that if he hit
Taylor in the head it might hurt him. [Id. at 30]
The blow landed on Taylor39;s jaw and sent him stumbling
into the trash cans. [Id. at 29-30]
nearby police officer broke up the fight, handcuffed
Carpenter, and sat him on the ground. [Id. at 30]
Carpenter was charged with second degree assault. [Record No.
22-5] He later pleaded guilty under North Carolina v.
Alford, 25');">400 U.S. 25 (1970), to fourth degree assault.
[Record No. 22-6] He served a sentence of two years39;
probation, and paid approximately $600 to $800 in
restitution. [Record No. 25-2, pp. 40-41]
after Carpenter entered his Alford plea, Taylor
filed a civil action in the Fayette Circuit Court alleging
that Carpenter committed the tort of assault. [Record No.
22-7] Carpenter was insured on the date of loss under a
homeowner39;s policy with State Farm that, in part,
provided liability coverage. [See Record No. 22-1,
p. 6.] State Farm hired counsel to defend Carpenter in the
civil action under a reservation of rights, and filed this
separate action seeking a declaratory judgment that it is
under no duty to defend or indemnify Carpenter against
Taylor39;s claims. [See id.] State Farm and
Taylor39;s cross-motions for declaratory judgment are now
ripe for consideration.[2" name="FN2"
id="FN2">2] [Record Nos. 22, 25]
Declaratory Judgment Act provides that "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." 28 U.S.C.
§ 2201(a). But this provision "does not provide for
its own subject matter jurisdiction; the plaintiff must
establish that the district court has either diversity
jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction before the
Court will entertain a declaratory action."
Brotherhood Mut. Ins. Co. v. United Apostolic Lighthouse,
Inc., 200 F.Supp.2d 689');">200 F.Supp.2d 689, 691 (E.D. Ky. 2002). In the
present case, the plaintiff has alleged that the defendants
are all Kentucky citizens, the plaintiff is an Illinois
citizen, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000,
exclusive of interest and costs. [Record No. 1] Accordingly,
there is diversity jurisdiction to resolve this action under
28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).
the Court has determined that subject matter jurisdiction
exists, it must evaluate whether this case is appropriate for
declaratory judgment pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment
Act." Brotherhood, 200 F.Supp.2d at 692. The
Declaratory Judgment Act "created an opportunity, rather
than a duty, to grant a new form of relief to qualifying
litigants." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co, 515 U.S.
277, 288 (1995). Thus, "district courts possess
discretion in determining whether and when to entertain an
action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even when the suit
otherwise satisfies subject matter jurisdictional
prerequisites." Id. at 282.
In deciding whether a case is appropriate for declaratory
judgment, the principal criteria are (1) whether the judgment
would settle the controversy; (2) whether the declaratory
action would serve a useful purpose in clarifying the legal
relations at issue; (3) whether the declaratory remedy is
being used merely for the purpose of "procedural
fencing" or "to provide an arena for a race for res
judicata"; (4) whether the use of a declaratory action
would increase friction between our federal and state courts
and improperly encroach upon state jurisdiction; and (5)
whether there is an alternative remedy that is better or more
Am. Home Assurance Co. v. Evans, 1 F.2d 61');">791 F.2d 61, 64
(6th Cir. 1986) (citing Grand Trunk W. R.R. v. Consol.
Rail Corp., 2d 323');">746 F.2d 323, 326 (6th Cir. 1984)).
issuing a declaratory judgment would settle the controversy,
would serve a useful purpose in clarifying the legal
relations at issue, and would not improperly encroach on
state jurisdiction. It does not appear that a declaratory
judgment is being sought for an improper purpose. And it does
not appear that there is an alternative remedy that would ...