United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendant, Shannon
Bullock's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, to
abstain (DE 5). For the reasons outlined below, Bullock's
motion to dismiss without prejudice is hereby
Granted. As a result of this decision,
Plaintiff, Western World Insurance Group, Inc.'s motion
for default judgment is Denied as moot.
October 5, 2015, decedent Eli Bullock was fatally injured
when his mother's vehicle rolled down the driveway of
Stephen Slone and over an embankment (DE 1, 6). The location
of the accident, 623 Winwright Road in Pikeville, Kentucky,
was Stephen Slone's personal residence and the principal
place of business for Slone's Heating and Cooling, LLC
(“Slone's Heating and Cooling”), a company
solely owned and operated by Slone (DE 1, 6).
13, 2016, Shannon Bullock, Eli Bullock's father, filed a
state action in Pike Circuit Court against Stephen Slone.
Shannon Bullock, Individually and in His Capacity as
Administrator of the Estate of Eli Bullock v. Stephen
Slone, Civil Action No. 16-Cl-00654. The complaint
alleges that Stephen Slone breached a duty owed to Eli
Bullock as a licensee or social guest on his property (DE 1,
6). Pursuant to a home owner's insurance policy, State
Farm Fire and Casualty company has been defending the claims
asserted against Stephen Slone in his individual capacity (DE
response, Stephen Slone filed a third-party complaint against
his daughter, Amanda Bullock, seeking indemnity or
contribution for any damages arising from the death of Eli
Bullock (DE 1, 7). The third-party complaint specifically
alleges that Amanda Bullock acted negligently in leaving the
vehicle unattended with the keys in the ignition. On January
17, 2017, Shannon Bullock commenced a second action in Pike
Circuit Court (DE 1, 8). This second action named Stephen
Slone's business, Slone's Heating and Cooling, as the
Defendant. Shannon Bullock, Individually and in His
Capacity as Administrator of the Estate of Eli Bullock v.
Slone's Heating and Cooling, LLC, Civil Action No.
17-Cl-0054. The January action against the LLC and the action
filed against Stephen Slone in his individual capacity were
consolidated on May 3, 2017 (DE 1, 9). This case is currently
pending before Division I of the Pike Circuit Court.
Heating and Cooling was insured under a commercial general
liability insurance policy provided by Western World
Insurance Group, Inc. (“Western World”). The
precise contours of this insurance arrangement remain
disputed. And though Western World provided Slone's
Heating and Cooling with an initial legal defense, the
insurance company now argues that it has no obligation to do
so (DE 1, 2).
October 3, 2017, Western World filed a complaint in this
Court seeking a declaration that the policy it issued to
Slone's Heating and Cooling does not provide coverage for
the claims against the business relating to the death of Eli
Bullock. (DE 1). In particular, Plaintiff Western World avers
that the insurance contract limits coverage in a way that
would exclude liability merely arising from ownership and
maintenance of Slone's property, as opposed to activity
related to the company's HVAC and electrical operations.
While Western World was not an original party to the
Pikeville action, on December 22, 2017, the Pike Circuit
Court permitted Shannon Bullock to amend his complaint to
include the insurance company.
November 27, 2017, Shannon Bullock-a Defendant in this
federal action-filed a motion to dismiss, or in the
alternative, to abstain (DE 5). Plaintiff Western World has
since responded (DE 7) and Bullock has submitted a reply (DE
9) to this response. In his motion to dismiss or in the
alternative, to abstain, Defendant Shannon Bullock argues
that the Pike Circuit Court is better situated to resolve the
insurance coverage issue. This Court agrees.
Declaratory Judgment Act provides that “[i]n a case of
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, whether or not
further relief is or could be sought.” 28 U.S.C. §
2201(a); Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Veterans of Foreign
Wars of the United States, No. CV 16-146-DLB, 2017 WL
1147454, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Mar. 27, 2017). This language makes
clear that while federal district courts retain the ability
to exercise this power, they are under no obligation to do.
Sixth Circuit has enumerated five factors for courts to
consider when determining whether to exercise jurisdiction
under the Declaratory Judgment Act. These “Grand
Trunk” factors include:
(1) whether the declaratory action would settle the
(2) whether the declaratory action would serve a useful
purpose in clarifying the ...