United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff-Intervenors'
(“Intervenors”) Motion for Declaration Regarding
Angie Griego's Rights and Status with Respect to Recovery
Under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act [Doc. 43], filed
August 15, 2017. Defendants responded on August 28, 2017.
[Doc. 45]. Angie Griego, who is not a party in this action,
filed a response on August 31, 2017. [Doc. 49]. Plaintiff did not
respond. Intervenors replied on September 11, 2017. [Doc.
57]. Having considered the record, briefing, and relevant
law, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, the
Court will DENY the Motion for Declaration.
the personal representative of the estate of Tristan Lucero
(“decedent”), filed the instant action pursuant
to the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act, NMSA 1978, §
41-2-1, alleging that Defendants' negligence caused the
decedent's death and requesting compensatory and punitive
damages. [Doc. 31]. Lawsuits filed under the Wrongful Death
Act may be brought only by a personal representative, who in
turn acts as trustee for the individual statutory
beneficiaries. § 41-2-3. Intervenors, the biological
father and stepmother of the decedent, sought to intervene in
the action to challenge Plaintiff's appointment as
personal representative and to assert independent claims on
their own behalf against Defendants for loss of consortium.
[Doc. 10]. The Court permitted them to intervene for the
limited purpose of asserting individual loss-of-consortium
claims against Defendants. [Doc. 36] at 13. The Court denied
their request to intervene to challenge the appointment of
Plaintiff as personal representative. Id. The Court
found that their interest in the wrongful death claim was
adequately represented by Plaintiff, who had
“statutorily mandated responsibilities” to the
beneficiaries of any wrongful death award, including Mr.
Lucero. Id. at 9 (quoting Spoon v. Mata,
2014-NMCA-115, ¶ 19, 338 P.3d 113).
subsequently filed the instant motion seeking a declaratory
judgment that Angie Griego, the decedent's biological
mother, is not entitled to a share of the proceeds of any
judgment obtained in Plaintiff's favor in this action.
[Doc. 43]. The recovery scheme of the Wrongful Death Act
provides that the decedent's parents recover if there is
no surviving spouse or child. Id. at 4; see
also § 41-2-3. However, a natural parent who has
abandoned or failed to support his or her child may not be
entitled to recovery. Intervenors argue that Ms. Griego
abandoned the decedent and thus abdicated her right to
recovery under § 41-2-3. They ask the Court to find the
same and terminate her status as a statutory beneficiary.
contend that the motion is not properly before the Court
because requests for declaratory judgment must be brought
through pleadings and not by motion. [Doc. 45] at 2.
Defendants further contend that this request is beyond the
scope of the limited purpose for which Intervenors were
permitted to intervene. Id. Finally, they argue that
the request is unripe and any disputes over the distribution
of wrongful death proceeds to the statutory beneficiaries
should be decided only if and when Plaintiff recovers such
proceeds. Id. at 3. Ms. Griego adopts the arguments
of Defendants and disputes Intervenors' contention that
she is not entitled to recovery as a statutory beneficiary.
Declaratory Judgment Act
Declaratory Judgment Act provides, in pertinent part, 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).
Tenth Circuit has described “two separate
hurdles”-one jurisdictional, and one prudential-that a
party seeking a declaratory judgment must overcome.
Surefoot LC v. Sure Foot Corp., 531 F.3d 1236, 1240
(10th Cir. 2008). First, there must be an “actual
controversy, ” i.e., a constitutionally cognizable case
or controversy ripe for adjudication. Id. An actual
controversy exists where “the facts alleged, under all
the circumstances, show that there is a substantial
controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests,
of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the
issuance of a declaratory judgment.” Columbian Fin.
Corp. v. BancInsure, Inc., 650 F.3d 1372, 1376 (10th
Cir. 2011) (quoting MedImmune, Inc. v. Genetech,
Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 127 (2007)). Second, even if an
actual controversy exists, courts have discretion in deciding
whether to issue a declaratory judgment. Surefoot,
531 F.3d at 1240. Section 2201 provides “only that
district courts ‘may'-not ‘must'-make a
declaration on the merits of [the] controversy, ”
considering a number of case-specific factors. Id.
Court will deny Intervenors' motion for declaratory
judgment. As an initial matter, Intervenors' request is
procedurally improper because it was sought via motion rather
than through a proper pleading, as required by § 2201.
Although courts may construe such motions as motions for
summary judgment, the Court finds that it would be
inappropriate to do so in this instance, particularly given
that the motion seeks a judgment against Ms. Griego, who is
not a party in this action. Moreover, even if the request for
declaratory relief were properly pleaded against Ms. Griego,
the Court finds that Intervenors have failed to show the
existence of an actual controversy that is ripe for
motion is procedurally improper.
Court notes at the outset that Intervenors' motion is
procedurally improper. The Declaratory Judgment Act provides
that a court may grant declaratory relief where a party files
“an appropriate pleading.” § 2201(a). A
“pleading” under the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure is either a complaint or answer to it; an answer to
a counterclaim designated as a counterclaim; an answer to a
crossclaim; a third-party complaint or answer to it; or, if
the court orders one, a reply to an answer. Fed.R.Civ.P. 7.
The Federal Rules “govern the procedure for obtaining a
declaratory judgment” under § 2201. Fed.R.Civ.P.
and commentators have concluded that an action for
declaratory judgment is “an ordinary civil
action” subject to the Federal Rules. Int'l
Bhd. of Teamsters v. E. Conference of Teamsters, 160
F.R.D. 452, 455-56 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting 10A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller
& Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §
2768 (1983)). A party may bring an action for declaratory
judgment but may not make a motion for declaratory judgment.
Thomas v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield Ass'n,
594 F.3d 823, 830 (11th Cir. 2010); Kam-Ko Bio-Pharm
Trading Co. Ltd-Australasia v. Mayne Pharma (USA) Inc.,
560 F.3d 935, 943 (9th Cir. 2009); see also Redmond v.
Alexander, 98 B.R. 557, 559 (D. Kan. 1989) (denying a
“motion for declaratory judgment” where the
moving party “cite[d] no authority whereby the court
could find appropriate a request ...