United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER STAYING CASE PENDING
RESOLUTION OF STATE COURT LAWSUIT
MATTER comes before the Court upon a Motion to Stay
Proceedings, filed on October 27, 2017 by Defendants Peter
Komis and Dorinda Komis (Doc. 9). Having
reviewed the parties' briefs and applicable law, the
Court finds that Defendants' motion is well-taken and,
therefore, is granted.
an insurance coverage dispute. In September 2014, Peter Komis
was assaulted and shot in his driveway by three unidentified
assailants. Defendants allege that three unknown men followed
Peter Komis home in a car. The assailants parked their car on
the street, and approached Mr. Komis in his driveway. The
assailants struck Mr. Komis in the head and knocked him to
the ground. They attempted to enter his home, but Ms. Komis
called the police from the inside. As they left, one of the
attackers shot Mr. Komis in the back and buttocks while he
was on the ground. The identity of the assailants is unknown.
contend that they are entitled to recovery from their own
UM/UIM policy with Farmers Insurance Corporation of Arizona
(“FICA”), on the basis that the assailants'
car was a crucial, active accessory to the attack. Defendants
seek compensation from FICA for past and future medical
expenses, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress,
lost household services, loss of consortium, and loss of
enjoyment of life.
submitted a demand letter to Plaintiff on April 17, 2017. On
July 3, 2017, Plaintiff responded to Defendants' demand
letter, rejecting a settlement offer and stating that they
would file a complaint for declaratory relief. Two days
later, Plaintiff filed this declaratory action pursuant to 28
USC § 2201. FICA seeks a declaration that there is no
uninsured motorist coverage over these claims.
state action was filed in the First Judicial District, County
of Santa Fe on September 29, 2017, after this declaratory
action was filed. As plaintiffs in that action, Peter and
Dorinda Komis seek determination on the same issues as in
this declaratory action. See Peter B. Komis and Dorinda
Hopper-Komis v. Farmers Insurance Company of Arizona,
First Judicial District, No. D-101-CV-2017-02777. According
to counsel, the parties and issues in the state action and in
this federal proceeding are identical.
filed this motion seeking to stay this federal declaratory
action. Defendants argue that the underlying dispute solely
involves state law and should be decided by the New Mexico
state courts. Plaintiffs argue that this case only involves
settled state law, that there is no exceptional
circumstance requiring this Court to abstain, and that the
Court should follow the first-to-file rule.
Declaratory Judgment Act vests federal courts with power and
competence to issue a declaration of rights. 28 U.S.C. §
2201. While this statute vests the federal courts with power
and competence to issue a declaration of rights, see
Public Affairs Assocs., Inc. v. Rickover, 369 U.S. 111,
112 (1962) (per curiam), the question of whether this power
should be exercised in a particular case is vested in the
sound discretion of the district courts. St. Paul Fire
and Marine Ins. Co. v. Runyon, 53 F.3d 1167, 1168 (10th
discretionary standard under Brillhart v. Excess Ins.
Co., 316 U.S. 491 (1942) governs a district court's
decision to stay a declaratory judgment during the pendency
of parallel state court proceedings. Wilton v. Seven
Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277 (1995). District courts are
“under no compulsion to exercise . . .
jurisdiction” under the Declaratory Judgment Act, as
“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 v. Excess Ins. Co., 316
U.S. 491, 494 (1942). This Court must consider whether the
questions in controversy between the parties to this federal
lawsuit “can better be settled in the proceeding
pending in the state court.” Id.; see also
Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 283 (1995).
deciding whether or not to hear a declaratory judgment
action, a court considers various factors, including:
(1) whether a declaratory action would settle the
(2) whether it would serve a useful purpose in clarifying the