United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION ORDER
MATTER comes before the Court on the parties'
cross-motions for declaratory judgment. Docs. 16, 17.
Plaintiff filed her Complaint for Declaratory Judgment,
Breach of Contract, and Negligence in New Mexico state
district court on January 6, 2017. Doc. 1-1. Defendant
removed the action to federal court on February 28, 2017.
Doc. 1. Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment is
premised on allegations that Defendant refused to negotiate
settlement of Plaintiff's claim for underinsured motorist
(“UM”) coverage pursuant to her insurance policy
with Defendant. Defendant denied Plaintiff's claim for UM
coverage due to Plaintiff's failure to timely make a
claim for UM coverage pursuant to the terms of the policy.
Having reviewed the briefing, the relevant law, and being
otherwise fully advised, the Court will grant Plaintiff's
Motion in part and deny Defendant's Motion.
PRELIMINARY PROCEDURAL MATTTERS
getting into the substance of the parties' arguments, the
Court will first address whether the state or the federal
declaratory judgment act applies. Second, the Court then
considers what type of relief is available under the
Declaratory Judgment Act.
some confusion exists among the parties as to whether the
Court's consideration of Plaintiff's claim for
declaratory judgment is controlled by the federal Declaratory
Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201-2202, or New Mexico's
Declaratory Judgment Act, NMSA 1978 § 44-6-1 to -15.
Importantly, Defendant's removed this case to federal
Court on the basis of the Court's diversity jurisdiction.
A federal court exercising jurisdiction over a case based on
diversity of citizenship looks to federal procedural law and
to state substantive law. See Erie R.R. Co. v.
Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 72 (1938). The federal
Declaratory Judgment Act is procedural. Farmers Alliance
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Jones, 570 F.2d 1384, 1386 (10th Cir.
1978). It “does not create substantive rights for
parties…[but] merely provides another procedure
whereby parties may obtain judicial relief.”
Id. Accordingly, while New Mexico law will control
the substantive issues of the case, the federal Declaratory
Judgment Act will control the procedure governing
Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment.
although the parties have filed cross-motions for declaratory
judgment, the Court clarifies that the Declaratory Judgment
Act does not contemplate “motions for declaratory
judgment.” Under the Act, a court “may declare
the rights and other legal relations of any interested party
seeking such a declaration” where a party files
“an appropriate pleading.” 28 U.S.C. §
2201(a). The Federal Rules “govern the procedure for
obtaining a declaratory judgment under [the Act].”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 57. As such, “the requirements of pleading
and practice in actions for declaratory relief are exactly
the same as in other civil actions.” Thomas v. Blue
Cross and Blue Shield Ass'n, 594 F.3d 823, 830 (11th
Cir. 2010). When faced with a motion for declaratory
judgment, courts therefore often construe the motion as a
motion for summary judgment on a declaratory judgment action.
See e.g., Kam-Ko Bio-Pharm Trading, 560
F.3d 935, 943 (9th Cir. 2009) (upholding the district
court's decision to construe a motion for declaratory
judgment as a motion for summary judgment); Int'l
Bhd. of Teamsters v. E. Conference of Teamsters, 160
F.R.D. 452, 456 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (citation omitted) (stating
that “[t]he only way plaintiffs' motion [for
declaratory relief] can be construed as being consistent with
the Federal Rules is to construe it as a motion for summary
judgment on an action for a declaratory judgment.”).
Consistent with these authorities the Court construes the
parties' cross-motions for declaratory judgment as
cross-motions for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's
claim for declaratory judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), this Court must
“grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of
“show[ing] that there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case.” Bacchus
Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891
(10th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once the movant meets this burden,
Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to designate
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324;
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256
issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence
on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve
the issue either way. An issue of fact is
‘material' if under the substantive law it is
essential to the proper disposition of the claim.”
Thom v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851
(10th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). “A party
asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must
support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of
materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(1)(A). All material facts set forth in the motion and
response which are not specifically controverted are deemed
undisputed. D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b).
reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court should
keep in mind three principles. First, the court's role is
not to weigh the evidence, but determine whether a genuine
issue exists as to material facts requiring a trial. See
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. Second, the court must
resolve all reasonable inferences and doubts in favor of the
non-moving party, and construe all evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. See Hunt v.
Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 550-55 (1999). Third, the court
cannot decide any issues of credibility. See Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. “[T]o survive the . . .
motion, [the nonmovant] need only present evidence from which
a jury might return a verdict in his favor.”
Id. at 257.
otherwise noted, the following are the undisputed material
facts. In November 2011, Defendant issued Plaintiff an
automobile insurance policy. Defendant's Ex. C, Doc. 16
at 20. The policy was issued by an Ohio insurance agent.
Id. The policy indicates that Plaintiff resided in
Ohio and that the vehicle would be garaged in Ohio.
Id. It is therefore undisputed that the policy was
issued in Ohio. This is material because the policy included
a choice of law provision stating that the policy should be
“construed and interpreted in conformity with the laws
of the state in which it was issued.” Id. at
39. The policy included a limitation on the timeframe for
which Plaintiff could bring a claim for UM coverage.
Specifically, the policy stated that
Any claim for Uninsured Motorist Coverage must be brought
within three (3) years of the date of the accident causing
“bodily injury” or one (1) year after the date
the liability insurer of the “uninsured motor
vehicle” becomes insolvent, whichever is later.
1, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident
in Taos, New Mexico. Doc. 17 at 2, ¶ 1; Doc. 19 at 1,
¶ 1. The driver of the other vehicle, Stephen Salandre,
was insured by GEICO with liability limits of $25, 000 for
bodily injury. Doc. 17 at 2, ¶ 2; Doc.19 at 2, ¶ 2.
Approximately one day after the accident, Plaintiff notified
Defendant of the accident and on June 4, 2012, Defendant took
Plaintiff's recorded statement regarding the incident.
Doc. 17 at 2, ¶ 4; Doc. 19 at 2, ¶ 4. Though
largely immaterial to the present issues, Defendant and GEICO
subsequently engaged in a protracted disagreement as to who
was at fault for the accident. Their disagreement was
ultimately submitted to arbitration and the ...