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AGCS Marine Insurance Co. v. Bill Warner & Son Towing & Recovery, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Elkins

May 17, 2019




         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Bill Warner & Son Towing & Recovery, LLC. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons listed below, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 21, 2018, the Plaintiffs, AGCS Marine Insurance Company (“AGCS”) and Interchange Group, Inc. (“Interchange”) (together, “Plaintiffs”), filed suit against the Defendant, Bill Warner & Son Towing & Recovery, LLC (“Defendant”). In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs aver the following set of facts, which are regarded as true for purposes of the Motion to Dismiss.

         AGCS issued an inland marine insurance policy to Interchange. Am. Compl. at ¶ 8. The policy insured cargo that Interchange was transporting via tractor/trailer. ¶ 8-9. On July 28, 2018, a driver for Interchange lost control of the tractor/trailer near Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, and rolled down an embankment. ¶¶ 10- 11. Defendant was then dispatched to recover the tractor/trailer and provide clean-up services. ¶ 14. Following the incident, Defendant submitted an invoice to Interchange totaling $242, 432.40 for seven (7) days of services. ¶ 15. The invoice broke down the expenses into two categories: (1) recovery of the tractor/trailer at $65, 113.50 and (2) clean-up and debris removal at $177, 318.90. ¶ 16.

         Plaintiffs dispute the necessity of the services Defendant provided, the amount of labor it employed, and the reasonableness of the clean-up and debris removal charges. ¶ 17. Plaintiffs retained an expert to review the invoice, and the expert found that the reasonable charges for clean-up would amount to $76, 417.62. ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiffs argue the following actions were unreasonable: use of and amount charged for a wrecker; payment of $50 per hour to flaggers; payment of $50 per hour to laborers; payment of $80 per bag for super sacs; and charging for a fork lift, leaf blower, and chop saw. ¶¶ 24-32. Plaintiffs also argue that photographs do not support the number of laborers for which Defendant billed. ¶ 28. Defendant refuses to provide Plaintiffs with any documentation such as time sheets or pay stubs demonstrating payment to the laborers. ¶ 29.

         Plaintiffs assert one count of declaratory relief and ask the Court to do the following: determine that Plaintiffs are not obligated to make payment to Defendant in connection with the clean-up and debris removal for the subject loss beyond the fair and reasonable expenses; determine the amount of the fair and reasonable expenses; award Plaintiffs their costs and attorney's fees; and award Plaintiffs any other relief as justice may require. Am. Compl. at 5.


         A. Declaratory Judgments

         Under the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, district courts “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). District courts have “great latitude” in their discretion to determine whether and when to entertain an action under the Act. Aetna Cas & Sur. Co. v. Ind-Com Elec. Co., 139 F.3d 419, 421-22 (4th Cir. 1998). The Fourth Circuit has explained that a declaratory judgment action is appropriate “when the judgment will serve a useful purpose in clarifying and settling the legal relations in issue, and . . . when it will terminate and afford relief from the uncertainty, insecurity, and controversy giving rise to the proceeding.” Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Quarles, 92 F.2d 321, 325 (4th Cir. 1937). It should not be used “to try a controversy by piecemeal, or to try particular issues without settling the entire controversy, or to interfere with an action which has already been instituted.” Centennial Life Ins. Co. v. Poston, 88 F.3d 255, 256- 57 (4th Cir. 1996). The statute's aim “is to afford a new form of relief where needed, not to furnish a new choice of tribunals or to draw into the federal courts the adjudication of causes properly cognizable by courts of the states.” Quarles, 92 F.2d at 324.

         The Supreme Court of the United States has instructed that when a related state proceeding is underway, a district court considering a declaratory judgment action should specifically consider whether the controversy “can better be settled in the proceeding pending in the state court.” Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co. of Am., 316 U.S. 491, 495 (1942). The Fourth Circuit has written that a district court should consider certain factors, along with general principles of federalism, efficiency, and comity, in deciding whether to exercise jurisdiction over state-law claims in the face of parallel litigation in the state courts:

(i) the strength of the state's interest in having the issues raised in the federal declaratory action decided in the state courts;
(ii) whether the issues raised in the federal action can more efficiently be resolved in the court in which the state action is pending;
(iii) whether permitting the federal action to go forward would result in unnecessary “entanglement” between the federal and state court systems, because of the presence of ...

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