United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Teresa Maiden's apartment was destroyed in a fire. She
obtained a default judgment against her landlord, BOG, Inc.,
in state court. Because she believes that BOG's insurance
provider is Starr Indemnity & Liability Company, she
seeks to enforce the state court judgment against Starr
Indemnity. Starr Indemnity, however, contends that it did not
issue an insurance policy to BOG, and cannot be held liable
on the state court judgment.
Maiden seeks a declaratory judgment that Starr Indemnity was
her landlord's insurance carrier at the time of the fire.
Starr Indemnity moved to dismiss the complaint, under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a
claim, and alternatively moved for summary judgment. (Doc.
9). In support of its motion, it attached a copy of
“the relevant insurance policy.” (Id. at
1 n.1). However, the attached policy was issued to an entity
called Ruffner Mountain Management, LLC, (doc. 9-1), and not
to BOG. Starr Indemnity contends that, because BOG is not the
named insured in the Ruffner policy, the court must dismiss
court issued an order denying without prejudice Starr
Indemnity's motion for summary judgment and construing it
as a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 10). In doing so, the court
noted that the Ruffner policy was a document extrinsic to the
pleadings, but found that it could consider the policy
because it presumed that the Ruffner policy was the one to
which the complaint referred (and thus, the policy was
central to Ms. Maiden's claim) and Ms. Maiden did not
dispute the contents of the policy. The court ordered
briefing on Starr Indemnity's motion to dismiss. The
parties have completed briefing and the court now has before
it the motion to dismiss.
following reasons, the court WILL VACATE its earlier order,
WILL DENY Starr Indemnity's motion to dismiss, and WILL
DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE Starr Indemnity's motion for
stage, the court must accept as true the allegations in the
complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff. Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach Cty.,
685 F.3d 1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012). Taken in that light, in
2013, Ms. Maiden was renting one of the apartments in the
Westbury Apartments, located in Birmingham, Alabama. (Doc.
1-1 at 1-2). BOG was the Westbury Apartment's landlord,
and BOG's principal officer was Melvin Cheatum.
(Id. at 2). On May 4, 2013, a fire destroyed Ms.
Maiden's apartment, and destroyed or damaged several
others as well. (Id. at 2). Ms. Maiden and some
other tenants filed an insurance claim with BOG's
insurer, Cook Claim Services, Inc. (Id.).
point-it is not clear when-Cook Claim Services notified Ms.
Maiden's attorney that Starr Indemnity had
“acquired” the claim and become the insurer.
(Id.). Starr Indemnity, although it held itself out
as BOG's insurer, did not accept liability, so Ms. Maiden
and the other affected tenants sued BOG and Mr. Cheatum in
state court. (Id.). They obtained a default judgment
of $269, 737 against BOG. (Id.).
months after the entry of the default judgment, Starr
Indemnity sent Ms. Maiden's attorney a letter stating
that BOG and Mr. Cheatum were not insureds under its policy,
and that it was not required to pay the default judgment.
(Id.). Ms. Maiden filed suit, seeking a declaratory
judgment that Starr Indemnity and/or several fictitious
defendants were her landlord's insurer “either
directly or through another party.” (Id. at
3). Starr Indemnity moves to dismiss the complaint for
failure to state a claim. (Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 9).
Motion to Dismiss
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of
the complaint. “To survive a motion to dismiss, the
plaintiff must plead ‘a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Butler, 685 F.3d
at 1265 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Although analysis of a Rule
12(b)(6) motion is limited primarily to the face of the
complaint and attachments thereto, a court may consider
documents attached to the motion to dismiss if they are
referred to in the complaint and are central to the
plaintiff's claim.” Starship Enterprises of
Atlanta, Inc. v. Coweta Cty., Ga., 708 F.3d 1243, 1253
n.13 (11th Cir. 2013).
Maiden's complaint requested a judgment declaring that
Starr Indemnity was BOG's insurer. (Doc. 1 at 3). To
state a claim for a declaratory judgment under Alabama law,
the complaint must allege a “bona fide justiciable
controversy.” Carey v. Howard, 950 So.2d 1131
(Ala. 2006) (quoting Gulf Beach Hotel, Inc. v. State ex
rel. Whetstone, 935 So.2d 1177, 1182 (Ala. 2006)).
“A controversy is justiciable where present
‘legal rights are thwarted or affected [so as] to
warrant proceedings under the [Alabama] Declaratory Judgment
statutes.'” Creola Land Dev., Inc. v.
Bentbrooke Housing, LLC, 828 So.2d 285 (Ala. 2002)
(quoting Town of Warrior v. Blaylock, 152 So.2d 661,
662 (Ala. 1963)) (first alteration in original).
complaint states a claim for declaratory judgment because it
alleges that Starr Indemnity was her landlord's insurer,
but has failed to ...