United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Grange Mutual Casualty Company (“Grange”)
initiated this insurance coverage dispute on July 27, 2017,
pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act (the
“Act”), 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). (Doc. 1).
Grange seeks “[a] declaration that [it] has no legal
obligation to defend or indemnify Indian Summer for the
claims asserted [in the Underlying Gadsden and Centre
Lawsuits].” (Id. at 19 ¶ 39(a)). The Act
provides that “[i]n any case of actual controversy
within its jurisdiction . . . any court of the United
States . . . 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) (emphasis added). However, “[e]ven if
there is a case or controversy, ‘district courts
possess discretion in determining whether and when to
entertain an action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even
when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter
jurisdictional prerequisites.'” 3M Co. v. Avery
Dennison Corp., 673 F.3d 1372, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2012)
(quoting Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277,
282, 115 S.Ct. 2137, 2140, 132 L.Ed.2d 214 (1995)).
before the Court is a Consent Motion To Enter Declaratory
Relief in Favor of Plaintiff (doc. 25) (the “Consent
Motion”) filed by Grange and Defendant Indian Summer
Carpet Mills, Inc. (“Indian Summer”) on November
10, 2017. These moving parties ask this Court to enter a
consent order (id. at 3-4 ¶¶ 6-7)
establishing that Grange has no duty to defend or indemnify
Indian Summer in two separate underlying (and still pending)
water pollution lawsuits-4:16-CV-1755-KOB (the
“Underlying Gadsden Lawsuit”) and
4:17-CV-1026-KOB (the “Underlying Centre
Lawsuit”). The proposed consent order (doc. 25-1) is
attached to the Consent Motion.
Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden and Water
Works and Sewer Board of the City of Centre are not parties
to the Consent Motion and are in default. (Doc. 23). Grange
and Indian Summer indicate that “the proposed order
does not affect the rights of Gadsden or Centre (the
plaintiffs in the Underlying Lawsuits), against whom Grange
will be seeking default judgments.” (Doc. 25 at 4
those reasons explained below, any ruling on the Consent
Motion is RESERVED pending Grange's
right to replead and otherwise address the Court's
jurisdictional/discretionary concerns as set out below.
General Principles Governing Subject Matter
state courts, federal tribunals are bodies of limited
jurisdiction, meaning that the grounds for the Court's
jurisdiction over the claims asserted by the plaintiff must
be present at the time the complaint is filed and must be
obvious on the face of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The
law is clear that Grange, the party seeking to invoke federal
jurisdiction in this case, has the burden to demonstrate that
the Court has subject matter jurisdiction. See McNutt v.
General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56
S.Ct. 780, 785, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936) (“They are
conditions which must be met by the party who seeks the
exercise of jurisdiction in his favor …. [and a]s he
is seeking relief subject to this supervision, it follows
that he must carry throughout the litigation the burden of
showing that he is properly in court.”).
“a federal court has an independent obligation to
review its authority to hear a case before it proceeds to the
merits.” Mirage Resorts, Inc. v. Quiet Nacelle
Corp., 206 F.3d 1398, 1400-01 (11th Cir. 2000).
Consequently, the Court cannot ignore jurisdictional concerns
even if the parties have none.
the parties can neither manufacture the existence nor waive a
want of subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Am. Fire
& Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 17-18, 71 S.Ct. 534,
542, 95 L.Ed. 702 (1951) (“The jurisdiction of the
federal courts is carefully guarded against expansion by
judicial interpretation or by prior action or consent of the
parties.”); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 398,
95 S.Ct. 553, 556-57, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975) (“While the
parties may be permitted to waive nonjurisdictional defects,
they may not by stipulation invoke the judicial power of the
United States in litigation which does not present an actual
‘case or controversy, ' and . . . we feel obliged
to address the question of mootness [or ripeness] before
reaching the merits of appellant's claim.”)
(citation omitted); Jackson v. Seaboard Coast Line R.R.
Co., 678 F.2d 992, 1000 (11th Cir. 1982) (“The
jurisdiction of a court over the subject matter of a claim
involves the court's competency to consider a given type
of case[, ] and cannot be waived or otherwise conferred upon
the court by the parties.”) (footnote omitted).
Eleventh Circuit has explained that the doctrine of
ripeness-one subset of Article III's framework for
confirming the presence of a constitutionally-sound case or
controversy-involves both constitutional and
When determining if a claim is ripe for judicial review, we
consider both constitutional and prudential concerns. In some
circumstances, although a claim may satisfy constitutional
requirements, prudential concerns “counsel judicial
restraint.” See Digital, 121 F.3d at 589
(quoting Action Alliance of Senior Citizens v.
Heckler, 789 F.2d 931, 940 n.12 (D.C. Cir. 1986)). Our
inquiry focuses on whether the claim presented is “of
sufficient concreteness to evidence a ripeness for
review.” Id. Strict application of the
ripeness doctrine ...