United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar, Chief Judge.
case stems from a tort suit filed in Maryland state court
asserting common law and state statutory claims related to
alleged lead poisoning. Plaintiff Allstate Insurance Company
filed the present action for declaratory judgment to
determine insurance coverage and its potential duty to
indemnify certain defendants in the underlying state suit.
Defendant Jermeara Preston, the plaintiff in the state suit,
now seeks to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay the
declaratory judgment action. (ECF No. 16.) No. hearing is
required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For
the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that
Allstate's action for declaratory judgment is premature,
and the Court lacks jurisdiction at this time. The motion to
dismiss will be granted without prejudice to Allstate's
ability to refile the claim once the state court action is
2017, Jermeara Preston sued multiple defendants in the
Circuit Court of Baltimore City, alleging damages from
exposure to lead-based paint. See Preston v. S&S
Partnership, Civ. No. 24-C-17-004952 (Cir. Ct. Bait.
City filed Oct. 10, 2017). (Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 1.)
Stanley Rochkind and Rhoda Rochkind are defendants in the
state suit. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) Preston claimed
the Rochkinds owned a residential property in Baltimore City
at which Preston was exposed to lead-based paint between
November 1996 and 2000. (Id. ¶¶ 13,
15.)' Her lawsuit named twenty-three defendants and
alleged damages from lead exposure sustained at three
different Baltimore properties during that time. (State
Compl. ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. l-l.) That lawsuit is still
provided insurance coverage to the Rochkinds through a
"Personal Umbrella Policy," which included
"excess personal liability coverage," from June
1988 until the policy's cancellation on June 13, 2000.
(Compl. ¶ 16.) Allstate contends that coverage for
claims arising from lead exposure was eliminated from the
Rochkinds' policy as of June 13, 1999. (Id.
present lawsuit, Allstate seeks a declaratory judgment that
"coverage is not available for the Rochkind Insureds
under the [Personal Umbrella] Policy for any damages caused
by lead exposure to Preston, occurring on or after June 13,
1999," and, further, that "Allstate's share of
the pro-rata allocation of liability is limited to 42.19% of
the total of any judgment for Preston." (Id. at
the Declaratory Judgement Act ("the Act"), district
courts "may declare the rights and other legal relations
of any interested party seeking such declaration." 28
U.S.C. § 2201(a). The Act is "an enabling
[statute], which confers a discretion on the courts rather
than an absolute right upon the litigant.'"
Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 287 (1995)
(quoting Public Serv. Comm'n of Utah v. Wycoff
Co., 344 U.S. 237, 241 (1952)). District courts have
"great latitude in determining whether to assert
jurisdiction over declaratory judgment actions."
United Capitol Ins. Co. v. Kapiloff, 155 F.3d 488,
493 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Aetna Cos. &Sur. Co. v.
Ind-Com Elec. Co., 139 F.3d 419, 422 (4th Cir. 1998)).
Discretion to decline to exercise jurisdiction exists
"even when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter
jurisdiction prerequisites." Wilton, 515 U.S.
at 282. "[W]henever a parallel proceeding is pending in
state court, district courts must take into account
'considerations of federalism, efficiency, and
comity'" before exercising jurisdiction over a suit
for declaratory judgment. Kapiloff, 155 F.3d at 493
(quoting Nautilus Ins. Co. v. Winchester Homes,
Inc., 15 F.3d 371, 376 (4th Cir. 1994)).
judgment actions may be 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." Id.
(quoting Centennial Life Ins. Co. v. Boston, 88 F.3d
255, 256 (4th Cir. 1996)). However, the Act "authorizes
relief only '[i]n a case of actual controversy'"
within the meaning of Article III of the Constitution.
Pa. Nat'l Mutual Cas. Ins. Co. v. Alliance Roofing
& Sheet Metal, Inc., Civ. No. WDQ-12-1427, 2013 WL
1120587, at *3 (D. Md. Mar. 14, 2013) (quoting 28 U.S.C.
§ 2201(a)); see also White v. Nat'l Union Fire
Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 913 F.2d 165, 167 (4th Cir.
1990). Federal jurisdiction under the Act exists if "the
facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there
is a substantial controversy ... of sufficient immediacy and
reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory
judgment." Alliance Roofing, 2013 WL 1120587,
at *3. (quoting Md. Cas. Co. v. Pac. Coal & Oil
Co., 312 U.S. 270, 273 (1941)). A proper declaratory
judgment suit must involve "a controversy admitting of
specific relief through a decree of conclusive character, as
distinguished from an opinion advising what the law would be
upon a hypothetical state of facts." Id.
(quoting White, 913 F.3d at 167); see also
Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 108 (1969) (quoting
United Pub. Workers of Am. (C.I.O.) v. Mitchell, 330
U.S. 75, 89 (1947)) (stating that Article III jurisdiction
requires "actual cases, not abstractions").
motion to dismiss, Preston argues that the Court should
dismiss or stay the declaratory judgment suit under the
abstention principles articulated by the Fourth Circuit in
Kapiloff, 155 F.3d at 493-94. (Mot. Dismiss. Mem. at
5-6, ECF No. 16-1.) Although Preston does not explicitly move
to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), district courts "have an
independent obligation to determine whether subject matter
jurisdiction exists." Hertz Corp. v. Friend,
559 U.S. 77, 93 (2010). Here, the Court concludes that
Allstate's declaratory judgment action is premature and
does not yet present an actual controversy of
"sufficient immediacy and reality" to confer
Article III jurisdiction. Alliance Roofing, 2013 WL
1120587, at *3 (quoting Md. Cas. Co., Ill. U.S. at
273). Without knowing the answers to essential factual
questions-including whether the Rochkinds are liable to
Preston at. all and whether, if liable, that liability
derives from damages incurred after Allstate eliminated
coverage for lead-related claims-any declaratory judgment
issued by this Court would not be conclusive, but would
rather operate only as "an opinion advising what the law
would be upon a hypothetical state of facts."
Id. (quoting White, 913 F.3d at 167).
arguing for the appropriateness of declaratory relief,
Allstate relies primarily on the Fourth Circuit's
decision in Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty
Insurance Co. v. Roberts, 668 F.3d 106 (4th Cir. 2012).
In that case, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a declaratory
judgment calculating the pro rata allocation of liability
between the insurance company and the insured party.
Id. at 113-15. Under that method, "'[e]ach
insurer is liable for that period of time it [covered the
risk] compared to the entire period during which
damages occurred' and 'losses are prorated to the
insured' for periods during which it was uninsured."
Id. at 113 (quoting Mayor & City Council of
Baltimore v. Utica Mut. Ins. Co, 802 A.2d 1070, 1104
(Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2002)). Allstate argues that, under
Roberts, it is entitled to a calculation of its pro
rata share of liability now.
case is not like Roberts. There, the underlying tort
suit had already concluded with jury verdict against the
insured party and awarding damages to the tort plaintiff.
Id. at 110. Evidence from the underlying trial
determined the actual period during which the tort plaintiff
incurred damages, and the district court was able to
determine the portion of that period for which the insurer
provided coverage. Id. at 111 (determining 24 months
of coverage, compared to 55 months of exposure). The
insurance company's share of liability was calculated
based on the percentage of the total exposure period during
which it provided coverage to the insured. Id.
the underlying state suit is still pending, and crucial
questions of fact are unresolved. No. court has determined
whether Preston even suffers from lead poisoning, let alone
whether the Rochkinds are liable for proximately causing it,
and, if so, what the total exposure period was. "[T]he
question of whether the insurer has a duty to pay a final
judgment against the insured turns on a comparison of the
ultimate findings of fact concerning the alleged occurrence
within the policy coverage." Alliance Roofing,
2013 WL 1120587, at *6 (quoting Steyer v. Westvaco
Corp.,450 F.Supp. 384, 389 (D. Md. 1978)). Where such
critical facts are undetermined, a declaratory judgment is
premature, as it resolves a question that may never become
ripe, based on facts that are purely
hypothetical.See, e.g., Zwickler, 394 U.S. at
108 (distinguishing abstract questions from Article III
controversies); Mitcheson v. ...