Federal Court in South Carolina Dismisses Truck Accident Litigant’s Declaratory Judgment Action for Lack of “Actual Controversy”

A popular idiomatic phrase goes something like, “Don’t make a federal case out it!” Generally, “making a federal case” out of something means that it has been built up or exaggerated beyond what is reasonable, but, like most common phrases, there is a nugget of truth behind the words.

For instance, a lawsuit arising from a South Carolina truck accident will tend to be more expensive, more time consuming, and more difficult than a similar action filed in state court. For this reason, it is not unusual for a defendant to “remove” a state case to federal court if the federal court has concurrent jurisdiction. Under certain circumstances, the plaintiff may ask the federal court to remand the case to state court.

As one might expect, all of these legal shenanigans can add months, or even years, to the time it takes the plaintiff to recover fair compensation for personal injuries or a loved one’s wrongful death caused by the negligence of the defendant(s).

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiff was a woman who was allegedly injured while riding in an automobile that was involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer operated by one of the defendants in 2010. In addition to the truck driver, two insurance companies and a company that purportedly hired the trucker to haul a certain log trailer were also named as defendants.

The plaintiff sought to remand the action back to state court. One of the defendant insurance companies filed a partial motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s action.

The Court’s Ruling in the Case

The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, dismissed the plaintiff’s action without prejudice and denied the remaining motions as moot. The court first noted that the plaintiff’s suit sought a declaration, under the South Carolina Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act codified at South Carolina Code ยง 15-30-10 et seq., that one of the defendant insurance companies was required to provide liability insurance coverage on the tractor-trailer that was involved in the accident in which the plaintiff was allegedly hurt. This action, along with two separate cases arising from the same accident, was originally filed in state court. The instant action was then removed to federal court by one or more of the defendants.

The court went on to note that federal courts have limited jurisdiction, including a limitation under Article III of the United States Constitution that declaratory relief cannot be granted unless an “actual controversy” exists between the parties to an action. The court then observed that the plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment regarding an insurance policy to which she was not a party. Nevertheless, the court stated that the plaintiff could have overcome this procedural hurdle if one of three circumstances existed: she had been joined by the insurance company in the case, she already had a judgment against the insured party, or she claimed to be an insured party under the policy.

The court found that none of these circumstances existed insomuch as the plaintiff’s action merely sought a declaration that the insurance company should consider one of the other defendants as an insured party. Thus, the court found that there was no “controversy” between the parties and dismissed the suit.

Speak to a South Carolina Injury Attorney

Being involved in a tractor-trailer accident is traumatic enough in and of itself. Unfortunately, insurance companies and their game-playing tactics can often make matters even worse. At the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices in Spartanburg and Greenville, we help those injured in South Carolina motor vehicle accidents pursue fair compensation. Call us at 864-582-5118 to schedule a free consultation. The sooner you call, the sooner we can get started on your case!

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