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TRAVELERS INDEMNITY CO. v. DAMMANN & CO.

December 12, 2005.

THE TRAVELERS INDEMNITY COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
DAMMANN & CO., INC., et. al, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DICKINSON DEBEVOISE, Senior District Judge

OPINION

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  Plaintiff, The Travelers Indemnity Company ("Travelers"), filed a complaint seeking a declaration of non-liability under two insurance policies which it issued to Defendant, Dammann & Co., Inc. ("Dammann"). Travelers contends that Defendant, International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc. ("IFF") should be a party to this action because it raised a justiciable controversy by seeking to collect from Dammann damages that it suffered when Dammann allegedly supplied it with contaminated vanilla beans. IFF contends that it should not be a party to this suit because the controversy, if any, is between Travelers, as the insurance carrier, and Dammann, as the insured. Thus, IFF filed a motion to dismiss Travelers' claim against it.

  The motion was referred to the Honorable G. Donald Haneke, United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) and L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2), such that he could prepare a recommendation for disposition of the matter. After Judge Haneke issued his Report and Recommendation ("Report"), in which he recommended that the complaint be dismissed as against IFF, Travelers submitted its opposition to the Report, objecting to nearly all of Judge Haneke's findings.

  II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  The facts of this case have already been discussed in Judge Haneke's Report. As such, a complete reiteration is unnecessary. It need only be noted that upon discovering the contaminated vanilla beans, IFF sent a letter to Dammann characterized as a "formal claim . . . for the full and immediate compensation . . . of $5,189,924." It is that letter which forms the basis for Travelers declaratory action, though IFF has not yet filed suit against Dammann.

  In his Report, Judge Haneke determined that there is no actual controversy between Travelers and IFF and that IFF is not a necessary party to Traveler's claim against Dammann. Furthermore, Judge Haneke found that Travelers' attempt to join IFF in its request for declaratory judgment is contrary to the purposes of the Declaratory Judgment Act. Therefore, he recommended that IFF's motion be granted and Traveler's claim against IFF be dismissed.

  III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) and L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2), when a party objects to the Magistrate Judge's report, a District Judge must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report to which the party has objected. Travelers has objected to nearly all of Judge Haneke's report and thus each of his findings must be addressed. As matters outside the pleading will be considered, this motion will be treated as one for summary judgment.

  Summary judgment is appropriate when the record "show[s] that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law," Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law, Id. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment, Id. In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence `is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor,'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999), quoting, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. But where the nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, "the burden on the moving party may be discharged by `showing' — that is, pointing out to the district court — that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case," Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (U.S. 1986).

  IV. DISCUSSION

  Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, a party seeking declaratory judgment must demonstrate the existence of an actual case or controversy. 28 U.S.C. 2201(a); Cardinal Chem. Co. v. Morton Int'l, Inc., 508 U.S. 83, 95 (1993). "The question in each case is whether the facts alleged show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, `of sufficient immediacy and reality to justify judicial resolution.'" Peachlum v. York, Pa., 333 F.3d 429, 433 (3d Cir. 2003). "The difference between an abstract question and a `controversy' contemplated by the Declaratory Judgment Act is necessarily one of degree, and it would be difficult, if it would be possible, to fashion a precise test for determining in every case whether there is such a controversy." Maryland Casualty Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 273 (U.S. 1941).

  Courts have frequently found that in cases regarding liability insurance and a carrier's obligation to indemnify the insured, an actual controversy exists once the events underlying the insured's liability have occurred. See e.g., Riehl v. Travelers Ins. Co., 772 F.2d 19, 23 (3d Cir. 1985); Simmonds Aerocessories, Ltd. v. Elastic Stop Nut Corp. of America, 275 F.2d 485, 490 (3d Cir. 1958). A party need not wait until an underlying suit has been filed before it seeks declaratory relief.

  In the present case, an actual controversy arises between Travelers and Dammann once underlying events have called into question Travelers's obligation to indemnify Dammann. Such events have already occurred as IFF not only received and is aware of the contaminated beans but also sent a letter to Dammann requesting payment for the damage incurred. ...


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