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United States Fire Insurance Co. v. Williamsburg National Insurance Co.

March 12, 2009

UNITED STATES FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAMSBURG NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY (Document 38)

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the court is Plaintiff United States Fire Insurance Company ("US Fire")'s motion for certificate of appealability and entry of final judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 54(b) of this Court's November 19, 2008, order partially granting Defendant Williamsburg National Insurance Company ("Williamsburg")'s motion for summary judgment. (See Doc. No. 35.) Defendant filed an opposition on March 6, 2009. The court has considered the pleadings and has determined that these matters are suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 78-230(h). The hearing scheduled for March 20, 2009, will be vacated, and the parties need not appear. Upon consideration of all the pleadings, this Court will find that Plaintiff's motion for certificate of appealability and entry of final judgment pursuant to rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should be DENIED.

RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 30, 2008, Williamsburg filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 16.) On July 1, 2008, US Fire filed its Motion for Summary Adjudication. (Doc. No. 18.) On July 2, 2008, each party filed its amended pleadings. (Doc. Nos. 19 & 20). On August 1, 2008, each party filed its opposition to the other party's pending motion. (Doc. Nos. 21 & 22.) One week later, on August 8, 2008, each party filed its reply. (Doc. Nos. 24 & 25.) On August 13, 2008, US Fire filed a Statement Of Objection To Williamsburg Raising A New Ground For Summary Judgment In Its Reply. (Doc. No. 27.) On November 19, 2008, this Court issued its order granting in part and denying in part the motions for summary judgment. More particularly, this Court ordered that US Fire's Motion for Summary Adjudication be denied. The court granted Williamsburg's Motion for Summary Judgment on the second cause of action for equitable contribution and denied the motion regarding the first cause of action for declaratory relief. (Doc. No. 35.)

Thereafter, on February 6, 2009, US Fire filed the instant motion. Williamsburg filed its opposition on March 6, 2009.

US Fire seeks an order from this Court directing entry of final judgment as to the Order dated November 19, 2008, granting Williamsburg's motion for summary judgment as to US Fire's cause of action for equitable contribution. US Fire relies upon Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 54(b), claiming such an appeal "will streamline this litigation" because a trial on the remaining cause of action for declaratory relief would be moot if the November 19, 2008, order was affirmed on appeal. Additionally, US Fire seeks a stay of the instant proceedings pending a decision on appeal.

Williamsburg opposes the motion. Defendant argues that US Fire may have pled two causes of action, yet it asserts only one claim - the right to equitable contribution. As a result, rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is inapplicable as it only pertains to actions involving multiple claims. Additionally, Williamsburg counters that granting the motion would frustrate judicial economy because in the event US Fire were to prevail on appeal, the appellate court would remand the matter for further proceedings regarding the permissive-use issue.

Lastly, Williamsburg contends that US Fire may obtain immediate relief by dismissing its declaratory relief cause of action.

STANDARD

Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides as follows: Judgment on Multiple Claims or Involving Multiple Parties. When an action presents more than one claim for relief - whether as a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim - or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay. Otherwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

The burden is on the party seeking certification to demonstrate that the case warrants certification. Braswell Shipyards, Inc. v. Beazer E., Inc., 2 F.3d 1331, 1335 (4th Cir. 1993). In order for a district court to certify a judgment for appeal pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 54(b), a party must show that: (1) there must be more than one claim involved in the action, (2) the court finally adjudicated at least one of these claims, and (3) there are no just reasons to delay an appeal. Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Electric Co., 446, U.S. 1, 8 (1980).

There exists "a long-settled and prudential policy against the scattershot disposition of litigation," and "entry of judgment under [Rule 54(b)] should not be indulged as a matter of routine or as a magnanimous accommodation to lawyers or litigants." Spiegel v. Trustees of Tufts College, 843 F.2d 38, 42 (9th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted).

Judgments under Rule 54(b) must be reserved for the unusual case in which the costs and risks of multiplying the number of proceedings and of overcrowding the appellate docket are outbalanced by the pressing needs of the litigants for ...


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