Superior Court in Hudson County. See Notice of Motion for Consolidation of Actions, annexed to the Affidavit of Gregory J. Castano, sworn to on May 10, 1993 (the "Castano Aff." as Exh. "E." American Motorists opposed consolidation on the grounds that it was "premature" to decide whether consolidation in Hudson or Middlesex County was appropriate. See Tr. of Hr'g, annexed to defendants' Reply Brief as Exh. "C," at 24. Judge Ryan ultimately decided to withhold a decision on whether to consolidate the New Jersey actions, consolidating the Crown and Sonoco actions for discovery purposes only. See Consolidation Order, annexed to the Castano Aff. as Exh. "D."
The parties dispute the amount of progress that has been made in the New Jersey actions. According to plaintiffs, the parties have engaged in limited document discovery involving the exchange of policies and the production of a relatively small quantity of documents concerning the underlying claims. See Affidavit of Nancy B. Mallery, sworn to on June 10, 1993, at P 5. Moreover, plaintiffs state that few rulings have been made in any of the New Jersey actions and that it is unlikely that the cases will be resolved in the near future. Id. at P 6.
According to defendants, however, a substantial number of documents have been either exchanged or ordered to be exchanged. These include the policies, summaries and claims files for seventy-five hazardous waste sites, underwriting files and information regarding corporate histories. Further, four case management orders have been issued in order to expedite and coordinate the progress of the discovery proceedings. See Case Management Orders I-IV, annexed to the Castano Aff. as Exh. "A." Additionally, several motions have been briefed by the parties and many of these have now been decided.
III. The Present Action
On February 19, 1993, Travelers Indemnity, Liberty Mutual and American Motorists commenced this action by filing a complaint against defendants based on the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs seek to interplead defendants, pursuant to Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the grounds that defendants' insurance coverage claims may expose plaintiffs to multiple liability (First Claim for Relief). Further, plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment establishing which, if any, of the six defendants has standing to assert claims for insurance coverage as successors to the Continental Can policies (Second Claim for Relief). Plaintiffs allege that a final resolution of the coverage issue would serve the interests of all parties in that plaintiffs would be able to provide coverage to the appropriate defendants in the environmental claims against them and all parties would avoid unnecessary litigation costs.
Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that plaintiffs have failed to present a justiciable case or controversy. Specifically, defendants argue that neither Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, nor the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, provides a jurisdictional predicate for plaintiffs' pursuit of a federal judgment.
Defendants also move, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(7) and 19(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for an order dismissing the complaint for failure to join an indispensable party. Specifically, defendants argue that the approximately eighty other primary and excess insurance carriers are indispensable to any determination relating to defendants' entitlement to coverage with respect to the hazardous waste clean-up sites. Defendants argue that the complaint should be dismissed, as joinder of the indispensable parties would defeat the Court's diversity jurisdiction.
In the alternative, defendants move for an order dismissing or staying the action on federal abstention grounds. Specifically, defendants argue that the Court should abstain from proceeding with the present action pending final resolution of the New Jersey actions. Plaintiffs oppose defendants' motions to dismiss or stay the action. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion to dismiss is denied and defendants' motion to stay is granted.
I. Justiciable Case or Controversy
Defendants argue that plaintiffs have failed to present a justiciable case or controversy. According to defendants, there is no actual controversy requiring resolution under either Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure or the Declaratory Judgment Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2201. The Court disagrees.
In order for a federal court to assert jurisdiction over an action, the court must find that a justiciable "case or controversy" exists. See U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2. A justiciable case or controversy exists when a plaintiff alleges "some threatened or actual injury" resulting from defendants' actions. See Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 618, 35 L. Ed. 2d 536, 93 S. Ct. 1146 (1973). Such injury must be "sufficiently real and immediate" as opposed to merely "conjectural" or "hypothetical." Alliance of Am. Insurers v. Cuomo, 854 F.2d 591, 595-96 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 494-496, 38 L. Ed. 2d 674, 94 S. Ct. 669 (1974)).
Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part:
Persons having claims against the plaintiff may be joined as defendants and required to interplead when their claims are such that the plaintiff is or may be exposed to double or multiple liability. It is not ground for objection to the joinder that the claims of the several claimants or the titles on which their claims depend do not have a common origin or are not identical but are adverse to and independent of one another, or that the plaintiff avers that the plaintiff is not liable in whole or in part to any or all of the claimants.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 22. Rule 22 interpleader is an appropriate option for a stakeholder seeking protection from multiple liability and facing the prospect of defending multiple claims to the same fund. Washington Elec. Coop., Inc. v. Paterson, Walke & Pratt, P.C., 985 F.2d 677, 679 (2d Cir. 1993). The court's jurisdiction does not depend upon the validity of the claims of the various defendants. A/S Krediit Pank v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 155 F. Supp. 30, 34 (D.N.Y. 1957) (citing Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Segaritis, 20 F. Supp. 739, 741 (E.D. Pa. 1937)). In fact, the adjudication of the case may well lead to a determination that one or more of the interpleaded parties is not entitled to recover from the plaintiff. Id.
The Declaratory Judgment Act provides, in relevant part:
In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction . . . any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, 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.