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Federal court says it has no jurisdiction in hunting club shooting case

Posted On: Jan. 2, 2019 1:59 PM CST

Federal court says it has no jurisdiction in hunting club shooting case

A federal district court has refused to declare that Scottsdale Insurance Co. has no duty to defend or indemnify a hunting club and its owner in connection with a shooting incident based on the amount being sought by a plaintiff in the case, stating it has no jurisdiction in the litigation.

In a 2016 shooting incident, a security guard at the Calhoun Hunting Club and Lounge in Letohatchee, Alabama, fired five to six shots into a car occupied by Nakia Rivers and Tiffany Miller, killing Ms. Rivers, according to the Dec. 26 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Alabama, in Scottsdale Insurance Co. v. Calhoun Hunting Club and Lounge, Terry Baity and Tiffany Miller.

Ms. River’s estate brought claims against, among others, the club and its owner, Mr. Baity.  Scottsdale paid $300,000, the full aggregate limit of its commercial liability insurance policy, to settle the estate’s claims against the club, according to the ruling. 

After Scottsdale settled with Ms. Rivers’ estate, Ms. Miller, the vehicle’s driver, sued the club and the club owner, Mr. Baity, in state court, seeking a nonspecified amount in compensation for severe mental anguish, emotional distress and damages to her vehicle, according to the ruling.

Mr. Baity and Ms. Miller contended the case was not properly in federal court because Ms. Miller’s claim is not more than $75,000 in her state court action. Scottsdale disagreed. Under the U.S code, district courts only have jurisdiction of civil action when the amount in controversy is more than $75,000, excluding interest and costs.

The court ruled against the insurer. The insurer “has not satisfied its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the required jurisdictional amount,” said the ruling.

“The insurance company’s argument boils down to the assertion that its insurance obligations toward Calhoun Hunting Club have already been fulfilled and thus the policy does not oblige the insurance company to defend or indemnify the club with respect to Miller’s claims; that is, that the policy does not apply to Miller’s claims,” said the ruling.

But a policy’s face value “generally controls only where the validity of the policy is in dispute or the claim exceed the policy limits,” said the ruling.  It is “clear for the record here that the value of the claims in controversy, that is, Miller’s claims – is nowhere near the $300,000 policy limit,” said the ruling in dismissing the case.