946 F.2d 390 (5th Cir. 1991), 90-4458, Temple Drilling Co. v. Louisiana Ins. Guar. Ass'n

Docket Nº:90-4458.
Citation:946 F.2d 390
Party Name:TEMPLE DRILLING CO., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. LOUISIANA INSURANCE GUARANTY ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 23, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 390

946 F.2d 390 (5th Cir. 1991)

TEMPLE DRILLING CO., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

LOUISIANA INSURANCE GUARANTY ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 90-4458.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 23, 1991

Page 391

Thomas E. Balhoff, Mathews, Atkinson, Guglielmo, Marks & Day, Baton Rouge, La., for defendant-appellant.

D.C. Panagiotis, Edwin G. Preis, Jr., Preis, Kraft, Laborde & Diagle, Lafayette, La., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before KING and JONES, Circuit Judges. [*]

KING, Circuit Judge:

The Louisiana Insurance Guaranty Association ("LIGA") appeals from a judgment by the district court in favor of Temple Drilling Company ("Temple Drilling") in the amount of $332,772.10, as indemnification for amounts paid by Temple Drilling to injured seamen when its insurer became insolvent. Finding that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over this action, we vacate the judgment of the district court.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Temple Drilling was the owner or operator of several movable drilling rigs stationed off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Several personal injury lawsuits were filed against Temple Drilling by employees or third parties arising out of accidents which occurred on or in connection with these rigs. These lawsuits generally involved one or more causes of action under the Jones Act, Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Worker's Act, or the general maritime law.

During the time period between May 21, 1981 and June 30, 1984, Temple Drilling was insured by Ideal Mutual Insurance Company ("Ideal"), a New York corporation. Ideal was declared insolvent on February 7, 1985. Ideal was a "member insurer" of LIGA within the meaning of Louisiana Revised Statutes § 22:1379(5). The insurance policies on which suits were brought during this time period were standard worker's compensation and employers' liability ("WC/EL") policies, excess liability policies, and specific excess worker's compensation reinsurance agreements.

After the demise of Ideal, Temple Drilling undertook its own defense of the actions pending against it. Temple Drilling was forced to pay judgments as to some plaintiffs and reached settlement with many others. Temple Drilling filed the instant action in federal district court against LIGA on April 15, 1987, seeking to recover $1,088,574.16, which represented the total amount it had paid to those plaintiffs who were Louisiana residents in the actions pending against it, and which would have been covered under the WC/EL and excess insurance policies issued by Ideal. When the district court found that LIGA's statutory limit of $49,900 applied to each claim, Temple Drilling sought instead to recover the amount of $332,772.10 from LIGA. As its basis for jurisdiction in federal court, Temple Drilling alleged diversity of citizenship.

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One of the arguments made by LIGA below was that Temple Drilling was required to pursue its right to recover from the Texas Insurance Guaranty Association ("TIGA") before attempting to recover from LIGA pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statutes § 22:1386(2). Temple Drilling argued that it had complied with the requirement of that section, based on a letter/claim, a proof of claim form, and a follow-up letter/claim sent to TIGA, all dated between January 8 and January 13, 1986. TIGA's bar date for submission of claims under Ideal policies was January 14, 1986. Somewhat belatedly, on July 24, 1989, TIGA denied Temple Drilling's claim on the basis of improper documentation. Temple Drilling subsequently filed suit against TIGA, and that action is currently ongoing in Texas.

LIGA also argued that no "covered claim" existed under the LIGA Statute. Louisiana Revised Statutes § 22:1377 expressly excludes from coverage under LIGA claims based upon "ocean marine insurance." In the district court, LIGA argued that the WC/EL policies were ocean marine insurance and therefore not covered under LIGA.

During a telephone conference call between the district court and counsel, counsel for LIGA brought to the court's attention two decisions 1 suggesting that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. Nevertheless, the district court determined that, in view of the lengthy delay in this action, it would proceed to decide the case on the merits. According to a letter to counsel, written by the district court,

We have reviewed the Rhulen case ... and believed that its rationale would support a dismissal of our case on jurisdictional grounds.

[However], I will proceed to decide the case on the merits--noting the jurisdictional problem.

In its March 23, 1990 decision, the district court rejected LIGA's assertion that there was no "covered claim," finding that the WC/EL policies were not ocean marine insurance. The district court also found that LIGA was not entitled to an offset equal to the limits of TIGA coverage. The court ruled in favor of Temple Drilling against LIGA in the amount of $332,772.10, plus interest and costs. The court acknowledged that it had an obligation to address the jurisdictional issue, but chose not to do so because it felt "the fairest thing to do at this late date is to proceed and decide the case on the merits."

On March 23, 1990, LIGA filed a motion to vacate the district court's decision and to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Temple Drilling then filed an amended complaint, with the approval of the district court, in which it pleaded admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 as an additional basis for federal court jurisdiction.

Contemporaneously, the Fifth Circuit decided the issue of whether or not LIGA is entitled to an offset for any judgment an insured may obtain against a foreign insurance guaranty association. See Sifers v. General Marine Catering Co., 897 F.2d 1288 (5th Cir.1988) ("Sifers II "). In response to Sifers II, LIGA filed a motion for reconsideration on the offset issue as to whether it was entitled to credit for the amount which might have been recovered by Temple Drilling had its claim against TIGA been supported by adequate documentation.

On June 4, 1990, the district court issued a memorandum ruling holding that the original decision was correct, and that Temple Drilling had adequately fulfilled LIGA's requirement that it first pursue recovery from TIGA. A final judgment was signed by the district court on June 7, 1990, and on June 18, 1990, LIGA timely filed notice of appeal.

On appeal, LIGA argues that the district court erred on three grounds: (1) the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over this action based on either diversity of citizenship or admiralty; (2) Temple Drilling's claim against LIGA was

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not a "covered claim" under the LIGA statute; and (3) LIGA was entitled to an offset for the amount Temple Drilling could have recovered against TIGA had its filing with TIGA been properly documented. We recognize the good intentions of the district court, and sympathize with the parties that this matter has been pending for a great while in the federal courts. However, because...

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