Illinois Cent. R. Co. v. Cain, Civ.A.505CV160DCBJMR.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtBramlette
Citation434 F.Supp.2d 415
PartiesILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY Plaintiff v. Lisa Blair CAIN; Brian Kelly Blain; Genevieve Bohrer a/k/a Genny Cain or Genevieve Cain; and John Does 1-10 Defendants
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A.505CV160DCBJMR.,Civ.A.505CV160DCBJMR.
Decision Date18 April 2006
434 F.Supp.2d 415
Lisa Blair CAIN; Brian Kelly Blain; Genevieve Bohrer a/k/a Genny Cain or Genevieve Cain; and John Does 1-10 Defendants
No. Civ.A.505CV160DCBJMR.
United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division.
April 18, 2006.

Page 416

George H. Ritter, Charles T. Ozier, Charles H. Russell, III, Wise, Carter, Child & Caraway, Jackson, MS, for Plaintiff.


BRAMLETTE, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' Motion to Dismiss [docket entry no. 2] and the defendants' Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint [docket entry no. 9]. Having reviewed the Motions, briefs, applicable statutory and case law and being otherwise fully advised as to the premises, the Court finds as follows:


Mark Cain was a career engineer for the plaintiff, Illinois Central Railroad Company (hereinafter "ICRC"). On July 10, 2005, Mr. Cain was killed in an accident involving a collision between two ICRC trains. It is uncontested that Mr. Cain is survived by his two adult children, Lisa and Brian Cain. The parties, however, dispute whether Genevieve Bohrer Cain is an entitled beneficiary of Mr. Cain's estate.1

On August 25, 2005, ICRC filed a "Complaint for Interpleader and Declaratory Relief' with this Court. After receiving the defendants' Motion to Dismiss that complaint, the plaintiff filed a "First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief' on October 13, 2005, wherein ICRC excises its previous interpleader claim. Thereafter, the defendants filed the presently considered Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint on November 14, 2005. Because the defendants' first Motion to Dismiss pertains to a since-amended complaint and all the relevant arguments contained therein are re-raised in response to the plaintiffs amended complaint, the Court will deem the first Motion to Dismiss to be moot.


A district court should dismiss for failure to state a claim only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). "The complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff, and all well-pleaded facts accepted as true." Riley v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp., 355 F.3d 370, 374 (5th Cir.2004). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir.1993).

ICRC's First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief claims that this action

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is brought pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, which allows federal courts to issue declaratory actions regarding a "case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction." The plaintiff admits for purposes of this action that it is liable for Mr. Cain's death and seeks to have the Court resolve the "dispute as to the identities of the lawful beneficiaries and as to the amount of damages owed under the [Federal Employer's Liability Act]." First Amended Complaint, ¶ 1.

In response, via the pending Motion to Dismiss, the defendants argue that ICRC is engaging in an impermissible form of forum shopping by attempting to fashion this case into the mold of a declaratory action. It is contended by the defendants that the potential claim of Mr. Cain's FELA representative in a potential action should not empower this Court to issue a declaratory judgment.

The Fifth Circuit has detailed the district court's responsibility when considering whether or not to entertain a declaratory judgment action:

When considering a declaratory judgment action, a district court must engage in a three-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the declaratory action is justiciable. Typically, this becomes a question of whether an "actual controversy" exists between the parties to the action. See Rowan Companies, Inc. v. Griffin, 876 F.2d 26, 27-28 (5th Cir.1989).. . . Second, if it has jurisdiction, then the district court must resolve whether it has the "authority" to grant declaratory relief in the case presented. See Travelers Ins. Co. v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Fed'n, Inc., 996 F.2d 774, 776 (5th Cir.1993) ("Prior to determining whether the district court abused its discretion by failing to review the merits of this case, this Court must first determine whether the district court had authority to grant a declaratory judgment here."). Third, the court has to determine how to exercise its broad discretion to decide or dismiss a declaratory judgment action. See id. at 778 (recognizing a district court's vast discretion in the declaratory judgment context). We review the dismissal of a declaratory judgment action for abuse of discretion. See Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 41 F.3d 934, 935 (5th Cir.1994).

Orix Credit Alliance, Inc. v. Wolfe, 212 F.3d 891, 895 (5th Cir.2000).

A. Justiciability

An "actual controversy" exists when there is "a substantial controversy of sufficient immediacy and reality between parties having adverse legal interests." Id. The burden of proving that an actual controversy exists lies upon the party seeking the declaratory judgment. See Texas. v. West Publishing Co., 882 F.2d 171, 175 (5th Cir.1989).

ICRC contends that this justiciable requirement is present because there are "two real and actual controversies." Pl. Memo. in Support of Response to Def. Motion to Dismiss, at 9. The first alleged controversy is "whether Ms. [Genevieve] Bohrer is entitled to recover under the [Federal Employer's Liability Act] for the death of Mark Wayne Cain." Id. The second alleged controversy is "the amount of pecuniary or financial loss that Mark Wayne Cain's surviving widow, if any, or dependent children, if any, can recover as damages .. . ." Id. Apparently presupposing these allegations, however, is ICRC's belief that it will be or would have been sued by Mr. Cain's beneficiaries under Federal Employer's Liability Act. Thus, a review of that statute will aid the Court's discussion.

The Federal Employer's Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq., (hereinafter "FE LA") imposes liability upon railroad operators through the following language:

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Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States or Territories, or between any of the States and Territories, or between the District of Columbia and any of the States or Territories, or between the District of Columbia or any of the States or Territories and any foreign nation or nations, shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce, or, in case of the death of such employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; and, if none, then of such employee's parents; and, if none, then of the next of kin dependent upon such employee, for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.

45 U.S.C. § 51. The Court will now discuss whether either or both of the two "real and actual" controversies alleged by the railroad exist so as to allow the declaratory action to proceed.

a. Is Genevieve Bohrer's alleged status as a non-beneficiary an "actual" controversy?

No FELA case has been filed against the railroad in regard to Mr. Cain's death. As of the time of the filing of ICRC's complaint, the defendants maintain that an estate had not yet been established for the decedent and no personal representative had been named. Thus, it is not clear that a FELA lawsuit will ever be filed against ICRC. What is clear, however, is that, if such a lawsuit was brought, it would be by Mr. Cain's personal representative, not by the beneficiaries of his estate. See American Railroad Co. of Porto Rico v. Birch, 224 U.S. 547, 32 S.Ct. 603, 56 L.Ed. 879 (1912) (holding that the cause of action under FELA vests in the personal representative of the estate, not in the beneficiaries). If there is any dispute concerning which individuals constitute the lawful beneficiaries of that estate, that dispute would lie between the representative and those alleged beneficiaries.

A Fifth Circuit opinion addressing a Jones Act case is helpful to the Court's analysis.2 See Calton v. Zapata Lexington, 811 F.2d 919 (5th Cir.1987). In Calton, the decedent employee, who had been killed in an explosion on a drilling rig, was survived by a first wife and two sons and his then current wife and two daughters. Id. at 920. Calton's current wife filed a Jones Act suit seeking damages for her husband's death in a Louisiana district court, which thereafter appointed her as the administratrix of the estate. The administratrix and the defendant entered into a settlement agreement and the Jones Act claim was dismissed. Id. at 920-21. Afterwards, Calton's first wife brought suit in her sons' names against the same defendant, but the district court dismissed the suit, citing the settlement agreement. Id. at 921. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court reasoned that because only the personal representative of the estate is empowered to bring an action "on behalf of the beneficiaries, the beneficiaries must depend upon that representative to protect their interests in the Jones Act claim. Id. at 922. The court went on to

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explain that if the alleged beneficiaries felt aggrieved by that representative's conduct in the case, their claim would not lie against the Jones Act defendant, but rather against the representative for breach of fiduciary duty. Id. The court noted in conclusion:


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