Maiden v. Starr Indemnity and Liability Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 9/26/2017. (JLC)
2017 Sep-26 PM 01:28
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
STARR INDEMNITY & LIABILITY CO.,
Plaintiff Teresa Maiden’s apartment was destroyed in a fire. She obtained a default
judgment against her landlord, BOG, Inc., in state court. Because she believes that BOG’s
insurance provider is Starr Indemnity & Liability Company, she seeks to enforce the state court
judgment against Starr Indemnity. Starr Indemnity, however, contends that it did not issue an
insurance policy to BOG, and cannot be held liable on the state court judgment.
Ms. Maiden seeks a declaratory judgment that Starr Indemnity was her landlord’s
insurance carrier at the time of the fire. Starr Indemnity moved to dismiss the complaint, under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim, and alternatively moved for
summary judgment. (Doc. 9). In support of its motion, it attached a copy of “the relevant
insurance policy.” (Id. at 1 n.1). However, the attached policy was issued to an entity called
Ruffner Mountain Management, LLC, (doc. 9-1), and not to BOG. Starr Indemnity contends
that, because BOG is not the named insured in the Ruffner policy, the court must dismiss the
This court issued an order denying without prejudice Starr Indemnity’s motion for
summary judgment and construing it as a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 10). In doing so, the court
noted that the Ruffner policy was a document extrinsic to the pleadings, but found that it could
consider the policy because it presumed that the Ruffner policy was the one to which the
complaint referred (and thus, the policy was central to Ms. Maiden’s claim) and Ms. Maiden did
not dispute the contents of the policy. The court ordered briefing on Starr Indemnity’s motion to
dismiss. The parties have completed briefing and the court now has before it the motion to
For the following reasons, the court WILL VACATE its earlier order, WILL DENY Starr
Indemnity’s motion to dismiss, and WILL DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE Starr Indemnity’s
motion for summary judgment.
At this stage, the court must accept as true the allegations in the complaint and construe
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach Cty., 685 F.3d
1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012). Taken in that light, in 2013, Ms. Maiden was renting one of the
apartments in the Westbury Apartments, located in Birmingham, Alabama. (Doc. 1-1 at 1–2).
BOG was the Westbury Apartment’s landlord, and BOG’s principal officer was Melvin
Cheatum. (Id. at 2). On May 4, 2013, a fire destroyed Ms. Maiden’s apartment, and destroyed
or damaged several others as well. (Id. at 2). Ms. Maiden and some other tenants filed an
insurance claim with BOG’s insurer, Cook Claim Services, Inc. (Id.).
At some point—it is not clear when—Cook Claim Services notified Ms. Maiden’s
attorney that Starr Indemnity had “acquired” the claim and become the insurer. (Id.). Starr
Indemnity, although it held itself out as BOG’s insurer, did not accept liability, so Ms. Maiden
and the other affected tenants sued BOG and Mr. Cheatum in state court. (Id.). They obtained a
default judgment of $269,737 against BOG. (Id.).
Several months after the entry of the default judgment, Starr Indemnity sent
Ms. Maiden’s attorney a letter stating that BOG and Mr. Cheatum were not insureds under its
policy, and that it was not required to pay the default judgment. (Id.). Ms. Maiden filed suit,
seeking a declaratory judgment that Starr Indemnity and/or several fictitious defendants were her
landlord’s insurer “either directly or through another party.” (Id. at 3). Starr Indemnity moves to
dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 9).
a. Motion to Dismiss
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. “To
survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead ‘a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.’” Butler, 685 F.3d at 1265 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
“Although analysis of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is limited primarily to the face of the complaint
and attachments thereto, a court may consider documents attached to the motion to dismiss if
they are referred to in the complaint and are central to the plaintiff’s claim.” Starship
Enterprises of Atlanta, Inc. v. Coweta Cty., Ga., 708 F.3d 1243, 1253 n.13 (11th Cir. 2013).
Ms. Maiden’s complaint requested a judgment declaring that Starr Indemnity was BOG’s
insurer. (Doc. 1 at 3). To state a claim for a declaratory judgment under Alabama law, the
complaint must allege a “bona fide justiciable controversy.” Carey v. Howard, 950 So. 2d 1131
(Ala. 2006) (quoting Gulf Beach Hotel, Inc. v. State ex rel. Whetstone, 935 So. 2d 1177, 1182
(Ala. 2006)). “A controversy is justiciable where present ‘legal rights are thwarted or affected
[so as] to warrant proceedings under the [Alabama] Declaratory Judgment statutes.’” Creola
Land Dev., Inc. v. Bentbrooke Housing, LLC, 828 So. 2d 285 (Ala. 2002) (quoting Town of
Warrior v. Blaylock, 152 So. 2d 661, 662 (Ala. 1963)) (first alteration in original).
The complaint states a claim for declaratory judgment because it alleges that Starr
Indemnity was her landlord’s insurer, but has failed to pay a claim owed under the insurance
Plaintiff avers that the landlord did in fact have an insurance policy in effect with
the Defendant, either through or under another party with Starr, or directly in its
name with Starr who held the landlord out as its insured until it was time to satisfy
However, Defendant has maintained that the above landlord is not its insured, and
has refused to satisfy the judgment against the landlord . . . .
(Doc. 1 at 2–3) (paragraph numbers omitted).
Starr Indemnity, however, contends that this court must dismiss the complaint because
Starr Indemnity did not issue an insurance policy to BOG. (Doc. 9). Instead, it alleges, it
“issued a policy of insurance . . . to an entity named Ruffner Mountain Management, LLC,”
which it contends was an earlier landlord of the apartment complex in which Ms. Maiden lived.
(Id. at 2–3 & n.2). It attached to its motion to dismiss a copy of its insurance policy with
Ruffner, and argues that this court can consider that policy as evidence that it did not issue BOG
an insurance policy. (Id. at 3–4).
This court, in an earlier order, held that it could consider the Ruffner policy at the motion
to dismiss stage because Ms. Maiden refers to the policy in her complaint, the policy is central to
her claim, and its contents are not in dispute. (Doc. 10 at 1). But on closer examination the
complaint does not refer to the Ruffner policy. Indeed, her complaint does not even mention the
name Ruffner Mountain Management. (Doc. 1-1 at 1–3). The only insurance policies that the
complaint names are BOG’s policies with Cook Claim Services and Starr Indemnity. (Doc. 1-1
at 2). Because Ms. Maiden never referred to the Ruffner policy in her complaint, this court may
not consider it at the motion to dismiss stage. As a result, this court will vacate its earlier order
holding that it could consider the Ruffner policy.
All of Starr Indemnity’s arguments in support of its motion to dismiss depend on the
existence of the Ruffner policy as evidence that it did not insure BOG. (See Doc. 9 at 3–6). But
this court may not consider that policy. And without it, the complaint states a claim that BOG
had an insurance policy with Starr Indemnity, and Starr Indemnity denied liability on a claim
against BOG. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). Ms. Maiden’s complaint states a claim, and this court will deny
the motion to dismiss.
b. Motion for Summary Judgment
This court’s earlier order denied without prejudice Starr Indemnity’s alternative motion
for summary judgment because the court concluded that it could consider the Ruffner policy at
the motion to dismiss stage without converting it to a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 10).
The vacatur of that order also vacates the denial of the motion for summary judgment. This
court must, therefore, address Starr Indemnity’s motion for summary judgment anew.
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Starr Indemnity contends that it issued an insurance policy, not to the
landlord that Ms. Maiden knew as BOG, but instead to a company called Ruffner Mountain
Management, which apparently had some unexplained connection to the apartment complex
Ms. Maiden lived in until her apartment burned down. (Doc. 9 at 2–3 & n.2). Ms. Maiden, in
her response to the motion to dismiss, concedes that Ruffner Mountain Management has some
connection to BOG and the apartment complex, but she does not explain that connection. (Doc.
13 at 1).
Starr Indemnity’s motion for summary judgment is premature. The deadline for
completion of discovery is not until March 2018. (Doc. 12 at 1). And the existence of an
insurance contract between Starr Indemnity and Ruffner Mountain Management is not by itself
enough for the court to find that no insurance contract exists between Starr Indemnity and BOG.
The court will deny Starr Indemnity’s motion for summary judgment without prejudice.
The court WILL VACATE its order denying without prejudice Starr Indemnity’s motion
for summary judgment and construing the motion as a motion to dismiss (doc. 10); WILL DENY
Starr Indemnity’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim (doc. 9); and WILL
DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE Starr Indemnity’s motion for summary judgment (doc. 9).
The court will enter a separate order consistent with this opinion.
DONE and ORDERED this 26th day of September, 2017.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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