Monday, March 20, 2017

Eastern District Federal Court Declines to Exercise Jurisdiction Over Sackett Issue That Is Currently Pending Before PA Supreme Court

In the case of Bransfield v. New Jersey Manufacturers Ins. Co., 2017 WL 714036 (E.D. Pa. 2/23/2017) (mem.), the Eastern Federal District Court declined to exercise jurisdiction over an unsettled Sackett-type issue and remanded the case back to state court for a decision.

In Bransfield, the Plaintiffs filed declaratory judgment action in state court asserting that the insurer owed stacked UIM coverage because when the insured/owner added a vehicle to her single-vehicle auto policy, her insurer was required to obtain new UIM coverage forms and new UIM stacking rejection forms.  According to the Opinion, the insured had rejected UM/UIM and stacking prior to the addition of the second vehicle.

The Plaintiff asserted that since the insurer did not secure new UIM coverage forms or new UIM stacking rejection forms, the Plaintiff should be entitled to stacked UIM coverage.

The Bransfield court declined to exercise jurisdiction after finding that, if it did, the court would need to make a threshold determination on an unsettled question of whether the MVFRL requires new UIM rejection forms when new vehicles are added to a policy. 

The court noted that it would have to predict whether stacked UIM is available pursuant to Sackett, which the court noted was an issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Toner v. The Travelers Home and Marine Ins. Co., 137 A.3d 583(Pa. Super. 2016), appeal granted No. 29 WAP 2016 (Pa. Sept. 8, 2016).  Part of the reason the Bransfield court declined to decide the issue was to avoid a scenario where its decision could end up conflicting with how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may ultimately rule upon the issue in Toner.

Ultimately, the Branfield court denied the carrier’s request to reconsider the court’s prior Order remanding the matter back to state court.

Anyone wishing to review this unpublished memorandum opinion in Bransfield may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Scott Cooper of the Harrisburg, PA law firm of Schmidt Kramer for bringing this case to my attention.

UPDATE:  The Toner case refernced above settled just before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was set to address the stacking issues raised therein.  As such, the Pennsylvania Superior Court's decision in the matter stands.

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