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Insurance Declaratory Judgment Actions and the Federal Abstention Doctrine: Strategies and Limitations

Perspectives From Policyholder and Insurer Counsel on Litigating Declaratory Judgments and Abstention Motions

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

This program is included with the Strafford CLE Pass. Click for more information.
This program is included with the Strafford All-Access Pass. Click for more information.

Conducted on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recorded event now available

or call 1-800-926-7926

The CLE course will address issues and strategies in deciding whether and when to seek declaratory relief, threshold issues, limitations, and the applicability of the abstention doctrine for declaratory judgment actions brought in federal court.


Declaratory judgment actions are one of the most common procedural steps that policyholders and insurers can take to obtain a definitive ruling regarding their rights and duties under the policy prior to extensive litigation on the coverage issue or underlying claim. They are an effective tool for resolving certain coverage issues, particularly the insurer’s duty to defend.

Parties, often insurers, will file a declaratory judgment action in federal court on the premise federal jurisdiction will be more favorable than state court. Leery of this tactic, federal judges closely scrutinize coverage dispute claims brought in federal court under the federal Declaratory Judgment Act.

Federal abstention doctrines, designed to avoid parallel litigation in state and federal courts, may result in the federal court dismissing the action. Two different doctrines generally apply to insurance coverage litigation, depending on whether the relief sought is injunctive vs. coercive. Therefore, the party seeking relief in federal court must frame their pleadings in light of the applicable abstention doctrine to maintain federal jurisdiction over the action.

Listen as our authoritative panel of insurance practitioners discusses strategies in bringing or opposing declaratory judgment actions and the applicability of federal abstention doctrines for actions brought in federal court.



  1. Declaratory judgment actions: issues and strategies
    1. Defining what is a “claim” for purposes of a declaratory judgment action
    2. Standing to file a declaratory judgment action
    3. Defining an actual controversy for purposes of declaratory judgment action
    4. Timing and statute of limitations
    5. Necessary parties to the action
    6. Choice of law
    7. Recovery of attorney fees
  2. Filing in federal court and the abstention doctrine
    1. Federal Declaratory Judgment Act
    2. Abstention and the Brillhart/Wilton doctrine
    3. Abstention and the Colorado River doctrine
    4. Deciding which abstention doctrine applies


The panel will address these and other key questions:

  • What issues or factors must counsel consider in determination the timing of the filing of a declaratory judgment action?
  • Who are the necessary parties to a declaratory judgment action?
  • How does the relief sought, declaratory vs. coercive, inform which abstention doctrine applies if relief is sought in federal court?
  • How have federal courts decided abstention issues in cases involving both declaratory and coercive relief?


Alan P. Jacobus
Alan P. Jacobus

APJ Legal

Mr. Jacobus' practice over the past decade has largely centered on high risk, high value insurance coverage...  |  Read More

Matthew G. Jeweler
Matthew G. Jeweler

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

Mr. Jeweler is a litigator who represents corporate policyholders in complex coverage disputes, helping clients...  |  Read More

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