Compulsory Coverage Counterclaim

A vessel sank while in the harbor for repairs.  Afterwards, the insurer sued its insured (the harbor operator) and the vessel owner, to dispute coverage.  National Liab. & Fire Ins. Co. v. R&R Marine, Inc., No. 10-20767 (June 30, 2014).  The insurer argued that the vessel owner had no standing under Texas law when it made a claim against the insurer, as there was no final judgment establishing the insured’s liability at that time.  The plaintiff countered that it was “forced” to assert its claim as a compulsory counterclaim under the Federal Rules.  The Fifth Circuit concluded that — although Texas state law barred the timing of the vessel owner’s counterclaim, it arose out of the same occurrence as and had a logical relationship to the coverage dispute.  Accordingly, the counterclaim was compulsory.  Treating it as such also “permitted the district court to efficiently address all disputes arising from the litigation” and was consistent with the Rules’ goal of only “alter[ing] the mode of enforcing state-created rights.”

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