Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 4 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 706 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we consider whether an abstention-based remand order is appealable as a final order under 28 U. S. C. 1291, and whether the abstention doctrine first recognized in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U. S. 315 (1943), can be applied in a common-law suit for damages.


Petitioner, the Insurance Commissioner for the State of California, was appointed trustee over the assets of the Mission Insurance Company and its affiliates (Mission companies) in 1987, after those companies were ordered into liquidation by a California court. In an effort to gather the assets of the defunct Mission companies, the Commissioner filed the instant action against respondent Allstate Insurance Company in state court, seeking contract and tort damages for Allstate's alleged breach of certain reinsurance agreements, as well as a general declaration of Allstate's obligations under those agreements.

Allstate removed the action to federal court on diversity grounds and filed a motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U. S. C. 1 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. V). The Commissioner sought remand to state court, arguing that the District Court should abstain from hearing the case under Burford, supra, because its resolution might interfere with California's regulation of the Mission insolvency. Specifically, the Commissioner indicated that Allstate would be asserting its right to set off its own contract claims against the Commissioner's recovery under the contract, that the viability of these setoff claims was a hotly disputed question of state law, and that this question was currently pending before the state courts in another case arising out of the Mission insolvency.

The District Court observed that "California has an overriding interest in regulating insurance insolvencies and liquidations in a uniform and orderly manner," and that in this


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