3rd Feb 2013

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Nature of declaratory relief action

California courts have frequently characterized declaratory relief actions as being “equitable” in nature. While this is accurate, the more accurate description of declaratory relief actions is that they are in fact sui generis and they raise either legal or equitable issues. Consequently, the right to a jury may not be denied simply because the action is one for declaratory relief. Rather, as with other types of claims, the proper inquiry is the sometimes difficult one of whether the issues raised in the action are legal or equitable in nature. [Entin v. Superior Court (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 770, 777 (insurer brought declaratory relief action; insured entitled to jury trial where issue was not limited to construction of the policy terms but also included questions of fact as to the existence of total disability)] The difficulty of determining whether the issues raised in the action are either factual or strictly legal, is multiplied when the relief sought is a declaration of rights in which event the Court is even deprived of the advantage of considering the prayer as an indication of whether or not the claims address to equity. [Entin v. Superior Court (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 770, 777]

Declaratory relief involving insurance policies where jury trial is proper

Where an insurer files an action for declaratory relief as a substitute for an action at law for breach of contract, the insured is entitled to a jury trial. [Allstate Ins. v. Normandie Club (1963) 221 Cal.App.2d 103]

Where the “crucial issue” is whether the insured’s automobile had been acquired to replace an older previously-insured vehicle was a question of fact for a jury. [Patterson v. INA (1970) 6 Cal.App.3d 310]

The question of whether a plaintiff is a resident of the insured’s residence is a question of fact for a jury. [California Casualty v. Frerichs (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1446]

On a disability policy where the issue is “total disability” within the meaning of the policies, whether the insured is disabled due to migraines, is a question of fact for a jury. [Entin v. Superior Court (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 770, 781-783]

Absence of a claim for monetary damages do not preclude the right to a jury

In Entin v. Superior Court (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 770, the insurer brought an action for declaratory relief contending the insured was not totally disabled. However, pending the litigation the insurer continued to make the disability benefit payments. The court held that where the insurer’s declaratory relief action involved the resolution of disputed factual issues regarding the insured’s entitlement to contract benefits the absence of damages would not alter the legal nature of those rights. [Entin v. Superior Court (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 770, 787.

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