United States District Court, S.D. Florida
PATRICK MCATEER and J. DOUGLAS WILKINS, Plaintiffs,
CIARDI CIARDI & ASTIN, P.C., a Pennsylvania professional corporation, et al., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO ABATE OR STAY
L. ROSENBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Abate
or Stay Proceedings [DE 79]. Defendants ask the Court for a
stay or abatement pending the resolution of an ongoing state
action to vacate a Stipulated Deficiency Judgment. The Court
has carefully considered the Motion, Plaintiffs' Response
thereto [DE 81], Defendants' Reply [DE 82], and the
record, and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. For
the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.
pendency of an action in state court generally does not bar a
proceeding in federal court concerning the same subject
matter. Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United
States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976). Federal courts have a
“virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the
jurisdiction given them.” Id. “The
doctrine of abstention, under which a District Court may
decline to exercise or postpone the exercise of its
jurisdiction, is an extraordinary and narrow exception to the
duty of a District Court to adjudicate a controversy properly
before it.” Id. at 813; see also Ambrosia
Coal & Constr. Co. v. Pages Morales, 368 F.3d 1320,
1328 (11th Cir. 2004) (“[F]ederal courts can abstain to
avoid duplicative litigation with state courts only in
exceptional circumstances.” (quotation marks omitted)).
“decision to invoke Colorado River necessarily
contemplates that the federal court will have nothing further
to do in resolving any substantive part of the case.”
Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr.
Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 28 (1983). “When a district
court decides to dismiss or stay under Colorado
River, it presumably concludes that the parallel
state-court litigation will be an adequate vehicle for the
complete and prompt resolution of the issues between the
parties.” Id. (stating that, “[i]f there
is any substantial doubt as to this, it would be a serious
abuse of discretion to grant the stay”).
“Colorado River analysis is applicable as a
threshold matter when federal and state proceedings involve
substantially the same parties and substantially the same
issues.” Ambrosia, 368 F.3d at 1329-30
(rejecting a rule where abstention would be permissible only
when the federal and state cases have identical parties,
issues, and requests for relief).
must analyze the following factors when determining whether
to abstain: (1) whether one of the courts has assumed
jurisdiction over property, (2) the inconvenience of the
federal forum, (3) the potential for piecemeal litigation,
(4) the order in which the forums obtained jurisdiction, (5)
whether state or federal law will be applied, and (6) the
adequacy of the state court to protect the parties'
rights. Id. at 1331. No one factor is determinative,
and the weight to be given to the factors varies from case to
case. Id. at 1332 (stating that “the factors
must be considered flexibly and pragmatically, not as a
mechanical checklist” (quotation marks omitted)).
However, “the abstention inquiry must be heavily
weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.”
Id. (quotation marks omitted). A stay, rather than
dismissal, is the proper procedural mechanism when a district
court defers to a parallel state proceeding under
Colorado River. Moorer v. Demopolis Waterworks
& Sewer Bd., 374 F.3d 994, 998 (11th Cir. 2004).
initial matter, the Court is not convinced that this case and
the state action are “substantially the same, ”
such that Colorado River analysis is applicable.
See Ambrosia, 368 F.3d at 1330. Only one of the
parties to this case, Plaintiff J. Douglas Wilkins, is a
current party to the state action. And the issue in the state
action-whether there is a basis to vacate the Stipulated
Deficiency Judgment-is distinct from the main issue in this
case-whether Defendants breached a standard of care that they
owed to Plaintiffs.
Court nevertheless considers the relevant factors but
concludes that a stay is not warranted. The first two factors
do not weigh in favor of abstention. The cases are not in
rem proceedings, and Defendants do not contend that the
federal forum, located in the same county as the state court,
is inconvenient. The Court notes that Defendants, in fact,
removed this case to this forum from state court. See
Id. at 1332 (stating that the first factor does not
favor abstention when the cases at issue are not in
rem proceedings and that the second factor focuses
primarily on the physical proximity of the federal forum to
the evidence and witnesses).
third factor concerning the avoidance of piecemeal litigation
“does not favor abstention unless the circumstances
enveloping those cases will likely lead to piecemeal
litigation that is abnormally excessive or
deleterious.” Id. at 1333. Defendants'
primary argument for abstention is that the damages here are
dependent on the outcome of the state action. The state
action's outcome may impact Wilkins's damages, as the
Stipulated Deficiency Judgment on which he partially bases
his damages request may be vacated. Defendants are incorrect,
though, that the state action's outcome will be
determinative of damages in this case, as Plaintiffs also
seek damages of attorneys' fees and costs for litigating
the state action, and Plaintiff Patrick McAteer seeks damages
for his settlement in the state action. Defendants represent
to the Court that the two cases are “identical”
in that they raise “the exact same issues of fact and
law.” See DE 79 at 3, 6-7. But the two cases
involve different parties and different causes of action.
Thus, it is untrue that this Court “will have nothing
further to do in resolving any substantive part of the
case” after the state action resolves. See Moses H.
Cone, 460 U.S. at 28. Although some of the facts at
issue in the two cases overlap,  the Court cannot conclude
that dual proceedings will result in “abnormally
excessive or deleterious” piecemeal litigation. See
Ambrosia, 368 F.3d at 1333 (stating that dual
proceedings do not justify abstention even if they will
result in some repetition of efforts and a possibility of
some piece-by-piece decision making, where “there is no
indication that piecemeal litigation poses any greater waste
or danger” than “in the vast majority [of]
federal cases with concurrent state counterparts”).
This factor does not weigh heavily in favor of abstention.
fourth factor “should not be measured exclusively by
which complaint was filed first, but rather in terms of how
much progress has been made in the two actions.”
Moses H. Cone, 460 U.S. at 21. While the state
action was filed seven months before this case, that action
still is proceeding through discovery and does not have a
trial date. Meanwhile, discovery is complete in this case,
this Court has ruled on Defendants' Summary Judgment
Motion, and the parties are preparing for trial. Defendants
did not file the instant Motion for a stay until this case
had been pending for over a year. This factor does not favor
fifth factor similarly does not weigh in favor of abstention.
Both this case and the state action involve causes of action
brought under state law, but, as stated above, those causes
of action are not the same. Defendants do not contend that
the standard for vacating a judgment under Florida law is the
same as the standard for finding legal negligence under
Florida law. While both cases require an application of state
law, it is not an application of the same state law.
the parties do not contend that either fora is inadequate to
protect their rights. See Ambrosia, 368 F.3d at 1334
(stating that the sixth factor “will only weigh in
favor or against abstention when one of the fora is
inadequate to protect a party's rights”). The Court
notes again that Defendants chose this forum by removing this
case to federal court. The sixth factor does not favor
short, analysis of the relevant factors demonstrates that
this case does not present the exceptional circumstances
necessary to overcome this Court's obligation to exercise
its jurisdiction. See Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 813,
817; Ambrosia, 368 F.3d at 1328, 1332. For the
foregoing reasons, Defendants' Motion to Abate of Stay
Proceedings [DE 79] is DENIED.