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Vincent v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 12, 2017




         This tort action is before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion to abstain from exercising federal jurisdiction [289], motion for hearing on the motion to abstain [308], and supplemental motion to abstain from exercising federal jurisdiction [371]. Defendant Home Depot has responded in opposition and filed a motion to strike the supplemental motion [378]. The Court has reviewed the parties' filings, along with the pertinent authorities, and concludes that abstention is inappropriate. The motions to abstain [289, 371] and the motion for hearing [308] are denied. Defendant's motion to strike [378] is likewise denied.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         In August 2014, Plaintiffs Michael and Jennifer Vincent ordered lumber from Defendant Home Depot. They claim Defendant's delivery driver, Damon Jones, negligently crashed the tractor-trailer into the Vincents' garage, causing property damage and personal injury to Michael Vincent, who was on the roof of the garage at the time of impact. They filed this action in federal court against Home Depot on July 28, 2015, alleging negligence-based state-law claims.

         Meanwhile, on February 5, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a second action, this time in state court, against Home Depot and Damon Jones, arising from the same events.[1] Plaintiffs reiterated the claims alleged in the federal action and added a claim for loss of consortium and “a cause of action for Home Depot's wrongful acts of requiring its delivery drivers to drive and operate equipment while distracted by cell phones.” Pls.' Mem. [289] at 3.

         Plaintiffs now seek dismissal of the federal action on grounds of abstention, urging the following: (1) all of Plaintiffs' claims “sound entirely in state law”: (2) all Plaintiffs and all Defendants are parties in the state-court action; and (3) Plaintiffs' additional state-court claims cannot be pleaded in the federal action because the Court denied their request for leave to amend. Since the filing of their initial motion to abstain, Plaintiffs updated the Court, through a supplemental motion, as to the status of the state-court action, noting that it is proceeding and a trial could be set as early as June 2017.[2] State-Court Order [381-1]. Defendant opposes abstention and moves to strike Plaintiffs' supplement in support of abstention. The motions are fully briefed, and the Court is prepared to rule.

         II. Analysis

         A. Abstention

         Plaintiffs argue that the Court should abstain from hearing this dispute under the Colorado River abstention doctrine because a parallel proceeding is pending in state court between the same parties and involving the same issue. Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976).[3]

         “The Colorado River abstention doctrine is based on principles of federalism, comity, and conservation of judicial resources.” Black Sea Inv., Ltd. v. United Heritage Corp., 204 F.3d 647, 650 (5th Cir. 2000). Usually, “the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal court having jurisdiction.” Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 817 (quoting McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282 (1910)). Colorado River abstention thus represents an “extraordinary and narrow exception” to the “virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them.” Id. at 813, 817.

The Supreme Court
has set forth six factors that may be considered and weighed in determining whether exceptional circumstances exist that would permit a district court to decline exercising jurisdiction: (1) assumption by either court of jurisdiction over a res; (2) the relative inconvenience of the forums; (3) the avoidance of piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums; (5) whether and to what extent federal law provides the rules of decision on the merits; and (6) the adequacy of the state proceedings in protecting the rights of the party invoking federal jurisdiction.

Murphy v. Uncle Ben's, Inc., 168 F.3d 734, 738 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 285-86 (1995)) (additional citations omitted). “In assessing the propriety of abstention according to these factors, a federal court must keep in mind that ‘the balance [should be] heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.'” Black Sea Inv., Ltd., 204 F.3d at 650 (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16 (1983)). In their ...

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