United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
BRANDI'S HOPE COMMUNITY SERVICES, LLC, and DANNY O. COWART PLAINTIFFS
ANDY GRAF, SHERYL GRAF, THE GROVE SUBDIVISION HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, LLC, and JANE-JOHN DOES 1-XXXIV DEFENDANTS
B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss, or in
the alternative, for a stay. Upon due consideration of the
motion, response, complaint and applicable authority, the
court is ready to rule.
and Procedural Background
Brandi's Hope Community Services, LLC
(“Brandi's Hope”), is a business that
provides support services to persons with intellectual,
developmental or other disabilities. Among those services
provided are residential support services whereby
Brandi's Hope helps those disabled individuals obtain
to this action, Brandi's Hope leased from Scioto
Properties a residence located at 5145 Lackey Lane, Tupelo,
Mississippi. In turn, Brandi's Hope sub-leased the
property to four unrelated disabled adults to whom
Brandi's Hope provides additional support services, which
were not identified in the complaint.
residence is located within the Grove Subdivision which is
governed by certain Protective Covenants. Specifically, the
covenants provide that the residences “shall be used
for residence purposes only, ” and further that
“all commercial and professional uses” shall be
before September 29, 2017, Defendants Andy and Sheryl Graf
allegedly learned that the property was going to be occupied
by disabled individuals. On October 7, 2017, the disabled
individuals began to move into the residence. Andy Graf
subsequently formed a Mississippi LLC named “The Grove
Subdivision Homeowners Association LLC” on October 11,
2017. Further, the Grafs allegedly went door-to-door in the
neighborhood to gather signatures for their “Petition
against commercial use at property 5145 Lackey Lane,
Tupelo.” On October 12, 2017, a man identified as Eric
Hampton allegedly banged loudly on the residence door,
accused the individuals of occupying the home illegally, and
advised them to go live somewhere else. Several days later,
on October 17, 2017, an unidentified male allegedly parked
directly across the street from the residence and took photos
and videos of the individuals entering the residence.
on October 17, 2017, Defendants Andy and Sheryl Graf and the
LLC filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Lee County,
seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief. In that
action, Defendants allege that the disabled individuals'
occupancy of the residence violates the aforementioned
covenants. In particular, Defendants contend that the acts of
leasing and subleasing the residence and providing support
services to those individuals at the residence are commercial
or professional uses.
Brandi's Hope and Danny Cowart, owner and operator of
Brandi's Hope, filed the instant action on February 6,
2018, and assert that Defendants' alleged actions
constitute violations of the Fair Housing Act
(“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. §§3601 et seq..
Among other things, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants'
filing of the chancery suit, in and of itself, is an FHA
violation. Defendants now move to dismiss, or in the
alternative, for a stay based upon doctrines of abstention.
moving to dismiss, or in the alternative, for a stay,
Defendants argue that abstention is warranted under
Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United
States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). When plaintiffs seek
monetary relief, as they do in the instant case,
“courts in this jurisdiction use the Colorado
River standard to determine whether a stay of the
federal proceedings is warranted.” Hampton v.
Tunica Cty Bd. of Supervisors, 2009 WL 902043, *5 (N.D.
Miss. Mar. 31, 2009) (citing Transocean Offshore USA,
Inc. v. Catrette, 239 Fed.Appx. 9, 11 (5th Cir. 2007)).
abstention rests upon “considerations of wise judicial
administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial
resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.”
Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 816, 817. Colorado
River abstention applies “to parallel federal and
state court actions which are not necessarily identical but
involve substantially the same issues and parties.”
Rogers Group, Inc. v. WG Constr. Co., 2012 WL
2367702 (N.D. Miss. June 21, 2012) (citing Stewart v. W.
Heritage Ins. Co., 438 F.3d 488, 491 (5th Cir. 2006)).
two proceedings are found to be sufficiently parallel, the
court then considers the following six factors: (1) the
assumption of jurisdiction over any real property by either
court; (2) relative inconvenience of the forums; (3)
avoidance of piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which the
courts obtained jurisdiction; (5) to what extent does federal
law control; and (6) the adequacy of the state proceedings to
protect the rights of the party invoking federal
jurisdiction. Stewart, 438 F.3d at 492. No one
factor is determinative, and the court must carefully
consider both the obligation to exercise jurisdiction and the
combination of factors counselling in favor of postponement
of that exercise. Colorado River, 424 U.S. at
pending chancery court matter was initiated by Defendants in
this action against Scioto Properties, the City of Tupelo,
and Brandi's Hope. Although Scioto and the City of Tupelo
are not named parties in the instant suit, Plaintiffs have
identified them in their complaint and they are clearly
relevant entities in this action. Further, the issues raised
in the chancery court matter concern the same property and
residents as those in the case. In fact, one of the issues