United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
Sadie H. Robinson, Plaintiff,
American United Life Insurance Company and Wateree Community Actions, Inc., Defendants, Wateree Community Actions, Inc., Third Party Plaintiff,
James L. Coleman, Third Party Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION
matter is before the court on Third Party Defendant James L.
Coleman's (“Coleman”) Motion to Dismiss Third
Party Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1), and the Younger and Colorado
River abstention doctrines (ECF No. 25). Third Party
Plaintiff Wateree Community Actions, Inc.
(“Wateree”) did not file a response to
Coleman's Motion. For the reasons set forth below, the
court GRANTS Coleman's Motion to Dismiss
Third Party Complaint (ECF No. 25).
RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
matter was filed on June 16, 2017, in South Carolina state
court, against Wateree and American United Life Insurance
Company (“United Life Insurance”) on behalf of
Plaintiff Sadie H. Robinson, alleging violations of the
Employment Retirement Income Security Act
(“ERISA”). On June 16, 2017, United Life
Insurance filed a Notice of Removal. (ECF No. 1.) On July 7,
2017, Wateree filed its Answer to the Complaint, which
included a Third Party Complaint against Coleman, asserting
causes of action for breach of contract, breach of contract
accompanied by fraudulent acts, and breach of fiduciary duty.
(ECF No. 18.) In its Third Party Complaint, Wateree further
asserts a demand for actual damages in the amount of one
million two hundred thousand dollars ($1, 200, 000.00).
on March 8, 2016, Coleman filed a complaint against Wateree
in South Carolina state court alleging that Wateree violated
the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act.(ECF No. 25-2.) On
April 19, 2016, Wateree filed its Answer to Coleman's
complaint, which included counterclaims against Coleman. (ECF
No. 25-3.) Wateree's counterclaims assert the identical
facts and damages that Wateree asserted in its Third Party
Complaint filed in this matter. (Id.; see
also ECF No. 18.) Wateree's counterclaims in
Coleman's state action assert that Coleman breached its
employment contract with Wateree and its Board of Directors
and that Coleman allegedly committed deceitful and fraudulent
acts which caused Wateree actual financial damages in the
amount of $1, 200, 000.00. (See ECF No. 25-2.)
Coleman's case against Wateree continues to remain on the
active jury docket in Richland County.
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) examines whether the complaint fails to state facts
upon which jurisdiction can be found. The burden of proving
subject matter jurisdiction in response to a Rule 12(b)(1)
motion to dismiss is on the plaintiff, the party asserting
jurisdiction. See Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac
R.R. v. U.S., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). In
evaluating a defendant's challenge to subject matter
jurisdiction, the court is to “regard the
pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and
may consider evidence outside the pleadings without
converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.”
Id. The court should grant the motion “only if
the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the
moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of
law.” Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642,
647 (4th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citations
The Younger Abstention Doctrine
Supreme Court has recognized several doctrines under which a
federal court must abstain from hearing a case over which it
would otherwise have jurisdiction. In Younger v.
Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971), the United States
Supreme Court established that abstention is mandated in the
criminal context if a state's interest in the proceedings
are so important that the exercise of federal judicial power
would disregard the comity between the states and the federal
subsequent opinion, Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc.,
481 U.S. 1, 10 (1987), Younger was extended to civil
actions. Younger “is fully applicable to
noncriminal judicial proceedings when important state
interests are involved.” Martin Marietta Corp. v
Md. Comm'n on Human Relations, 38 F.3d 1392, 1396
(4th Cir. 1994) (citing Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v.
Garden St. Bar Assn, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)).
abstention is appropriate when: “(1) there is an
ongoing state judicial proceeding, (2) that implicates
important state interests, and (3) there is an adequate
opportunity to present the federal claims in the state
proceeding.” Employers Res. Mgmt Co., Inc. v.
Shannon, 65 F.3d 1126, 1134 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing
Middlesex, 457 U.S. 432).
ongoing state judicial action implicates important state
interests because the present Third Party Complaint could be
a challenge or attack on a judgment rendered by one of South
Carolina's circuit courts. This attack on “state
court judgments cuts to the state's ability to operate
its own judicial system, a vital interest for
Younger purposes.” Harper v. Pub. Serv.
Comm'n of W.VA., 396 F.3d 348, 352 (4th Cir. 2005);
see, e.g., Pennzoil, 481 U.S. at 12-13. Wateree has
an adequate opportunity to present all of its claims asserted
in their Third Party Complaint against Coleman in state court
as they have done in their counterclaims against Coleman in
the state court matter. The issues of breach of contract,
breach of contract accompanied by fraudulent acts, and breach
of fiduciary duty are squarely presented by Wateree's own
counterclaims in the state court proceeding. Further, there
are no federal claims asserted in Wateree's state court
counterclaims or its federal court Third Party Complaint.
The Colorado River Abstention Doctrine
River allows the court discretion to stay or dismiss a
suit in exceptional and limited circumstances where there is
a substantially similar suit pending in state court.
Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. U.S., 424
U.S. 800, 818-20 (1976). Under Colorado River, a
federal court may abstain in the interest of wise judicial
administration when concurrent state and federal suits are
parallel. Id. at 817. The state and federal suits do
not have to be identical to be parallel, but they must
involve substantially the same parties and substantially the
same claims. AAR Int'l, Inc. v. Nimelias Enters,
S.A., 250 F.3d 510, 517-20 (7th Cir. 2001). Further,
courts may only abstain where the state proceeding will
dispose of all claims presented in the federal suit, even if
those claims could have been raised in a ...