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Burrows v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

March 11, 2019

Paige Elizabeth Burrows, Plaintiff,
Anthony James Ryan, Jr., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter is before the court on the parties' joint motion to stay the instant action. After review, the court denies the parties' joint motion and dismisses this action without prejudice pursuant to the doctrine of Colorado River[1] abstention.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

          On February 25, 2015, Plaintiff Paige Elizabeth Burrows (“Burrows”) and Kyle Ryan[2]were involved in an automobile collision in Oconee County, South Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-14, ECF No. 1.) Burrows alleges that the vehicle driven by Kyle Ryan was owned by Defendant Anthony Ryan, Jr. (“Tony Ryan”), his father. (Id. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1.)

         Burrows filed the instant action on February 5, 2018, alleging negligence and recklessness claims against Kyle Ryan and a negligent entrustment claim against Tony Ryan. (Id. ¶¶ 16-23, ECF No. 1.) On March 15, 2018, Kyle and Tony Ryan filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 5.) On April 23, 2018, the court granted the motion, dismissing Kyle Ryan as a nondiverse defendant. (April 23, 2018 Order, ECF No. 13.) On May 18, 2018, Burrows filed a motion for reconsideration, as well as a voluntary dismissal of Kyle Ryan pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Mot. Recons., ECF No. 15; Vol. Dismissal, ECF No. 15-1.) The court granted Burrow's motion, vacated the April 23, 2018 order, and dismissed Kyle Ryan from this action without prejudice in an order dated June 18, 2018. (June 18, 2018 Order, ECF No. 17.)

         On March 28, 2018, Burrows filed an action in South Carolina state court (“state action”) in Oconee County, South Carolina against Kyle Ryan regarding the same car accident at issue in the instant action. (Mot. Stay 1, ECF No. 36.) On April 25, 2018, following this court's April 23, 2018 order granting Kyle and Tony Ryan's motion to dismiss, Burrows filed an amended complaint in the state action, which added Tony Ryan as a defendant. (Id. 1-2, ECF No. 36.) In the state action, Burrows alleges the same negligent entrustment claim against Tony Ryan as is raised in the instant action. Burrows v. Ryan, C.A. No. 2018-CP-37-00209 (Am. Summons & Compl.).[3] On March 1, 2019, Burrows and Tony Ryan filed a joint motion to stay this action during the pendency of the state action. (Mot. Stay, ECF No. 36.) This matter is now ripe for consideration.

         II. Discussion of the Law

         The parties submit that the court should stay the instant action during the pendency of the state action based on the interests of the parties and principles of judicial economy. (Id., generally, ECF No. 36.) However, the court finds that the Colorado River abstention doctrine is applicable. See Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132, 143 n.10 (1976) (“[I]t would appear that abstention may be raised by the court Sua sponte.”); MLC Auto., LLC v. Town of S. Pines, 532 F.3d 269, 278, 284 (4th Cir. 2008) (affirming district court's sua sponte application of abstention principles).

         The Colorado River abstention doctrine delineates when a federal court may abstain from hearing a case in deference to ongoing state proceedings. See Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Co., 460 U.S. 1, 13 (1983). “Generally, as between state and federal courts, the rule is that 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 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         However, abstention is only appropriate in certain limited circumstances. “Colorado River, solely as a matter of judicial administration, permits dismissal of a duplicative federal action when ‘[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation' clearly favors abstention.” Chase Brexton Health Servs., Inc. v. Maryland, 411 F.3d 457, 463 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 817). Before a court may abstain, it must first determine whether parallel state and federal proceedings exist. Id. “Suits are parallel if substantially the same parties litigate substantially the same issues in different forums.” Id. at 464 (quoting New Beckley Min. Corp. v. Int'l Union, United Mine Workers of Am., 946 F.2d 1072, 1073 (4th Cir. 1991)).

         If parallel state and federal proceedings exist, a district court may abstain under the Colorado River doctrine if exceptional circumstances exist. Id. at 463. In determining this issue, a court must weigh several factors, “with the balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.” Id. (quoting Moses H.Cone, 460 U.S. at 16). These factors include:

(1) whether the subject matter of the litigation involves property where the first court may assume in rem jurisdiction to the exclusion of others; (2) whether the federal forum is an inconvenient one; (3) the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation; (4) the relevant order in which the courts obtained jurisdiction and the progress achieved in each action; (5) whether state law or federal law provides the rule of decision on the merits; and (6) the adequacy of the state proceeding to protect the parties' rights.

Id. at 463-64. “No one factor is necessarily determinative; a carefully considered judgment taking into account both the obligation to exercise jurisdiction and the combination of factors counseling against that exercise is required.” Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 818-19.

         Here, the state action unquestionably parallels the action pending in this court. Burrows is the plaintiff in both actions, Tony Ryan is a defendant in both actions, and Kyle Ryan is a defendant in the state action. As noted in the joint motion to stay, the factual allegations are identical, and the same cause of action is alleged against Tony Ryan in both cases. (Mot. Stay 2, ECF No. 36.) In fact, the amended complaint in the state action is almost identical to the complaint filed in this action. Moreover, it appears that the state action was filed in order to preserve Burrows' causes of action against Kyle and Tony Ryan due to statute of limitations concerns, which the state court appears to have resolved in favor of Burrows. See (Mot. ...

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