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Gammon v. McLain

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 13, 2015

LAWRENCE McLAIN, ET AL., Defendants.


SARAH S. VANCE, District Judge.

Before the Court is plaintiffs' motion to stay federal proceedings in this case pending resolution of a parallel action in Louisiana state court. The Court denies the motion because plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to warrant a stay.

I. Background

On May 23, 2014, plaintiffs Virginia and Sophie Gammon brought this action in the Eastern District of Louisiana against defendants Lawrence McLain, Safeco Insurance Company, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, and Geico Insurance Company.[1] The complaint arises from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on May 31, 2013 in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Plaintiffs were allegedly injured when the vehicle in which they were traveling was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by defendant McLain. Plaintiffs assert that the accident was caused by the negligence of McLain and seek to hold Safeco and Liberty Mutual liable as McLain's insurers. Plaintiff also named her uninsured motorist carrier, Geico, as a defendant in this action.

On May 28, 2014, five days after plaintiffs commenced this action in federal court, Geico filed suit against McLain and Safeco in Louisiana state court based on the same automobile accident at issue in the federal proceeding.[2] Plaintiffs have moved to intervene in the state court proceeding.[3]

Plaintiffs now move the Court to stay the pending federal action so that the parties can proceed to trial in the parallel state court lawsuit.[4] Defendant Geico opposes the motion arguing that a stay is not warranted under the circumstances.[5]

II. Discussion

Federal courts have a "virtual unflagging obligation... to exercise the jurisdiction given them." Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976). "However, in extraordinary and narrow' circumstances, a district court may abstain from exercising jurisdiction over a case when there is a concurrent state proceeding...." Murphy v. Uncle Ben's, Inc., 168 F.3d 734, 737 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 813). The court's decision whether to abstain should be based on considerations of "[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation." Id. ( quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183 (1952)).

For a court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Colorado River doctrine, it first must find that the federal and state court actions are "parallel." Hartford Accident & Indem. Co. v. Costa Lines Cargo Servs., Inc., 903 F.2d 352, 360 (5th Cir. 1990). Actions are parallel when the same parties are litigating the same issues. See Republicbank Dallas, Nat'l Ass'n v. McIntosh, 828 F.2d 1120, 1121 (5th Cir. 1987). Here, both the federal and state proceedings revolve around the May 31, 2013 automobile accident and involve the same parties. Accordingly, the Court finds that the state and federal actions are parallel.

The Court next must determine whether exceptional circumstances exist that would permit the court to decline jurisdiction in the instant matter. See Murphy, 168 F.3d at 738. The Supreme Court has set forth six factors to guide this inquiry: (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 to protect the rights of the party invoking federal jurisdiction. Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 285-86 (1995). "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. The Court must balance the factors carefully, "with the balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction. " Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16 (1983). The Court now applies the Colorado River abstention factors to the parallel federal and state actions in this matter.

(1) Assumption by Either Court of Jurisdiction Over a Res

Neither this Court nor the state court has assumed jurisdiction over any res or property in this case. The absence of this factor, however, is not neutral. Murphy, 168 F.3d at 738. Rather, it weighs against abstention. Id.

(2) The Relative Inconvenience of the Forums

Both the federal and state proceedings are located in southeastern Louisiana. Therefore, neither forum is more or less convenient than the other. The absence of ...

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