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Pierre v. Celadon Group, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 11, 2019

TIFFANY ST. PIERRE, ET AL.
v.
CELADON GROUP, INC, ET AL.

          NOTICE

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report has been filed with the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have 14 days after being served with the attached report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations set forth therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the District Court.

         ABSOLUTELY NO EXTENSION OF TIME SHALL BE GRANTED TO FILE WRITTEN OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT.

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         Before the Court is a Motion to Remand (the “Motion”)[1] filed by plaintiffs, Tiffany St. Pierre and Christopher St. Pierre, individually and on behalf of their minor child, E. St. Pierre (“Plaintiffs”). Defendants, Celadon Group, Inc., Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., Celadon Logistics Services, Inc. (collectively, “Celadon”), Aon Risk Services, Inc. (“Aon”), and Ernest Young (“Young”) (Celadon, Aon, and Young are referred to herein as “Defendants”), have filed an Opposition.[2]

         For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS[3] that the Motion[4] be DENIED.

         In the event this recommendation is adopted, the undersigned FURTHER RECOMMENDS that this matter be referred to the undersigned for a scheduling conference.[5]

         I. Background

         This suit arises out of three-vehicle collision occurring on July 17, 2017. Plaintiffs in this action allege that Young, while operating a tractor trailer owned by Celadon, struck Tiffany St. Pierre's vehicle from behind “causing it to careen into the preceding vehicle which was owned and being operated by” Charlotte Provost (“Provost”).[6]

         On July 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Petition for Damages (the “Petition”) in state court for damages allegedly arising out of the multi-vehicle accident.[7] Plaintiffs allege that both Young and Celadon were negligent, and that Celadon is also vicariously liable for Young's negligence.[8]Plaintiffs also name Aon as the alleged insurer of Celadon and Young, [9] and seek to recover damages for Tiffany St. Pierre's injuries, their minor daughter's injuries and loss of consortium, and Christopher St. Pierre's loss of consortium.[10] On July 31, 2018, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal, asserting that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the parties are completely diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs.[11]

         Almost two months prior to Plaintiffs filing this suit in state court, the driver of the lead vehicle involved in the July 17, 2017 collision, Provost, filed a separate suit in state court against Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. (“Celadon Trucking”), Young, Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (“Louisiana Farm Bureau”), and Tiffany St. Pierre (the “Provost Suit”).[12] In the Provost Suit, Provost likewise alleges the negligence of Young and Celadon Trucking, as well as Celadon Trucking's vicarious liability.[13] Alternatively, Provost alleges that to the extent the vehicle driven by Tiffany St. Pierre struck the rear of Provost's vehicle first (i.e., prior to being hit by Celadon Trucking's vehicle), Tiffany St. Pierre was negligent in causing the accident and Provost's damages.[14] Provost further alleges that Celadon and Young are “self-insured” and that Louisiana Farm Bureau is the insurer of Tiffany St. Pierre.[15] Provost's suit remains pending in state court.[16]

         Per the instant Motion to Remand, Plaintiffs allege that in light of the Provost Suit, this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over the instant suit pursuant to the principles of discretionary abstention set out in Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976) and Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1 (1983). Plaintiffs argue that the Provost Suit is “a parallel proceeding which involve[s] the same parties, allegations of negligence, and claims for relief, and which presents a substantial danger of disparate judgments.”[17] In opposition, Defendants argue that the Provost Suit and the instant suit should not be considered parallel proceedings, and that even assuming the suits were sufficiently parallel, none of the Colorado River factors support abstention.

         II. Law and Analysis

         “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….'”[18]Colorado River abstention is a narrow exception to a federal court's ‘virtually unflagging' duty to adjudicate a controversy that is properly before it. Under this doctrine, a federal court may abstain only under ‘exceptional circumstances.'”[19]

         “As an initial step prior to application of the Colorado River factors, ” this Court must consider whether the state and federal proceedings “are sufficiently parallel to make consideration of abstention proper.”[20] The Fifth Circuit has “identified parallel actions as those ‘involving the same parties and the same issues;'” however, it has also noted that “‘it may be that there need not be applied in every instance a mincing insistence on precise identity' of the parties and issues.”[21]In making the determination of whether there is parallelism, “we look to both the named parties and to the substance of the claims asserted in each proceeding.'”[22]

         Here, Plaintiffs contend that the Provost Suit “inextricably incorporates all of the claims made in the instant matter along with presenting additional claims”[23] and assert that Tiffany St. Pierre “has both a reconventional demand against Provost in addition to a cross claim against Celadon and Ernest Young based on the injuries she sustained in this accident, so she will assert and litigate precisely the same personal injury claims before this Court as in the state court.”[24]Plaintiffs further assert that this Court's decision in Byrd v. Norman, [25] in which separate suits by a husband and wife for their separate injuries stemming from the same underlying automobile accident were found to not be parallel, is distinguishable because Tiffany St. Pierre is a named defendant in the Provost Suit and because Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Consolidate the instant matter and the Provost suit prior to this suit's removal.[26] In response, Defendants assert that Tiffany St. Pierre has not answered or filed a crossclaim in the Provost Suit and therefore “[i]n its present posture, the parties to the Provost and St. Pierre cases are not identical and, more significantly, the Provost Lawsuit pending in state court will not dispose of St. Pierre's claims….”[27]

         Even assuming, arguendo, that the Provost Suit remains in the same procedural posture as it was when Defendants filed their opposition (specifically, that Tiffany St. Pierre still has not made an appearance in that action), the undersigned finds that the naming of Mrs. St. Pierre as a defendant in the Provost Suit distinguishes this matter from the separate suits of husband and wife at issue in Byrd. As a named party in the Provost Suit, Mrs. St. Pierre will have to protect her interests in that suit[28] and Mrs. St. Pierre has repeatedly asserted in judicial filings both before this Court and the state district court that she will file a cross claim against Celadon and Young in the Provost Suit.[29] Accordingly, the undersigned finds that the instant suit and the Provost Suit are sufficiently parallel to warrant consideration of the Colorado River factors.[30]

         In this Circuit, after determining that the suits at issue are parallel, courts considering abstention under Colorado River look to six relevant factors: (1) assumption by either court of jurisdiction over a res; (2) relative inconvenience of the forums; (3) avoidance of piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums; (5) the extent to which 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.[31] “We do not apply these factors mechanically, but carefully balance them ‘with the balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.'”[32]

         As to the first and second factors, assumption by either court of jurisdiction over a res and relative inconvenience of the forums, Plaintiffs recognize that “there is no res and the courthouses are not far apart.”[33] Where neither court has assumed jurisdiction over a piece of property, “[t]his factor supports exercising federal jurisdiction.”[34] Similarly, when both courthouses are located in the same geographical area, the absence of any inconvenience weighs against abstention.[35]

         Considering the third factor, avoidance of piecemeal litigation, Plaintiffs argue that the danger of duplicative and wasteful litigation in both state and federal court is so significant that the exceptional result of abstention is appropriate.[36] However, the Fifth Circuit has clarified that “‘[t]he prevention of duplicative litigation is not a factor to be considered in an abstention determination.'”[37]Duplicative litigation, wasteful though it may be, is a necessary cost of our nation's maintenance of two separate and distinct judicial systems possessed of frequently overlapping jurisdiction. The real concern at the heart of the third Colorado River factor is the avoidance of piecemeal litigation, and the concomitant danger of inconsistent rulings with respect to a piece of property.”[38] Where, as here, “no court has assumed jurisdiction over a disputed res, there is no such danger”[39] and this factor weighs, if at all, only lightly in favor of abstention.[40]

         As to the fourth factor, the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums, Plaintiffs assert that because Tiffany St. Pierre is a named defendant in the Provost Suit (which was filed almost two months prior to the instant suit), “the state district court has jurisdiction over any reconventional demands or cross claims made by Tiffany St. Pierre.”[41] The Fifth Circuit has instructed that this factor “‘should not be measured exclusively by which complaint was filed first, but rather in terms of how much progress has been made in the two actions.'”[42] Because of the pending Motion to Remand, the instant suit is only in its beginning procedural stages. Likewise, and based on the docket of the Provost Suit submitted in conjunction with the Motion to Remand, the Provost Suit is also in its very early stages. Accordingly, despite the fact that the Provost Suit was filed first, the undersigned finds that no significant progress has been made in either suit and therefore this factor weighs against abstention.[43]

         With regard to the fifth factor, the extent to which federal law provides the rules of decision on the merits, the Fifth Circuit has instructed that “the presence of state law issues weighs in favor of surrender [of jurisdiction] only in rare circumstances.”[44] Indeed, this Court regularly considers state tort law claims. Plaintiffs recognize that this factor is neutral.[45]

         Finally, as to the sixth factor, the adequacy of the state proceedings in protecting the rights of the party invoking federal jurisdiction, this factor “can only be a neutral factor or one that weighs against, not for, abstention.”[46] Accordingly, the undersigned finds that this factor does ...


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