the warranty of habitability, were negligent in their operation of Tyler House, and fraudulently promised to repair and maintain the building.
Because the defendants here are not parties in the Superior Court case,
and the claims against the defendants, including the fraud count, are unique to this action, and because the damages claimed in the two cases cover different time periods, these cases are not parallel actions subject to dismissal under the Colorado River doctrine. Moreover, neither issue preclusion nor lack of personal jurisdiction bar this action.
A. The Colorado River Doctrine
In Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 1236 (1976), the Supreme Court articulated what is essentially a type of judicial abstention designed to avoid duplicative litigation.
The Colorado River doctrine provides that under special circumstances a federal court may decline to exercise its jurisdiction on the ground that there is a parallel action pending in state court which can resolve the controversy. Id. at 818. Arguing that this action and the Superior Court action are essentially the same, the defendants ask the Court to dismiss this case based on Colorado River "abstention." Because the Court finds that the defendants interpret Colorado River too broadly, and in the interests of justice, the Court shall deny the defendants' request.
Colorado River abstention rests on "considerations of 'wise judicial administration, . . . conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation'" Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817 (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equipment Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183, 96 L. Ed. 200, 72 S. Ct. 219 (1952)). However, Colorado River did not enervate "the virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them." Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817. The general rule remains 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 . . . .'" Id. (quoting McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282, 54 L. Ed. 762, 30 S. Ct. 501 (1910)). Given this principle, "the circumstances permitting the dismissal of a federal suit due to the presence of a concurrent state proceeding for reasons of wise administration are considerably more limited than the circumstances appropriate for abstention" and, indeed, are "exceptional." Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818.
The Colorado River doctrine rests on a number of considerations, including the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation, the inconvenience of the federal forum, whether the state court has assumed jurisdiction over a res, the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums. See id. In addition, the court may consider the "probable inadequacy of the state court proceeding" to protect the plaintiffs' rights, the relative progress of the litigation in the courts, whether federal law is involved, and the vexatious nature of the litigation. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 26, 21, 23, 17 n. 20, 74 L. Ed. 2d 765, 103 S. Ct. 927 (1983). "No one factor is necessarily determinative; a carefully considered judgment taking into account both the obligation to exercise jurisdiction and the combination of factors counselling against that exercise is required. Only the clearest of justifications will warrant dismissal." Colorado River, at 818-19.
Here, a number of factors counsel for the exercise of jurisdiction. In this case, the Court is not deeply concerned about avoiding piecemeal litigation. The most important factor in Colorado River -- a statute providing state court jurisdiction and evincing a clear federal policy of avoiding piecemeal litigation -- is absent in this case. As the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has stated:
[Avoidance of piecemeal litigation] assumed importance in Colorado River because the litigation there involved a federal statute under which Congress had explicitly recognized the availability of state systems for the adjudication of water rights and had expressed a strong policy favoring resolution of those rights in a single, comprehensive forum. . . . No such policy is implicated in the case at bar, and the mere desire to resolve all issues involving related facts in one court does not justify depriving [the plaintiff] of his federal forum.
Hoai v. Sun Refining and Marketing Co., 275 U.S. App. D.C. 397, 866 F.2d 1515, 1520 (D.C. Cir. 1989). In analyzing the problem of piecemeal litigation, "the district court must look beyond the routine inefficiency that is the inevitable result of parallel proceedings to determine whether there is some exceptional basis for requiring the case to proceed entirely in [state] court." Villa Marina Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Hatteras Yachts, 915 F.2d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 1990); see Mahaffey v. Bechtel Associates Professional Corp., 226 U.S. App. D.C. 7, 699 F.2d 545 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (where plaintiffs filed, in Superior and federal courts, two virtually identical actions, based on same accident, naming same defendants, and presenting no federal question, case nonetheless did not fall within narrow Colorado River doctrine, and dismissal of federal action was an abuse of discretion).
This case also is not closely parallel with the Superior Court case. The Superior Court judge, in her discretion, denied plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their complaint to add these defendants after the case had been pending for about three years, discovery had been completed and the case was almost ripe for trial. Moreover, the plaintiffs' complaint in this case contains a fraud count not in the Superior Court case. Because the parties and claims here are not coextensive with the Superior Court case, the Court does not find the case so parallel as to warrant abstention. See Republicbank Dallas, Nat'l Ass'n v. McIntosh, 828 F.2d 1120, 1121 (5th Cir. 1987) (parallel actions involve "the same parties and issues") (citations omitted); Nacol v. Keith Wood Agency, Inc., 750 F. Supp. 1128, 1130 (M.D. Fla. 1990) (denying motion to stay and noting that "the federal case contains broader allegations," and "at this point in time, the parties are not the same, . . . and this court is unwilling to assume the [state] court will allow intervention"). As stated in Crawley v. Hamilton County Comrs.:
While it may be true . . . that [the state case] could be modified so as to make it identical to the current federal claim, that is not the issue here. The issue is whether [the state case] as it currently exists, is a parallel state-court proceeding. Because it is not, we need not undertake the five factor analysis called for in Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital.