Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

De Cisneros v. Younger

decided: March 30, 1989.


Ela F. de Cisneros appeals the order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Mukasey, J.), entered on September 15, 1988, staying under the doctrine of abstention a federal action brought by Cisneros until parallel state proceedings are completed. Affirmed.

Kaufman, Timbers and Cardamone, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cardamone

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Ela F. de Cisneros appeals from a September 15, 1988 order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Mukasey, J.), staying the instant federal action under the doctrine of abstention until parallel state cases are resolved. In abstaining, the district court relied on the genre of abstention annunciated by the Supreme Court in Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 1236 (1976). There, the Court recognized that, despite the presumption favoring the exercise of federal jurisdiction, abstention may be proper because of "considerations of '[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.'" Id. at 817 (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183, 96 L. Ed. 200, 72 S. Ct. 219 (1952)).

This appeal presents the single issue of whether the district court abused its discretion when, under Colorado River, it refused to exercise its jurisdiction over Cisneros' suit. We hold that it did not, and affirm the order that stayed the federal litigation.


The facts are for the most part uncontroverted. When renovating her New York City cooperative apartment, appellant Cisneros commissioned defendant Robert Younger to paint and stain certain woodwork; Younger was an employee of Overall Construction (Overall) that had a certificate of insurance covering the renovation work. On December 3, 1985 a fire broke out in appellant's apartment, damaging it, the cooperative building, and some neighboring apartments. The fire allegedly resulted from the improper storage or failure to dispose of rags soaked in linseed oil and paint thinner, which Younger had used while staining wood in Cisneros' apartment the day before. A number of state court lawsuits followed. The first was a New York Civil Court action filed on July 24, 1986. In that case the plaintiff Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. sued Cisneros and Younger for negligence on behalf of its assignor, a neighboring tenant in the cooperative.

Cisneros brought the now-stayed federal action against Younger in the Southern District of New York several months later on October 10, 1986 alleging negligence and breach of implied warranty. Jurisdiction rests on diversity (Cisneros is a citizen of Venezuela). 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332(a)(2) (1982). Appellant's claims alleged only state causes of action. Later, she amended her complaint to add Overall as a party defendant. In January 1988 Overall impleaded seven third-party defendants, and the following month made a motion in the district court for a stay of the exercise of its jurisdiction on abstention grounds. The district court granted the motion and stayed the action. Cisneros urges on appeal that her discovery is complete, and portrays the federal action as far along, nearly ready for trial, though she concedes that the seven newly-joined third-party defendants are entitled to discovery on the issues of indemnity and contribution.

At least seven more state suits have followed Overall's joinder in the federal action. Except for the first action commenced July 1986, the other state actions were filed between eight and 14 months after the filing of the October 1986 federal action. Although the precise legal theories vary, each of the state actions --like their federal counterpart --seeks to determine liability and assess damages for the Cisneros fire. Essentially, the state causes of action are common law torts raising only issues of state law. In each action, save one, Cisneros has been named a defendant, and has cross-claimed against Overall --if it had also been named a defendant --or has impleaded it. Overall advises that all of the state actions have been consolidated before a single New York State Supreme Court Justice and depositions are scheduled to commence. Some written discovery has occurred, but from oral argument it seems clear that more discovery has been completed in the federal action than in the parallel state proceedings.


We note at the outset that review of a district court's decision to stay a case on abstention grounds is limited to an abuse of discretion standard. See Law Enforcement Ins. Co. v. Corcoran, 807 F.2d 38, 40 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1017, 95 L. Ed. 2d 503, 107 S. Ct. 1896 (1987). The practical reason for this deference is that Colorado River abstention requires an ad hoc balancing of a number of factors, and the district court generally has a better seat for an overview of whether the exercise of federal jurisdiction should be postponed until after the state court litigation is completed.

There are several traditional categories of abstention. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-57, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971) (pending state criminal proceeding); Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 317-34, 87 L. Ed. 1424, 63 S. Ct. 1098 (1943) (abstention appropriate to avoid interference with attempts to establish coherent state policy and issues of peculiarly local concern); Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 498, 85 L. Ed. 971, 61 S. Ct. 643 (1941) (federal court should abstain to avoid unnecessary resolution of a constitutional issue that might be mooted by state court construction of a state law). In Colorado River the Supreme Court held that abstention may be called for in cases involving "exceptional circumstances" that do not fit neatly within the above enumerated categories. See 424 U.S. at 817. This doctrine was more fully developed in Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 74 L. Ed. 2d 765, 103 S. Ct. 927 (1983). It now requires examination of six factors: (1) assumption of jurisdiction over a res; (2) inconvenience of the forum; (3) avoidance of piecemeal litigation; (4) order in which the actions were filed; (5) the law that provides the rule of decision; and (6) protection of the federal plaintiff's rights.

In analyzing these factors, the Supreme Court admonishes that no single factor is necessarily decisive, and that the test "does not rest on a mechanical checklist, but on a careful balancing of the important factors as they apply in a given case, with the balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction." Moses H. Cone, 460 U.S. at 16; see also Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818-19. The first two factors are not implicated in this appeal, but the absence of jurisdiction over a res, and the convenience of the federal forum both point toward exercise of federal jurisdiction. See Bethlehem Contracting Co. v. Lehrer/ McGovern Inc., 800 F.2d 325, 327 (2d Cir. 1986).

The basis of the district court's decision to abstain is the third factor-avoidance of piecemeal litigation. Because the state and federal issues are "inextricably linked," the risk of such adjudication is real in this case and the district court properly abstained from allowing litigation to proceed in installments. See General Reinsurance Corp. v. CIBA-GEIGY Corp., 853 F.2d 78, 81 (2d Cir. 1988). The central problem with piecemeal adjudication in this case, as the district court noted, is that a potential exists for "inconsistent and mutually contradictory determinations." Specifically, Judge Mukasey feared a scenario under which Cisneros would prove Overall's liability in federal court --and then be able to use the judgment preclusively in state court --but that the inverse would not be true. That is, if Overall were relieved of liability in the federal action, state plaintiffs --such as Cisneros' neighboring apartment dwellers --would not be bound by federal judgment because they would not have been parties to it. Thus, Overall could face liability in two forums with the risk of inconsistent results, and the same state plaintiffs would be unable to be joined in the pending federal action because their ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.