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Fernandez v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 7, 2017

GERTRUDYS FERNANDEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARAH NETBURN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On April 4, 2017, Plaintiff brought this case, alleging violations of decedent Christian Haley's constitutional rights as guaranteed by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On May 12, 2017, the City of New York moved to stay all proceedings pursuant to the doctrine of Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), which allows federal courts to abstain from exercising jurisdiction in exceptional circumstances to promote the wise administration of judicial resources. ECF No. 31. In sum, Defendants argue that the matter should be stayed pending resolution of a parallel lawsuit of Plaintiff's state-law claims proceeding through discovery in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Bronx.

         On May 31, 2017, the remaining Defendants joined in this motion. ECF No. 43. On June 9, 2017, the Honorable Gregory H. Woods referred this case to my docket for general pretrial supervision, including the question of whether a stay under Colorado River was appropriate. ECF No. 48. On June 14, 2017, I entered a temporary stay of discovery pending the adjudication of the stay application. ECF No. 50. After considering the parties' submissions, I find that the Defendants have failed to demonstrate the “exceptional circumstances” necessary to displace the “the virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them.” Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for a stay is DENIED and the temporary stay of discovery entered on June 14, 2017, is VACATED. The Court shall order the parties to appear before it for an initial pretrial conference via separate order.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are alleged in the complaint. Plaintiff is the administrator of the estate of Christian Haley, who was incarcerated within the New York City Department of Correction system. ECF No. 1, Compl. at ¶ 7. On or about July 1, 2014, Haley was medically cleared for transfer from the North Infirmary Command (“NIC”) on Rikers Island to the Vernon C. Bain Center and was transferred to this facility on July 3, 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 29-30, 33. Haley's grievance to be transferred back to the NIC was denied. Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.

         On October 23, 2014, a fight occurred between inmates, during which Haley suffered a “cardiac event.” Id. at ¶¶ 40-45. Haley died approximately an hour later. Id. at ¶ 48. Plaintiff alleges that Haley was placed on a floor without a defibrillator, was not provided proper medical attention, and would have survived had he been properly treated. Id. at ¶¶ 46-50.

         On January 15, 2016, Plaintiff brought suit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Bronx, Gertrudys Fernandez v. City of New York, Index No. 20303/2016E. In that suit, Plaintiff asserts state law claims for wrongful death, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, medical malpractice, and negligence and negligent hiring and retention. ECF No. 32-1, State Compl. at ¶¶ 30-47. On April 4, 2017, Plaintiffs brought this case, alleging violations of decedent Christian Haley's constitutional rights as guaranteed by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff does not contest that, although the causes of action differ, the facts underlying the two cases are virtually identical, and that the parties are substantially the same.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         The Colorado River doctrine governs whether a federal court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over a case because of the existence of a parallel state court proceeding. 424 U.S. at 817-19. The general 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, ” and that federal courts have a “virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given them.” Id. at 817. Nevertheless, under certain “exceptional circumstances, ” a federal court may dismiss a federal suit for “reasons of wise judicial administration.” Id. at 817-18.

         An analysis of whether a court should abstain under Colorado River begins with a determination of whether the concurrent federal and state proceedings are “parallel” in nature. See Dittmer v. Cty. of Suffolk, 146 F.3d 113, 118 (2d Cir. 1998) (“[A] finding that the concurrent proceedings are ‘parallel' is a necessary prerequisite to abstention under Colorado River.”). “Suits are parallel when substantially the same parties are contemporaneously litigating substantially the same issue in another forum.” Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. v. Hudson River-Black River Regulating Dist., 673 F.3d 84, 100 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations omitted).

         If the suits are found to be parallel, a federal court must consider six factors in determining whether to abstain. These are “(1) the assumption of jurisdiction by either court over any res or property; (2) the inconvenience of the federal forum; (3) the avoidance of piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which jurisdiction was obtained; (5) whether state or federal law supplies the rule of decision; and (6) whether the state court proceeding will adequately protect the rights of the party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Vill. of Westfield v. Welch's, 170 F.3d 116, 121 (2d Cir. 1999). “The decision whether to dismiss a federal action because of parallel state-court litigation 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 Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16 (1983). Any factors that are neutral should properly be considered as favoring the retention of jurisdiction because a court's task is “not to find some substantial reason for the exercise of federal jurisdiction . . . rather, the task is to ascertain whether there exist ‘exceptional' circumstances, the ‘clearest of justifications, ' that can suffice under Colorado River to justify the surrender of that jurisdiction.” Id. at 25-26.

         II. Applying the Colorado River Factors

         There can be no doubt that the state and federal lawsuits are parallel; though they involve different causes of action, they are litigated by substantially the same parties and seek money damages arising out of the same operative facts. Accordingly, the Court proceeds to consider the ...


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