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Best v. Layne

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 2, 2018

PETER BEST, Plaintiff,
v.
MARVA M. LAYNE & ASIM WALKER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          ANDREW L. CARTER, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:

         Peter Best, Plaintiff in this action, is engaged in litigation with Marva Layne and her son Asim Walker, Defendants here, in two for a. Essentially, Best contends that Layne and Walker have engaged in a campaign of defamation against him, publically stating that he stole millions of dollars. For their part, Layne, Walker, and others contend that their statements were true because Best actually stole from them. Layne and others have sued Best for fraud and related offenses in New York state court, while Best has filed this action for defamation and tortious interference with his business in this Court.

         Accordingly, the Court ordered briefing on whether this Court should abstain from considering this federal case under the Colorado River doctrine. For the following reasons, the Court ABSTAINS from exercising its jurisdiction in this matter.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         The Court summarizes only those facts relevant to the instant motion. The parties' business relationship dates back more than two decades. Approximately twenty years ago, Best began working for Layne and her husband, Carlton Hayle, as a bus boy at Negril Village, Inc. ("Negril"), a Greenwich Village restaurant. Complaint ¶ 3 (ECF No. 1) ("Compl"). Eventually, Best managed the restaurant alongside Layne and Hayle. Id. At some point, Negril filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Id. ¶ 7.

         Best claims that, beginning around December 2017, Layne and Walker initiated a systemic campaign to malign his reputation by falsely accusing him and his wife, Lily Truong, of theft and embezzlement from Negril. See Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Layne and Walker admit to making such statements, but argue they were truthful because Best did in fact steal from them. See ECF No. 27 ("Answer").

         II. Procedural Background

         Best filed the complaint commencing this action ("Federal Action") on March 29, 2018, alleging defamation and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and business relations. Compl. A few months earlier, on January 18, 2018, Layne, along with Negril and Hayle, had sued Best, along with Truong and Kanetta Baptiste-a bookkeeper hired by Best-in New York County Supreme Court. See Layne v. Best, No. 65020/2018 (N.Y. Sup. Ct N.Y. Cnty. Jan. 18, 2018) ("State Action"). In that case, Layne and Hayle charge Best, Truong, and Baptiste with fraud, civil conspiracy, conversion, unjust enrichment, breach of duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duties of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with business relations, related to the alleged theft of millions of dollars from Negril. See id.

         On March 30, 2018, Best sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in this Court to prevent Layne and Walker from making defamatory statements against him. ECF Nos. 5-8. The Court granted a modified version of the preliminary injunction, to which Defendants did not object. ECF No. 36.

         Additionally, the Court ordered the parties to brief the issue of whether this Court can and should exercise jurisdiction over this matter while litigation is pending in state court, pursuant to Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). ECF No. 37. The parties filed their opening briefs on May 21, 2018 (ECF Nos. 43 ("Def Mem"); 44 ("Pl. Mem")) and their opposition briefs on May 29, 2018 (ECF Nos. 45 ("Def Opp"); 46 ("PI Opp")). Neither party filed a reply brief. Accordingly, the Court considers the matter fully submitted.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         "Although federal courts have a 'virtually unflagging obligation' to exercise their jurisdiction," courts may abstain from exercising jurisdiction under certain circumstances. Village of Westfield v. Welch's,170 F.3d 116, 120 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817).[1]In Colorado River, "the Supreme Court held that, in addition to the earlier-established categories of abstention, in certain other 'exceptional circumstances,' a federal court may abstain from exercising jurisdiction when parallel state-court litigation could result in 'comprehensive disposition of litigation' and abstention would conserve judicial resources." Niagra Mohawk Power Corp. v. Hudson River-Black River Regulating Dist.,673 F.3d 84, 100 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing Colorado River, ...


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