United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ABSTENTION
G. Edmunds United States District Judge.
officer, Tracie Brown ("Plaintiff") filed this
Title VII Civil Rights action for sexual harassment, sex
discrimination and retaliation on July 25, 2017. The City of
Allen Park ("Defendant") moves to stay this action
with a Motion for Abstention in deference to a parallel
action in state court, pursuant to the Colorado
River doctrine. (Dkt. 12, at 3.) For the reasons that
follow, based on the parties' briefs, and the oral
arguments which took place on December 6, 2017,
Defendant's motion is DENIED.
served the City of Allen Park's police department for
fifteen years, Plaintiff, in April of 2016, commenced a
lawsuit in the Wayne County Circuit Court against an
administrative sergeant in the Allen Park Police Department,
Daniele Cerroni. Case No. 2016-005240-CZ, Hon. John A.
Murphy. Plaintiff's suit alleges state law claims, of sex
harassment, and assault and battery, against Cerroni, related
to on-going unwanted sexualized attention and touching.
Plaintiff amended her state court complaint in January 2017,
to add their employer, Defendant, as a second defendant. As
with the original complaint, the amended complaint only
alleges state law claims.
2017, Plaintiff filed in this Court, a new federal claim
against Defendant (and not Cerroni) based on the same factual
allegations. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges three counts in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000, et seq., hostile environment sexual
harassment, retaliation, and sex discrimination. In response,
Defendant, asks this Court to stay these federal proceedings,
pending the outcome of the Plaintiff's state claims.
Defendant argues abstention is appropriate, since the two
suits are based on the same factual allegations and because
the state causes of action are similar to those asserted here
under federal law.
Colorado River, the Supreme Court explained that a
district court may sometimes be justified in abstaining from
exercising jurisdiction in deference to a parallel
state-court proceeding. Colorado River Water Conservation
District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). Federal
courts recognize several traditional bases for abstaining
from exercising their jurisdiction. See e.g., Younger v.
Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971)(holding abstention
appropriate where federal proceedings would restrain state
criminal proceedings); County of Allegheny v. Frank Mashuda
Co., 360 U.S. 185 (1959) and Railroad Comm'n v.
Pullman, 312 U.S. 496 (1941)(holding abstention
appropriate in cases presenting federal constitutional issues
which might be mooted or narrowed by a definitive ruling on
state law issues); Louisiana Power & Light Co. v.
City of Thibodaux, 360 U.S. 25 (1959)(holding abstention
appropriate where difficult questions of state law will be
determinative of state policy transcending the result in the
case at bar); Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315
(1943)(holding abstention appropriate where a federal review
of the question in the case would be disruptive to state
efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a
matter of substantial public concern).
these traditional bases for abstaining, Colorado
River established what has come to be called the
Colorado River doctrine, which recognizes there are
exceptional instances in which the traditional abstention
categories are inapplicable but which may nevertheless
warrant a stay or dismissal of a federal lawsuit pending the
resolution of concurrent state court proceedings. Application
of the Colorado River doctrine involves a two step
process. First, a determination of the threshold issue of
whether the state and federal cases are parallel. And second,
careful consideration of the multiple Colorado River
factors, to determine if abstention is appropriate.
Preferred Care of Delaware, Inc. v. VanArsdale, 676
Fed.Appx. 388, 393 (6th Cir. 2017)(unpublished).
of the obligation to decide cases can be justified under the
doctrine only in exceptional circumstances where the order to
the parties to repair to the state court would clearly serve
an important countervailing interest." Colorado
River, 424 U.S. at 813. "[T]he doctrine of
abstention, under which a District Court may decline to
exercise or postpone the exercise of its jurisdiction, is an
extraordinary and narrow exception to
the duty of the District Court to adjudicate a controversy
properly before it." Id. at 813-14.
"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. . . .This difference in
general approach between state-federal concurrent
jurisdiction and wholly federal concurrent jurisdiction stems
from the virtually unflagging obligation of the federal
courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them."
Id. at 817 (internal quotation marks omitted).
determine whether application of the Colorado River
doctrine is appropriate, the Court must first address the
threshold issue of whether the state and federal proceedings
involve the same parallel matter. See Moses H. Cone
Memorial Hosp. V. Mercury Center, 460 U.S. 1, 13-15
(1983). The appropriate consideration is whether the two
cases are currently parallel, not whether one could be
modified so as to make the cases identical. Crawley v.
Hamilton County Comm'rs, 744 F.2d 28, 31 (6th Cir.
1984). "Exact parallelism" between the actions is
not required; instead, the actions need only be
"substantially similar." Nakash v.
Marciano, 882 F.2d 1411, 1416 (9th Cir. 1989)
the state case and this matter are parallel. "[W]here
(1) the parties are substantially similar and (2)
[plaintiff's] claims against [defendants] are predicated
on the same allegations as to the same material facts. . .
.the actions must be considered "parallel" for the
purposes of the Colorado River abstention
doctrine." Romine v. Compuserve Corp., 160 F.3d
337, 340 (6th Cir. 1998). Defendant is named in both the
state and federal case. Likewise, Plaintiff, is the sole
plaintiff in both matters. The party differences, that
Plaintiff chose not to name Cerroni as defendant in the
federal case, is not decisive. "This court has never
held that only a perfect, or even near-perfect, symmetry of
parties and causes of action" are necessary to satisfy
the "parallel" criteria. Preferred Care,
676 Fed.Appx. at 393.
counts arise out of the same claims and alleged set of facts.
Both concern whether Cerroni caused Plaintiff to experience a
hostile work environment, and sexual harassment, and the
adequacy of Defendant's response to those alleged
incidents. Many of the witnesses and much of the discovery is
expected to overlap. ...