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T.K. v. Stanley

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

June 21, 2017

T.K., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FREDERICK DAVID STANLEY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS

          BENJAMIN H. SETTLE United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion (Dkt. 26) of Frederick Stanley (“Defendant”). The Court has considered the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby grants the motion for the reasons stated herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 9, 2014, T.K., G.G., B.G., T.A., A.A., J.A., K.W., and P.W. (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint in Tiffany Kelso, et al. v. Olympia School District, et al., Thurston County Superior Court No. 14-2-00678-8 (“T.K. I”), against Defendant, Olympia School District, Robert Hodges, William Lahmann, and Jennifer Priddy. Dkt. 13-1. G.G., A.A., and P.W. are minors. Id. The complaint stated a claim for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violations of state mandatory reporting laws. Dkt. 13-1 at 16- 19.

         On June 21, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their present complaint against Defendant. Dkt. 1. The complaint claims a “violation of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 USC § 1983.” Id. at 19. On July 15, 2016, the Thurston County Superior Court entered summary judgment in T.K. I dismissing the claims of the minor plaintiffs G.G., A.A., and P.W. Dkt. 13-2. On August 11, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a notice of discretionary review. Dkt. 15 at 126-28.

         On July 25, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss “based upon res judicata/claim-splitting.” Dkt. 12. On August 15, 2016, Plaintiffs responded. Dkt. 14. On August 19, 2016, Defendant replied. Dkt. 16. On October 11, 2016, the Court entered an order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss. Dkt. 22. In its order, the Court explained that the State Court proceedings were not yet final, and that “numerous courts have determined that the proper analysis to determine whether a concurrent state action bars a related federal action is a matter appropriately considered in the context of abstention, not claim splitting.” Dkt. 22 at 9. Therefore, the Court concluded, “[a]bsent any argument on [Colorado River] or some affirmative defense that might bar recovery on the claims, the Court denies Defendant's motion.” Id. at 10. On October 21, 2016, Defendant moved for “clarification and/or reconsideration, ” which the Court denied. Dkts. 23, 24.

         On March 22, 2017, Defendant filed the present motion, seeking relief on the basis of the Colorado River doctrine. Dkt. 26. On April 3, 2017, Plaintiffs responded. Dkt. 27. On April 7, 2017, Defendant replied. Dkt. 29.

         On May 23, 2017, the Court entered an order requesting supplemental briefing on the issue of whether parallel litigation exists in state court. Dkt. 30. Specifically, the Court requested that the parties address whether a state court action was ever commenced against Defendant and how that fact would affect the Court's analysis.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendant moves to stay or dismiss this action pursuant to the Colorado River doctrine. Dkt. 26. Plaintiffs are opposed to a stay or dismissal, but argue that a stay is the appropriate remedy should the Court determine that the Colorado River doctrine applies. Dkt. 27.

         Under the Colorado River doctrine, federal courts must exercise their discretion to determine whether they will hear a case when a parallel action is pending in state court. Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976) (“Colorado River”). This decision is to be driven by “considerations of wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.” Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817 (quotation omitted). If the Court determines that it should defer to parallel state court proceedings, the appropriate remedy is to stay the federal action pending the outcome of the state court litigation. Attwood v. Mendocino Coast Dist. Hosp., 886 F.2d 241, 243 (9th Cir. 1989). This remedy “ensures that the federal forum will remain open if for some unexpected reason the state forum does turn out to be inadequate.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         The first step in applying the Colorado River doctrine is to determine whether there exists “parallel” state court litigation. See Holder v. Holder, 305 F.3d 854, 868 (9th Cir. 2002); Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 12 F.3d 908, 913 (9th Cir. 1993). If this threshold inquiry is satisfied, the Court then engages in a multi-factor balancing test to determine whether staying the federal action pending the outcome of the state court litigation serves the interest of “wise judicial administration.” See Nakash v. Marciano, 882 F.2d 1411, 1415 (9th Cir. 1989).

         A. Parallel Action

         There can be no doubt that there exists a state court proceeding that is closely related to this action. In T.K. I, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit alleging claims of negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and a violation of state mandatory reporting laws against Defendant, several other individuals, and Defendant's employer. Dkt. 34-1 at 2. Those claims arose from the same nexus of facts surrounding the alleged sexual abuse of the minor plaintiffs by Gary Shafer, a bus driver for Defendant's employer, Olympia School District. Id. at 2-20. However, although this case and T.K. I ...


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