United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. BODENHAUSEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on defendant Hall Hauling's
motion to stay and supplemental motion to dismiss or, in the
alternative, to stay. Plaintiff BNSF Railway Company has
filed responses in opposition and the issues are fully
briefed. All matters are pending before the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
action arises from a collision between a commercial truck
owned by Hall Hauling and a BNSF freight train, in which the
driver of the truck died and the train derailed. Litigation
is proceeding in both state and federal courts. Hall Hauling
asks the Court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction,
pursuant to Colorado River Water Cons. Dist. v. United
States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), and either stay this action
or dismiss it outright.
Factual and Procedural Background
5, 2017, a BNSF freight train loaded with coal was proceeding
southbound on a track near Foley, Missouri. Mr. Shanon
Amerosa, an employee of Hall Hauling, had just picked up a
truckload of rock at a mine operated by Magruder Limestone
Company, Inc., and Magruder Quarry and Equipment Co., LLC
(collectively, “Magruder”). Mr. Amerosa departed
from the quarry on a road that crossed the railroad tracks.
He entered the railroad crossing and was struck by the BNSF
train. The collision caused Mr. Amerosa's death, the
destruction of Haul Hauling's truck, and the derailment
of 30 loaded coal cars and a locomotive. [Docs. # 1 at ¶
12; # 9-1 at ¶ 38; # 9-3 at ¶¶ 13-15].
13, 2017, Mr. Amerosa's minor daughter filed a wrongful
death action in the Circuit Court of Lincoln County, naming
Magruder and BNSF. Amerosa v. Magruder Limestone Co.,
Inc., et al., No. 17L6-CC00072, Amended Petition [Doc. #
9-1] (the Lincoln County action). BNSF filed a counterclaim
for property damage, alleging that Mr. Amerosa was at fault
for the collision. [Doc. # 9-2]. The Lincoln County court
dismissed BNSF's counterclaims because they were asserted
against Mr. Amerosa, who was not the plaintiff in the suit,
but granted BNSF leave to brings its claims in a third-party
action. [Docs. # 13-1, # 13-2].
November 1, 2017, Hall Hauling filed a motion to intervene in
the Lincoln County action in order to assert a negligence
claim against BNSF for the loss of its truck. [Doc. # 9-3]. On
November 17, 2017, rather than file a third-party action
against Hall Hauling in the Lincoln County case, BNSF filed
this diversity action alleging that Hall Hauling was
vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of its employee
and directly liable for his negligent training. Hall Hauling
filed a motion to stay the federal action pending the Lincoln
County court's decision on its motion to intervene,
arguing that abstention under Colorado River would
be warranted in the federal case if it were allowed to
intervene in the state case. BNSF opposed the motion to stay,
arguing that the Court should not abstain under Colorado
River, no matter the outcome of Hall Hauling's
motion to intervene.
state court granted Hall Hauling leave to intervene on
January 10, 2018. BNSF filed an answer and counterclaim in
which it asserts the same claims asserted in its complaint in
this action. Hall Hauling has filed a supplemental motion in
the federal action again arguing that abstention is warranted
under Colorado River.
Colorado River abstention doctrine permits federal
courts to decline to exercise jurisdiction over cases where
“parallel” state court litigation is pending.
Spectra Commc'ns Grp., LLC v. City of Cameron,
Mo., 806 F.3d 1113, 1121 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Cottrell v. Duke, 737 F.3d 1238, 1245 (8th Cir.
2013)). “This rule is based on ‘considerations of
wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation
of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of
litigation.'” Id. (quoting Colorado
River, 424 U.S. at 817). Because federal courts have a
“virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the
jurisdiction given them, ” Colorado River
abstention is appropriate only in “exceptional
circumstances” where the surrender of federal
jurisdiction is supported by “the clearest of
justifications.” Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v.
Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 25-26 (1983). In
determining whether a specific case presents
“exceptional circumstances, ” a court must
“tak[e] into account both the obligation to exercise
jurisdiction and the combination of factors counselling
against that exercise.” Colorado River, 424
U.S. at 818-19.
parallel state court proceeding is a necessary prerequisite
to use of the Colorado River factors.” In
re Burns & Wilcox, 54 F.3d 475, 477 (8th Cir. 1995).
In the Eighth Circuit, it is not enough that the state and
federal cases are based on the same general facts or subject
matter and involve the same parties. Fru-Con Const. Corp.
v. Controlled Air, Inc., 574 F.3d 527, 535 (8th Cir.
2009). Rather, there must be a “substantial likelihood
that the state proceeding will fully dispose of the claims
presented in federal court.” Id. BNSF
initially argued that the state and federal actions were not
parallel because its negligence claims were raised only in
the federal action. BNSF has now filed negligence
counterclaims against Hall Hauling in the state court action
and thus there is a substantial likelihood that the state
court proceedings will fully dispose of the claims BNSF
asserts against Hall Hauling in the federal action. The
Lincoln County and federal proceedings are parallel.
Colorado River Factors
parallel state and federal proceedings exist, the courts
examine the following six factors to determine whether