United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
REBECCA HARGROVE, et al. PLAINTIFFS
JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al. DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Whalin, Magistrate Judge United States District Court.
Defendants, Jefferson County Board of Education,,
(“Defendants”) have filed a motion asking this
Court to hold this action in abeyance on the grounds of
Colorado River Water Conservation District v.
United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d
483 (1976). (DN 10). Plaintiff Rebecca Hargrove has responded
in opposition (DN 14), and Defendants have replied (DN 15).
For the following reasons, Defendant's motion will be
September 12, 2016, Plaintiff Rebecca Hargrove, as
Grandmother, Guardian, and Next Friend of R.S.
(“Hargrove”), filed a complaint in Jefferson
Circuit Court against Crosby Middle School Employees Michael
Kelly (Principal), Jeffrey Marshall (Assistant Principal),
and Diane Elder (Counselor). (DN 10-2). The complaint alleges
that Defendants “ha[d] an affirmative duty to maintain
a safe learning environment and protect R.S. from harm”
but “in spite of requests to protect R.S. from the
tragedy of bullying occurring to R.S., the Defendants did
nothing.” (Id. at ¶¶ 6-7). Hargrove
asserted one claim of “negligence and/or negligent
supervision and/or negligence per se” and cited to KRS
§§ 158.440, 158.148(1), 158.150, 161.180, and
525.070. (Id. at ¶ 16).
two months later, Plaintiff Mark Cooke, as Father and Next
Friend of M.C. (“Cooke”), filed a motion to
intervene in the Jefferson Circuit Court action. (DN 10-3).
Cooke additionally named Superintendent Donna Hargens and
Assistant Principal Jennifer Neuman as intervening
Defendants. The motion states that the subject matter and
factual basis for Cooke's claim is the same as that of
Hargrove's case, namely, “the failure of the Crosby
administrators to protect the students in a safe, healthy and
secure educational environment.” (Id.).
after the motion to intervene was filed, Hargrove and
Cooke's counsel filed the instant action in this Court
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (DN 1). Six Plaintiffs are named
in the Complaint, including Hargrove and Cooke.
(Id.). The named Defendants are Kelly, Marshall,
Elder, Hargens, Neuman, the Jefferson County Board of
Education, Delores Hughes (Counselor), and Hope Johnson
(Counselor). (Id.). Like in the state court action,
Hargrove alleges that Defendants had “an affirmative
duty to maintain a safe learning environment and protect R.S.
from harm” but “did nothing” in spite of
consistent or daily requests to protect R.S. from bullying.
(Id.at ¶¶ 12-13). Hargrove further
contends that R.S. endured and suffered “daily
bullying” which resulted in medical and/or psychiatric
care. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). Cooke makes
similar allegations (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24,
30-31), as do the other four plaintiffs.
January 10, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary
judgment based on qualified immunity in the state court
action. Plaintiffs, in response, requested the Jefferson
Circuit Court stay consideration of the summary judgment
motion because the court had not yet ruled on Plaintiff
Cooke's motion to intervene. Defendants indicate that as
of March 13, 2017, no rulings have been entered on the
pending state court motions.
Defendants have filed a motion to hold the federal action in
abeyance in light of the “duplicative, parallel
proceeding in Jefferson Circuit Court.” (DN 10-1, at p.
1). Defendants argue this Court should hold the federal case
in abeyance based on the Colorado River abstention
doctrine. (Id. at p. 4). Defendants emphasize that
the parallel state action creates a significant danger of
piecemeal litigation and inconsistent results. (Id.
at p. 5).
opposition, Hargrove urges the Court to deny Defendants'
requested stay because the state action and federal action
are not parallel in that the federal action includes §
1983 claims. (DN 14, at pp. 4-5). Even if the actions were
parallel, Hargrove argues that balancing the Colorado
River factors weighs against holding the federal action
in abeyance. (Id. at p. 5).
courts have a “virtual unflagging obligation” to
exercise the jurisdiction conferred upon them by Congress.
Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United
States, 424 U.S. 800, 825 (1976). In certain
circumstances, however, a federal court will abstain from
hearing a case that is properly before it. One such
circumstance is known as the Colorado River
abstention doctrine, which applies when a federal case
involves substantially the same parties and issues as a
parallel case in state court. Colo. River, 424 U.S.
at 817-21. But as the Supreme Court emphasized in
Colorado River itself, abstention is “the
exception, not the rule.” Id. at 813.
is a two-step process for determining whether abstention is
warranted under Colorado River. Romine v.
Compuserve Corp. 160 F.3d 337 (6th Cir. 1998). First,
the Court must determine whether the federal and state
proceedings are “parallel.” Id. at 339;
see also Crawley v. Hamilton Cnty. Comm'rs, 744
F.2d 28 (6th Cir. 1984). It is not required that the
proceedings be exactly parallel or identical; “[i]t is
enough if the two proceedings are substantially
similar.” Id. at 340; Crawley, 744
F.2d at 31. Two proceedings are substantially similar
“where (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. . .” Taylor v. Campanelli, 29 F.Supp.3d
972, 977 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (quoting Romine, 160 F.3d
at 340). The parties in both proceedings need not be
identical. Instead, “[p]arties with ‘nearly
identical' interests are considered ‘substantially
the same' for Colorado River purposes.”
Id. (quoting Clark v. Lacy, 376 F.3d 682,
686 (7th Cir. 2004)).
Defendants argue the cases are parallel because there is
overlap in the parties, both cases involve identical
allegations with respect to Hargrove and R.S., and both cases
focus on the purported bullying of students at Crosby Middle
School. (DN 10-1, at p. 4). Plaintiff counters that the two
actions are not parallel because there is no possibility that
complete relief can be obtained in state court. (DN 14, at p.
4). Specifically, Plaintiff explains that in state court
Defendants have moved for summary judgment based on a
qualified immunity defense under state law, which cannot
dispose of a § 1983 claim. (Id.).
Court finds that the state and federal cases are parallel for
purposes of the Colorado River doctrine analysis.
The parties in the two cases, while not identical, are
substantially similar. Both cases involve Hargrove as a
plaintiff and involve five of the same individual defendants.
Although Cooke currently seeks to intervene in the state
court action and four additional plaintiffs exist in the
federal action, all six ...