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Moten v. Brock Medical, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

December 6, 2018



          Joseph H. McKinley Jr., District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. [DN 7]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         Defendant Brock Medical, LLC (“First Care”) hired Plaintiff Lisa Moten in January 2017, as an as-needed X-Ray Technician. [DN 1 at ¶¶ 7, 9]. After June 9, 2017, Ms. Moten did not return to work for various medical reasons, including an “emergency heart condition” and “open heart surgery.” [Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11]. On or about September 7, 2017, First Care terminated Ms. Moten from the personnel system, when she had not returned or provided any definitive updates about her return. [Id. at ¶ 39]. About a month thereafter, Ms. Moten left a doctor's note at the front desk of the clinic stating she could return to work. [Id. at ¶ 26].

         On February 28, 2018, Ms. Moten filed a Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”) disability discrimination lawsuit against First Care in Henderson Circuit Court, Henderson, Kentucky. [DN 7-2]. Thereafter, on March 8, 2018, Ms. Moten filed a Charge of Discrimination against First Care with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) making the same disability discrimination allegations but seeking relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). [DN 7-3]. On April 4, 2018, the EEOC issued to Ms. Moten a Notice of Right to Sue. [DN 7-4]. Ms. Moten did not add the ADA claims to the pending lawsuit in Henderson Circuit Court but instead filed the instant lawsuit on July 3, 2018.

         First Care's counsel called Ms. Moten's counsel and stated they would not oppose a motion to amend to bring her KCRA claims over to federal court, but Ms. Moten's counsel declined. Thereafter, First Care filed the instant Motion to Dismiss requesting that this Court abstain from exercising jurisdiction, even though jurisdiction would otherwise be proper. [DN 7]. Specifically, First Care argues that there are parallel actions proceeding in both state and federal courts. [DN 7-1 at 5-6]. As a result, First Care contends that consideration of several factors is necessary to determine whether abstention is proper and that, upon consideration, those factors weigh in favor of abstention. [Id. at 6-13].

         Ms. Moten responded arguing that, as an initial matter, a request for abstention is not proper under Rule 12. [DN 9 at 1-2]. Further, she argues that the state court proceeding is not parallel with this federal proceeding because the claims are not the same. [Id. at 4]. As such, she claims the factors to consider when determining whether to abstain are not relevant. [Id. at 5]. However, she argues in the alternative that if this Court finds the proceedings to be parallel, the factors weigh against the Court abstaining from exercising jurisdiction. [DN 9 at 5-7]. Finally, First Care replied contending first that the Motion to Dismiss was procedurally proper and then expounding on prior arguments that the proceedings are parallel, and that the relevant factors weigh in favor of abstention. [DN 10].

         II. Discussion

         As a preliminary matter, Ms. Moten takes issues with First Care's procedural mechanism to request abstention. Specifically, that First Care's argument “that this court should abstain under Colorado River so that Plaintiff's federal claims may proceed to state court . . . is essentially the opposite of asserting that Plaintiff's federal claims fail to state a claim under Rule 12[b](6).” [DN 9 at 2]. First Care retorts that “Rule 12(b)(1) permits the moving party to raise defenses associated with subject matter jurisdiction.” [DN 10 at 2]. First Care is correct. This Court has indeed considered Colorado River abstention arguments made by parties in motions to dismiss and will do so here. See, e.g., Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. v. Associated Eng'rs, Inc., 2013 WL 6230613 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 2, 2013); Golden Gate Nat'l Senior Care, LLC v. Hudson, 2017 WL 4274167 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 26, 2017).

         First Care argues that the Court should dismiss, or in the alternative, stay this action under the doctrine announced by the Supreme Court in Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States. 424 U.S. 800 (1976). Pursuant to Colorado River, federal courts have a “narrow exception” to their “virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given them” where there is (1) “parallel” litigation pending in state court, and (2) the proposed litigation in federal court would be duplicative or unwise. Id. at 817-818; Bates v. Van Buren Tp., 122 Fed.Appx. 803, 806 (6th Cir. 2004); Gottfried v. Medical Planning Servs., Inc., 142 F.3d 326, 329 (6th Cir. 1998).

         A. Parallel Litigation

         The threshold question in the Colorado River abstention analysis is whether there are parallel proceedings in state court. Crawley v. Hamilton County Comm'rs, 744 F.2d 28, 31 (6th Cir. 1984). To be “parallel” the proceedings must be “substantially similar.” Romine v. Compuserve Corp., 160 F.3d 337, 340 (6th Cir. 1998). This does not mean that the parties or the claims must be identical. Heitmanis v. Austin, 899 F.2d 521, 528 (6th Cir. 1990). “However, cases are not considered parallel if there is an issue that would not be resolved by the state court upon the completion of the state court action.” Kopacz v. Hopkinsville Surface and Storm Water Utility, 714 F.Supp.2d 682, 686 (W.D. Ky. 2010) (citing E. ON U.S. Services, Inc. v. QSC Painting, Inc., 2008 WL 3982499 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 26, 2008); PNC Bank, National Assoc. v. Person, 2007 WL 1423744 (W.D. Ky. May 8, 2007)); see also Wright v. Linebarger Googan Blair & Sampson, LLP, 782 F.Supp.2d 593, 603-604 (W.D. Tenn. 2011). “‘The issue is not . . . whether the proceedings could be modified to make them parallel; the issue is whether the state court proceeding, as it currently exists, is a parallel state-court proceeding.'” Kopacz, 714 F.Supp.2d at 686-687 (quoting PNC Bank, 2007 WL 1423744) (citing Baskin v. Bath Tp. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 15 F.3d 569, 572 (6th Cir. 1994)) (emphasis in original). If the Court determines the two concurrent actions in state and federal court are parallel, it must then weigh various factors that “rest on considerations of wise judicial administration, [and give] regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.” Romine, 160 F.3d at 339 (quotations omitted).

         In the present case, it is evident that the two parties are identical in both proceedings. The determination of whether parallel proceedings exist thus turns on the likeness of the claims. The Sixth Circuit has long held that so long as the “claims raised in both suits are ‘predicated on the same allegations as to the same material facts,' the two actions will come close enough to count as parallel.” Preferred Care of Delaware, Inc. v. VanArsdale, 676 Fed.Appx. 388, 393 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Romine, 160 F.3d at 340). That is the case here. As well-summarized in First Care's Motion, Ms. Moten relies on the same material facts in making both her KCRA and ADA claims. [DN 7-1 at 6]. Additionally, Ms. Moten is making the same allegations in both her state and federal court complaints, despite the allegations' stylistic differences. Ms. Moten argues that, “[b]ecause the KCRA was not amended when Congress amended the ADA . . ., Kentucky federal and state courts apply the older ADA standard to KCRA claims, rather than the newer [Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act]” and as such the allegations are not the same. [DN 9 at 4]. However, First Care is correct that “Ms. Moten ignores . . . the remaining substantially [sic] similarity between the two statutes including the proper legal analysis for disability claims beyond the definition of what constitutes a disability.” [DN 10 at 3]; See, e.g., Stearman v. Ferro Coals, Inc., 2018 WL 5778320, at *3 (6th Cir. Nov. 2, 2018) (“KCRA-disability-discrimination claims are interpreted consistently with the standards developed under federal law-here the Americans with Disabilities Act.”) (quotation omitted). In this instance, the resolution of the state proceeding may very well dispose of the claims in this federal action. Compare E. ON U.S. Servs., Inc. v. QSC Painting, Inc., 2008 WL 3982499 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 26, 2008) (finding the actions were not parallel where the primary issue in the federal case will need to be decided regardless of the outcome of the state court case). Both of Ms. Moten's cases are principally about the legality of First Care's actions regarding her employment and allege the same civil rights violations. As such, the two cases constitute parallel proceedings for purposes of Colorado River abstention.

         B. Other Colorad ...

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