Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Colorado River Abstention — Factors

Taveras v. Bank of Am., NA, 89 F.4th 1279 (11th Cir. 2024):


I.  Abstention Under Colorado River


Abstention is a determination that the district court “should abstain from exercising their jurisdiction.” Ambrosia Coal & Constr. Co. v. Morales, 368 F.3d 1320, 1327 (11th Cir. 2004). “Abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule.Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 813, 96 S.Ct. 1236. District courts have a duty to adjudicate the controversies before them, and abstention “is an extraordinary and narrow exception.” Id. (cleaned up). A pending state court case ordinarily does not bar a federal case concerning the same dispute, and the potential for conflicting adjudications, standing alone, is not enough to justify abstention. Id. at 816–17, 96 S.Ct. 1236. In limited and exceptional circumstances, certain principles of “wise judicial administration” do permit district courts to “dismiss a federal suit due to the presence of a concurrent state proceeding.” Id. at 818, 96 S.Ct. 1236.

As a threshold matter, Colorado River abstention allows a federal court to stay a case only “when federal and state proceedings involve substantially the same parties and substantially the same issues.” Ambrosia Coal, 368 F.3d at 1330. The issues and parties do not have to be identical to be substantially similar; if the standard required identical issues and parties, a party could easily circumvent abstention with creative pleading. Id. at 1329–30.

 Once a court has determined that the proceedings involve substantially similar issues and parties, the court must weigh six factors to decide whether to abstain:

(1) whether one of the courts has assumed jurisdiction over property,

(2) the inconvenience of the federal forum,

(3) the potential for piecemeal litigation,

(4) the order in which the fora obtained jurisdiction,

(5) whether state or federal law will be applied, and

(6) the adequacy of the state court to protect the parties’ rights.

Id. at 1331. Courts may also consider “the vexatious or reactive nature of either the federal or the state litigation” as part of their abstention inquiry. Id. (cleaned up).

These factors and considerations are not a “mechanical checklist,” and “the abstention inquiry must be ‘heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.’ ” Id. at 1332 (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16, 103 S.Ct. 927, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983)). No single factor is determinative, and the weight given to individual factors may vary from case to case. Id.One factor alone can be the sole motivating reason for the abstention.” Moorer v. Demopolis Waterworks & Sewer Bd., 374 F.3d 994, 997 (11th Cir. 2004).


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