FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff is a state prisoner who proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis with this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is incarcerated at Folsom State Prison, under the authority of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Currently pending is defendant's motion to stay this action pending the conclusion of plaintiff's related state court action, pursuant to the authority of
This action is referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302(c). For the reasons set forth herein, this court recommends that defendant's motion to stay this action be granted.
Plaintiff filed his initial complaint in this court on February 2, 2014.
Defendant initially responded with a motion to dismiss the FAC on statute of limitations grounds.
The related state court action was filed on October 4, 2011, more than two years before the instant federal action, based on the same incident challenged here. Defendant has provided a copy of plaintiff's complaint filed in the Sacramento County Superior Court (Case No. 34-2011-00111910).
Defendant moves to stay the instant federal action under the authority of
Federal district courts have discretion to stay an action in "exceptional circumstances," "due to the presence of a concurrent state proceeding for reasons of wise judicial administration."
"Abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule."
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has summarized the factors to be considered on a motion to stay under
The party seeking to stay a federal action due to the presence of a concurrent state proceeding has the burden of showing, based on application of the above-noted factors, that "exceptional circumstances" warrant the requested stay.
As a threshold matter, the state and federal actions must be "substantially similar" to support application of
The undersigned recognizes that the state court action appears to emphasize negligence while the federal complaint has been amended in an effort to state an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim, which requires a more culpable mental state than negligence.
Application of Colorado River Factors
Jurisdiction over property at stake
No property is involved in these parallel lawsuits, so the first Colorado River factor does not apply.
Inconvenience of federal forum
Both courts are located in Sacramento, so this factor is neutral.
Avoidance of piecemeal litigation
The third factor weighs strongly in favor of a stay. "The mere possibility of piecemeal litigation does not constitute an exceptional circumstance. Instead, the case must raise a special concern about piecemeal litigation, which can be remedied by staying or dismissing the federal proceeding."
Each of these special concerns weighs against the exercise of federal jurisdiction in the instant case. If plaintiff's state and federal actions proceed contemporaneously, the assessments of causation and injury would be duplicative and the results could be inconsistent. "Piecemeal litigation occurs when different tribunals consider the same issue, thereby duplicating efforts and possibly reaching different results."
The fourth factor, the order in which the forums obtained jurisdiction, clearly weighs in favor of a stay. Plaintiff initiated his state court action more than two years before he filed this federal action. Significantly more progress has been made in the state case. Trial assignment is scheduled next month in plaintiff's state lawsuit, while the instant action remains at the pleading stage. It is reasonable that plaintiff "be bound by [his] initial choice of the state forum, given the substantial progress that has occurred in the state court litigation." Am. Int'l Underwriters, 843 F.2d at 1259.
Law providing rule of decision
Although negligence and other tort claims are governed by state law, and federal constitutional claims are governed by federal law, plaintiff is not precluded from bringing his federal claim in state court. This court previously encouraged plaintiff to amend his state complaint to add his federal claim, even if presented in the alternative. The court informed plaintiff that whether or not he amends his state court complaint to include his federal claim, this court may nevertheless be precluded by principles of res judicata from later considering the federal claim.
Because the state court has the authority to consider plaintiff's federal claims, this factor does not weigh against a stay. Any inconsistencies among plaintiff's negligent, intentional tort, and deliberate indifference claims can and should be resolved in one forum.
Protection of parties' rights
The California courts are fully capable of vindicating plaintiff's rights. Inclusion of his federal constitutional claim in his state action, either in the original complaint or by amendment, would have provided a full and fair opportunity to litigate these factually and legally intertwined matters. "State courts, like federal courts, have a constitutional obligation . . . to uphold federal law."
Avoidance of forum shopping
Plaintiff has elected to pursue state law claims in state court and separately bring a related federal claim in federal court, despite concurrent jurisdiction over the latter. If this court were to proceed on the merits of plaintiff's federal action while his previously-filed and intentionally-limited state action proceeds in state court, plaintiff's efforts at forum shopping would be improperly rewarded. The courts "have no interest in encouraging this practice."
Whether state court will resolve all federal issues
Although not every element of plaintiff's federal claim will be litigated in the state proceedings, a state court judgment will likely have preclusive effect on plaintiff's federal claim for the reasons previously explained. Even absent a res judicata bar to federal litigation, a majority of the factual and legal questions presented by the FAC will necessarily be decided in the state court proceedings. This factor weighs in favor of a stay.
The Balance Weighs Strongly In Favor Of A Stay
Consideration of the above factors demonstrates that a stay is warranted in this case to conserve judicial resources, and to avoid piecemeal litigation and the possibility of inconsistent results. Deference to state court jurisdiction is particularly appropriate here because state court was plaintiff's initial forum choice, and the state court has always been available to resolve plaintiff's federal claim. Defendant has met his burden of demonstrating exceptional circumstances warranting a stay of this action.
Proposed Second Amended Complaint
Plaintiff has, without leave of court, filed a proposed Second Amended Complaint (SAC).
In general, upon motion, the court should "freely" grant leave to amend a pleading "when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). Given the present procedural posture of this case, however, amendment would be inappropriate. In light of the recommendation that this case be stayed pending final resolution of plaintiff's state court action, with the understanding that the state court's decision may impact the scope and viability of the instant case, amendment at this time serves no purpose. Therefore, plaintiff's implied request for leave to file his proposed SAC will be denied without prejudice.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. Plaintiff's implied motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint is DENIED without prejudice; and
2. The Clerk of Court is directed to designate on the docket that the Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 27, is to be disregarded.
Additionally, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that:
1. Defendant's motion to stay this action, ECF No. 34, be GRANTED;
2. This action be stayed pending final resolution of plaintiff's related state court case, Sacramento County Superior Court Case No. 34-2011-00111910; and
3. Defendant be directed to file and serve, within thirty days after final resolution of the above-noted state court case, a statement so informing the court, together with a supported motion requesting that this court either proceed with, or dismiss, the instant federal action.
These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to this case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within fourteen days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order.
The original federal complaint was dismissed on screening because plaintiff's allegations suggested that the incident had been accidental and therefore no more than negligent.