Schrock et al v. Isuzu Motors Limited et al
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER Plaintiffs' Motion for Stay Pending Resolution of the Identical Matter Pending in State Court in California (Dkt. 19 ) is DENIED. A Motion Hearing on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 42 ) is set for July 12, 2011, at 4:00 p.m. in Pocatello District Courtroom before Judge Candy W. Dale. Signed by Judge Candy W Dale. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by jm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
STACEY SCHROCK; CHRISTINA
MONROE; LAUREL MONROE and
JAMES MONROE; and LISA SCHROCK
and JOHN SCHROCK,
Case No. 4:10-cv-521-CWD
ISUZU MOTORS LIMITED, a Japanese
corporation, ISUZU MOTORS AMERICA,
LLC, a California limited liability company,
which is the surviving entity following a
merger with Isuzu Motors America, Inc. and
American Isuzu Motors Inc.; SUBARU OF
INDIANA AUTOMOTIVE, INC., an
Indiana corporation, formerly known as
Subaru-Isuzu Automotive, Inc.; TAKATA
CORPORATION, a Japanese corporation;
TK HOLDINGS, INC., a Delaware
corporation; TAKATA SEAT BELTS,
INC., a Delaware corporation; TI
HOLDINGS, INC., a Delaware corporation,
formerly known as Takata, Inc.; and
John Doe Incs. (1-20),
Before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion for Stay (Dkt. 19) requesting a stay of this
action in favor of resolving identical litigation pending in the Superior Court of
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 1
California, in Orange County.1 Defendants oppose the motion and wish to litigate this
case here in the District of Idaho. After the motion was filed, the parties notified the Court
that the California state court denied an identical motion filed by Defendants to stay the
state court proceedings in favor of allowing the Federal case to continue here. (Dkt. 71-1.)
The California state court case has been set for trial to commence on April 9, 2012. (Dkt.
71-1.) This matter is set for trial as well, to commence on October 29, 2012. (Dkt. 57.)
The parties agree that the parties and claims asserted in the two actions are
identical. The Complaint seeks recovery of damages based upon products liability arising
out of a single vehicle rollover accident that occurred on October 24, 2008, in Minidoka
County, Idaho. Although Plaintiffs assert their preferred choice of venue is in California
state court, Plaintiffs represent they filed this identical action “out of an abundance of
caution” to toll the applicable Idaho statute of limitations in the event the California state
court action could not proceed or failed on other procedural grounds. (Mot. at 2, Dkt. 19;
Mem. at 3, Dkt. 19-1.) Beyond deciding the motion to stay, neither court has made any
substantive rulings. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, which if decided would not be
dispositive of all claims asserted in the complaint, is pending before this Court. (Dkt. 42.)
The parties have fully briefed the motion and it is now ripe for the Court’s consideration.
Having fully reviewed the record herein, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the
Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument,
the motion will be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument. Dist. Idaho L. Rule
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Plaintiffs argue that their choice of forum should be given deference. Plaintiffs
represent that they “intend to pursue this matter in California,” (Dkt. 70), and that if they
were allowed to proceed in California state court they would either stipulate to a stay of
this action or file a motion to dismiss. (Decl. of Chase ¶ 5, Dkt. 66-3.) Plaintiffs have filed
neither a stipulation for stay, or a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the Court will proceed
to determine if a stay is appropriate.
The parties argue their respective positions advocating for or against a stay under
Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976).
Colorado River sets forth several factors relevant when deciding whether “exceptional
circumstances” exist to stay a federal court action on the grounds that there is a similar
action pending in state court in which the controversy can be resolved. See 20 Charles
Alan Wright & Mary Kay Kane, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: FEDERAL
PRACTICE DESK BOOK § 54 at 456–58 (6th ed. 2002). No such exceptional circumstances
exist in this case weighing in favor of granting a stay.)2
The mere pendency of an action in state court does not require a federal court to
refuse to hear an action or stay an action, and both actions may go forward until one
results in a judgment. Id. See also Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817. Federal courts have
an “unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given them,” which in this case
The Court will proceed to rule on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, which has been fully briefed.
A hearing will be scheduled on July 12, 2011, at 4:00 p.m. at the Federal Courthouse in Pocatello.
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is based upon diversity of citizenship. Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817. The
circumstances permitting dismissal of a federal suit because a concurrent state proceeding
exists are “considerably more limited” than circumstances appropriate for abstention. Id.
The United States Supreme Court set forth several factors for federal courts to
consider, including (1) which court first assumed jurisdiction over property; (2) the
inconvenience of the federal forum; (3) the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation;
and (4) the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums. Id. The
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has recognized additional considerations added by
Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 28 (1983). Those are
whether federal law provides the rule of decision on the merits and whether the state court
proceedings are inadequate to protect the federal litigant’s rights. Travelers Indem. Co. v.
Madonna, 914 F.3d 1364, 1367 (9th Cir. 1990). Finally, the Court is to consider whether
the litigants are forum shopping. Travelers Indem. Co., 914 F.3d at 1367.
No one factor is determinative, and the Court must take into account both the
obligation to exercise jurisdiction and the combination of factors counseling against that
exercise. Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818. Additionally, the balance is “heavily weighted
in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.” Travelers Indem. Co., 914 F.3d at 1367. “Only
the clearest of justifications will warrant dismissal.” Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 819.
Within these parameters, an order staying the litigation is just as much a refusal to
exercise federal jurisdiction as a dismissal. Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp., 460 U.S. at 28.
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The first factor, jurisdiction over the property, is not helpful because money
damages are not the sort of tangible physical property referenced in Colorado River.
Travelers Indem. Co., 914 F.2d at 1368.
The inconvenience of the federal forum is similarly unhelpful. While Defendants
argue that all witnesses and documents in this case are in Idaho, a closer look reveals that,
in this products liability case, only one Idaho witness appears necessary. The facts of the
case do not hinge upon the crash itself, but rather upon the product—the seatbelt—that
Plaintiffs argue that the inconvenience of the federal forum supports granting a
stay, because in fact the documents and evidence they will be relying upon can be
obtained in California at Defendants’ headquarters. However, in this day of mobile
computing, electronic document submission, video conferencing, and e-mail, this factor is
not sufficiently great such that a stay is warranted.
The next factor, the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation, also is unhelpful.
Although Defendants suggest that the proceedings will be unnecessarily duplicative, the
correct evaluation of this factor involves considering whether “exceptional circumstances
exist” that justify special concern about piecemeal litigation. Travelers Indem. Co., 914
F.2d at 1369. In Colorado River, this factor tipped in favor of dismissal out of the desire
to avoid piecemeal litigation over state water rights and the existence of a forum for doing
so in state court as a matter of federal policy. No such concerns arise here.
The order in which jurisdiction was obtained is similarly unhelpful, considering
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both cases were filed on the same day. As for choice of law issues and application of state
products liability law, the Court is capable of deciding issues of state law. See Travelers
Indem. Co., 914 F.2d at 1370.
The two factors considering whether federal law provides the rule of decision on
the merits and whether the state court proceedings are inadequate to protect the federal
litigant’s rights tip slightly in favor of a stay. In this case, there are no issues of federal
law, as the case involves claims of negligence and products liability brought solely under
state law. Plaintiffs indicate that they filed suit in federal court to toll the statute of
limitations if Defendants sought dismissal in the California state court action. (Mem. at 4,
Dkt. 66.) The Court may stay an action “to ensure that the ‘federal forum will remain
open if for some unexpected reason the state forum does turn out to be inadequate.’”
Coopers & Lybrand v. Sun-Diamond Growers of Calif., 912 F.2d 1135, 1138 (9th Cir.
However, keeping one’s options open appears to come into play when a plaintiff’s
federal claims may be subject to dismissal by the state court, and would be precluded on
statute of limitations grounds if they were not simultaneously filed in federal court. See
Attwood v. Mendocino Coast Dist. Hosp., 886 F.2d 241 (9th Cir. 1989) (staying federal
court action when the state court had dismissed the plaintiff’s Section 1983 claim to avoid
the risk that the plaintiff would be time-barred from reinstating the federal suit).
In this case, Plaintiffs filed the action here because Idaho lacks a “savings clause”
which would automatically permit the case to be refiled in Idaho if it were dismissed in
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California. (Aff. of Komyatte ¶ 5, Dkt. 66-1.) Ostensibly, the California state court had
the option of dismissing the action as a resolution to Defendants’ motion to stay filed
there. However, the California state court action was not stayed or dismissed. Plaintiffs
represented that, if the California state court action was not dismissed or stayed, they
would dismiss the federal action. (Aff. of Komyatte Ex. A, Dkt. 66-1.) It is time for
Plaintiffs to determine their next steps.
As for forum shopping, it appears Plaintiffs filed the federal court action out of an
abundance of caution and concern regarding the statute of limitations. Defendants claim
that Plaintiffs have engaged in forum shopping because California has more favorable
laws and no connection to this case other than the location of the Defendants, and
therefore Plaintiffs should not be permitted to stay this action. However, the Ninth Circuit
has held that “forum shopping weighs in favor of a stay when the party opposing the stay
seeks to avoid adverse rulings made by the state court or to gain a tactical advantage from
the application of federal court rules.” Travelers Indem. Co., 914 F.2d at 1371.
Defendants do not allege that Plaintiffs had these purposes in mind when they chose to
file in state and federal court simultaneously. And, as it turns out, it appears from
Defendants’ arguments in opposition to the stay that it is Defendants who may be seeking
to avoid what they perceive as potential adverse rulings by the California state court
because of California’s presumably more favorable laws, and that is why Plaintiffs chose
to file in California. But Defendants have not pointed to any law in particular. Thus, this
factor does not appear to weigh in favor of a stay.
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To determine whether a stay is warranted, the factors must be balanced, with the
balance “heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.” Travelers Indem. Co.,
914 F.2d at 1372. While here, the forum-shopping factor may be an issue, no other factor
creates the “exceptional circumstances” justifying a stay under Colorado River because
these circumstances “are present to this degree in many instances of parallel federal-state
litigation.” Id. Therefore, the Court will not exercise its discretion to refuse jurisdiction,
and the motion will be denied.
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NOW THEREFORE IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Stay Pending Resolution of the Identical Matter
Pending in State Court in California (Dkt. 19) is DENIED.
A Motion Hearing on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 42) is set for
July 12, 2011, at 4:00 p.m. in Pocatello – District Courtroom before Judge
Candy W. Dale.
DATED: June 17, 2011
Honorable Candy W. Dale
Chief United States Magistrate Judge
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