HUGHES v. HAAS et al
ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND DEFENDANT CLARK COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT'S MOTION TO STAY - CCSD's Motion to Stay pending the outcome of the Kentucky state case is GRANTED. CCSD and Haas's Motions to Dismiss a re both DENIED. An order administratively closing this case on our docket will now enter, with leave to either party to move to reopen the case on our docket should the ensuing actions by the Kentucky courts warrant. Signed by Judge Sarah Evans Barker on 2/21/2013.(JLM)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
NEW ALBANY DIVISION
CLARK COUNTY SHERIFF’S
ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND DEFENDANT
CLARK COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S MOTION TO STAY
Before the Court are Motions to Dismiss by Defendants Kenneth Haas (“Haas”)
[Docket No. 36] and Clark County Sheriff’s Department (“CCSD”) [Docket No. 38] and
a Motion to Stay by CCSD. [Docket No. 40]. These motions are fully briefed, and the
Court, being duly advised, now GRANTS CCSD’s motion to stay and DENIES Haas
and CCSD’s motions to dismiss.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY1
Plaintiff, Adrian Hughes (“Hughes”), is an employee of Louisville Metro
Department of Corrections (“Metro Corrections”). Pl’s Am. Compl. ¶ 10. On or about
March 20, 2009, he participated in a Metro Corrections in-service training at CCSD’s
Haas and CCSD have both moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Accordingly, the Court accepts the facts outlined in Hughes’s
amended complaint as true. See, e.g., Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 908 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal
training facility. Id. ¶ 10-11. Haas, during a role-play scenario, “discharged [a] weapon
while in close proximity to [Hughes’s] ear.” Id. ¶ 18. Neither CCSD nor Haas provided
Hughes with proper safety equipment nor did either provide any instruction regarding the
use of such equipment. Id. As a result, Hughes has suffered permanent loss of hearing
and vertigo along with other permanent and irreparable harm. Id. ¶ 31. Hughes filed a
workers’ compensation claim and was paid benefits. CCSD’s Motion to Stay Ex. A ¶14.
On October 28, 2009, Hughes sued CCSD and Haas in Jefferson Circuit Court
(Kentucky) —Haas for negligence and CCSD for negligence, premises liability, and
breach of contract. On March 17, 2011, he filed a nearly identical2 complaint against
Haas and CCSD in our court. [Docket No. 1]. On March 27, 2012, the Jefferson Circuit
Court granted CCSD’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and also
granted Haas’s motion for summary judgment. Specifically, that court held that Haas, as
a Metro Corrections employee, was shielded from individual liability under Kentucky’s
workers’ compensation law. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 342.690.
court further held that “it would be impossible for a reasonable jury to conclude that Mr.
Haas was acting on behalf of CCSD when he was training Metro Corrections officers.”
Hughes filed a notice of appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals on April 19,
2012. While the appeal was pending, both Haas and CCSD filed motions to dismiss in
the case before us claiming the Kentucky trial court’s order was a final judgment. Haas
claims Hughes is barred by res judicata from relitigating his claim against him in this
Hughes also sued Underwriters Safety & Claims (“Underwriters”), Metro Corrections’
workers’ compensation insurance carrier, in the Kentucky lawsuit. CCSD Ex. A at 1.
Underwriters is not a party in the present lawsuit.
Court. CCSD argues, in part, that collateral estoppel (claim preclusion) prevents Hughes
from arguing here that Haas was acting as CCSD’s agent. CCSD has now filed a motion
to stay these proceedings pending a decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals on
A. Colorado River abstention3
In Colo. River Conservation Dist. v. United States, the Supreme Court held that
the issuance of a stay of a proceeding in federal court during a pendency of a similar
matter in state court is an “extraordinary and narrow exception to the duty of a district
court to adjudicate a controversy properly before it.” 424 U.S. 800, 813, 96 S. Ct. 1236,
47 L. Ed. 2d 483 (1976) (internal quotation omitted). However, the High Court affirmed
that a district court is empowered to abstain by postponing its exercise of jurisdiction to
advance “considerations of ‘wise judicial administration’” thereby allowing the full
adjudication of a matter in state court while conserving judicial resources and aiding in
the comprehensive disposition of the litigation. Id. at 817 (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v.
C-O-Two Fire Equipment Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183, 72 S. Ct. 219, 96 L. Ed. 200 (1952)).
In determining whether a case fits within this narrow scope of the abstention
doctrine, the Seventh Circuit applies a two-step test. First, the Court must determine
whether the state and federal cases are parallel actions. Cases are considered parallel
actions if “the same parties are contemporaneously litigating substantially the same issues
Both Hughes and CCSD discussed CCSD’s motion to stay under Colorado River. Pl’s Motion
to Stay Resp. at 2, CCSD’s Motion to Stay Rep. at 1. The Court therefore addresses the motion
under Colorado River before discussing other grounds for declining to exercise its jurisdiction.
in another forum,” Clark v. Lacy, 376 F.3d 682, 686 (7th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation
omitted), and there is a “substantial likelihood that the state litigation will dispose of all
claims presented in the federal case.” Id. (quoting Lumen Constr., Inc. v. Brant Constr.
Co., 780 F.2d 691, 695 (7th Cir. 1985)). Second, if the actions are parallel, a court must
weigh several additional factors to determine whether “wise judicial administration,”
Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 817, permits the Court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction
before the state case achieves final resolution. See Clark, 376 F.3d at 685.
If abstention pursuant to Colorado River is deemed appropriate during the
pendency of state litigation, usually the preferred action is to stay the entire case, rather
than enter a dismissal or exercise partial jurisdiction over non-overlapping claims.
LaDuke v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 879 F.2d 1556, 1561-62 (7th Cir. 1989); see also
Tyrer v. City of S. Beloit, Ill., 456 F.3d 744 (7th Cir. 2006); Rosser v. Chrysler Corp., 864
F.2d 1299, 1308 (7th Cir. 1988).
B. Other grounds for abstention
That said, the Colorado River doctrine does not entail an application of a
“mechanical checklist” in deciding whether to abstain. See Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp.
v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16, 103 S. Ct. 927, 74 L. Ed. 2d 765 (1983). The
underlying rationale for abstention on non-Colorado River grounds mirrors that for
Colorado River abstention, in other words to “prevent duplication of judicial effort in
two separate court systems and to confine the litigation to the forum able to make the
most comprehensive disposition.” Calvert Fire Ins. Co. v. Am. Mut. Reins. Co., 600 F.2d
1228, 1233 (7th Cir. 1979). Among the factors considered by a court are the “relative
progress of the parallel actions and the presence of extensive rights governed by state
law.” Telecomm. of Ind., Inc. v. Westel Svc. Corp., 663 F. Supp. 881, 884 (N.D. Ind.
1987) (citing Moses H. Cone, 460 U.S. at 16). While there is a strong presumption in
favor of exercising jurisdiction, a district court has discretion to determine whether to
decline to exercise jurisdiction when there is a pending state action. The court is neither
barred from exercising such jurisdiction nor is it compelled to do so. Will v. Calvert Fire
Ins. Co., 437 U.S. 655, 662-63, 98 S. Ct. 2252, 57 L. Ed. 2d 504 (1978) (citing Brillhart
v. Excess Ins. Co., 316 U.S. 491, 494, 62 S. Ct. 1173, 86 L. Ed. 1620 (1942); McClellan
v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 30 S. Ct. 501, 54 L. Ed. 762 (1910)).
It is clear in the case before us that the underlying facts and causes of action
arising therefrom are identical in both the state and federal actions. In addition, the
parties are the same, with the exception of Underwriters, which has been omitted from
the federal complaint. Pl’s Am. Compl.; CCSD’s Motion to Stay Ex. A. Thus, the exact
same issues are being litigated contemporaneously in Kentucky and here. Clark, 376
F.3d at 686. If the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirms the trial court’s findings to hold
that Haas was shielded from individual liability under the state’s workers’ compensation
law and was not acting as CCSD’s agent at the time of the injury, Haas is entitled to
assert a res judicata defense in this action before us. Such a decision by the Kentucky
appellate court would also likely bar Hughes from arguing that CCSD has respondeat
However, Hughes correctly notes that the Kentucky trial court dismissed his case
against CCSD for lack of personal jurisdiction, so no adjudication of the merits of that
case has yet occurred. Pl’s Resp. at 2. Hughes has sued CCSD on claims of negligence,
premises liability, and breach of contract, which theories are separate from those asserted
against Haas, even in his capacity as CCSD’s agent. If the Kentucky Court of Appeals
were to affirm the trial court’s decision without Hughes’s claim against CCSD being
fully resolved, the federal and state claims would not qualify as parallel actions, making
abstention under Colorado River inappropriate.
Whether a stay should enter on non-Colorado River grounds poses a separate
question. As previously noted, the state and federal court claims against Haas are
identical and the Kentucky trial court’s summary judgment disposed of Hughes’s entire
complaint against Haas. CCSD’s Motion to Stay Ex. B at 6-7. Thus, we can foresee a
risk of inconsistent and piecemeal rulings on dispositive issues if both cases were to
proceed to a final determination. For example, if we were to exercise jurisdiction and
find Haas individually liable, that holding would clearly conflict with the decision by the
Kentucky Court of Appeals shielding Haas from liability. Moreover, we note that the
claims in both cases are based on Kentucky law, not federal, and the Kentucky claim was
filed approximately five months prior to the docketing of our case. Thus, we conclude
that CCSD’s motion to stay our case is well-taken and, accordingly, we shall stay
Hughes’s claim against Haas and deny Haas’s motion to dismiss.
Regarding the negligence claim against CCSD as framed in Count I, Hughes
claims that CCSD “failed to exercise reasonable care in the operation, maintenance, and
inspection of its premises, including, but not limited to, the use of a weapon indoors. . . .”
Pl’s Am. Compl. ¶ 21. In his second count for premises liability, Hughes accuses CCSD
of breaching its duty to keep the training facility in reasonably safe condition, id. ¶¶ 2425, alleging that “such negligence was a proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.” Id. ¶
26. Count III asserts Hughes’s breach of contract claim against CCSD relating to its
contract with Metro Corrections (and Hughes) “by failing to provide for the reasonably
safe use and . . . condition of its Training Facility,” id. ¶ 29, claiming that “Plaintiff, as a
third party beneficiary, incurred damages.” Id. ¶ 30. In each of these three counts,
Hughes also sues Haas as the agent of CCSD. Id. ¶¶ 21, 23-27, 29.
In seeking to stay the case, CCSD maintains that holding our case in abeyance
“will avoid the possibility of inconsistent judgments rendered by this Court and Kentucky
Court of Appeals based on the Kentucky agency issues involved in the case.” We agree.
If the Kentucky trial court’s decision is upheld, Hughes will be barred by collateral
estoppel from relitigating the agency issue—a decision that would likely be dispositive of
Hughes’s claims against CCSD to the extent they are based on respondeat superior. As
with Hughes’s claims against Haas, in order to avoid conflicting decisions between the
Kentucky Court of Appeals and this court, we regard it as prudent to stay a resolution of
Hughes’s claim against CCSD as well, pending final resolution of the Kentucky state
case. We therefore grant CCSD’s motion to stay, and we deny CCSD’s motion to
For the foregoing reasons, CCSD’s Motion to Stay pending the outcome of the
Kentucky state case is GRANTED. CCSD and Haas’s Motions to Dismiss are both
DENIED. An order administratively closing this case on our docket will now enter, with
leave to either party to move to reopen the case on our docket should the ensuing actions
by the Kentucky courts warrant.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
Kyle David Kaiman
HARGADON LENIHAN & HERRINGTON PLLC
Christopher H. Morris
HARGADON, LENIHAN, & HERRINGTON PLLC
Burrell Frank Radmacher, III
JEFFERSON COUNTY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
R. Jeffrey Lowe
KIGHTLINGER & GRAY, LLP
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