Peterson v. Madson et al
ORDER. Defendants' motions to dismiss Count I of the First Amended Complaint, Docs. 58, 63, 64, and 66, are granted. The Court will abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Count I, and Count I is dismissed in its entirety. Plaintiff's motion to join a party plaintiff and to substitute a plaintiff for purposes of Count I, Doc. 56, and Ameren UE's motion to dismiss, Doc. 70, are denied as moot. The pending motions to dismiss the original complaint, Docs. 40, 45, 46, 48, 49, and 51, are denied as moot. Signed on 7/5/2017 by Judge Nanette Laughrey. (Matthes Mitra, Renea)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MARSHALL LAWRENCE PETERSON,
WILLIAM MADSON, et al.,
Plaintiff Marshall Lawrence Peterson sues 31 defendants for declaratory judgment,
asking this Court to find void a judgment entered by the Circuit Court of Camden County,
Missouri in 1995 (Count I). He also sues four additional defendants for declaratory judgment
that an order by the Camden County Commission in 2005 is void (Count II), and asks that the
four defendants be enjoined from violating the Missouri Administrative Procedure Act
(Count III). Doc. 54 (First Amended Complaint). 1 Several sets of defendants have moved to
dismiss or stay Count I of the First Amended Complaint, due to a case now pending in the
Circuit Court of Camden County, Missouri. Docs. 58, 63, 64, and 66. 2 The motions to dismiss
are granted and Count I is dismissed in its entirety.
Henry McCasland developed the Purvis View subdivision in Camden County, Missouri
Count I is against 31 persons who own or owned land in the same subdivision as
Plaintiff, while Counts II and III are against the Camden County Commission and three
Defendants James Charter IV, Stephanie Paro, Rosemary Butts, Richard
Hotchkiss, and Jeanette McColligan filed Doc. 58. Defendants Christine Ellis and Keith Ellis
filed Doc. 63. Defendants Michael McCray, Melanie McCray, William Crabtree, Cynthia
Crabtree, Patrick Garvey, Diana Garvey, Kenneth Carpenter, Erin Carpenter, Michael Fogelson,
and Monica Fogelson filed Doc. 64. Defendant Barry Porter filed Doc. 66.
around 1930. Peterson is a “subsequent grantee and possessor in title to” McCasland. Doc. 54,
p. 4, para. 15.
Peterson alleges that McCasland expressly granted and dedicated roadway
easement rights to the lot owners, and their heirs, grantees, and assignees.
In 1995, certain successors in title and subsequent grantees and assignees of McCasland,
who then owned property in Purvis View subdivision, filed a petition in the Circuit Court of
Camden County, Missouri against Henry and Clara McCasland to quiet title. The plaintiffs
alleged that the subdivision plat did not include, but that Henry McCasland had owned, “a strip
of land varying in length and width, between the platted subdivision and the 662 contour line of
the Lake of the Ozarks.” Doc. 54-5, p. 2, para. 2. The plaintiffs further alleged that they and
their predecessors in title had been in open, notorious, hostile, uninterrupted, and undisputed
possession of the strip of land since 1931, and had made improvements upon it, including the
building of seawalls. They asked for a declaration that they had title in fee simple to the strip of
land. Notice of the suit was published in the newspaper. No one intervened in or contested the
relief requested, and the Camden County Circuit Court granted the petition to quiet title in
October 1995, holding that the plaintiffs adversely possessed the land and thereby divested title
from the McCaslands.
Peterson alleges that the strip of land that was the subject of the 1995 state-court
judgment was clearly dedicated as a roadway on the Purvis View subdivision plat. He alleges
that the plaintiffs in the 1995 state-court case tactically chose to name only the subdivision
developer and to provide notice by newspaper publication; failed to join all of the Purvis View
lot owners even though they were necessary and indispensable parties; and that he had no notice
whatsoever of that suit.
Peterson alleges that the state court exceeded its subject matter
jurisdiction under Mo. Rev. Stat. sec. 516.090 (relating to claims of adverse possession) and the
common law of adverse possession. He further alleges that a portion of the strip of land was
owned in fee simple by Union Electric d/b/a AmerenUE at the time of the suit, and that judgment
granting adverse possession against a utility company is prohibited. In Count I of the First
Amended Complaint, Peterson asks the Court to declare that the 1995 judgment is void.
Peterson further alleges in the First Amended Complaint that the Camden County
Commission granted Sharlene King’s petition to vacate a roadway in the Purvis View
subdivision in 2004, extinguishing the public’s right to use it. He alleges that the Commission’s
action violated the Missouri Administrative Procedures Act and has created a cloud on his title,
and controversy among the property owners concerning ownership and easement rights. In
Count II, Peterson asks this Court to declare the Camden County Commission’s order void. In
Count III, he alleges that the Camden County Commission’s order violated his civil rights, and
asks that the Commissioners be enjoined from failing to follow Mo. Rev. Stat. sec. 536.067 of
the Missouri Administrative Procedures Act.
In support of their motions to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, Defendants argue
that counterclaims are now pending in parallel proceeding in state court, involving the same
parties and issues as the case before this Court. Specifically, Peterson filed a lawsuit in Camden
County Circuit Court in 2015 against the same 31 defendants whom he is suing in Count I of his
First Amended Complaint before this Court.
See Peterson v. Madson, et al., no. 15CM-
CC00251, Cir. Ct. Camden County, Missouri. Doc. 58-1 and 58-44. As in his case currently
before this Court, Peterson alleged in the 2015 state court case that the strip of land in the Purvis
View Subdivision, along the contour line of the Lake of the Ozarks was clearly dedicated as a
roadway on the subdivision plat; that the plaintiffs in the 1995 state-court case tactically chose
not to join him and other necessary, indispensable parties, or to provide any proper notice; that
he had no notice whatsoever of the 1995 suit; that the state court lacked jurisdiction; and that the
1995 state-court judgment was therefore void. He asked the state court for an order declaring the
1995 judgment void. Doc. 58-1, p. 4. Several of the defendants 3 in the 2015 state-court case
also filed counterclaims against Peterson, including a counterclaim that was the mirror image of
Peterson’s complaint therein. Specifically, the defendants (or counterclaim plaintiffs) set out
Peterson’s allegations and their own allegations that the 1995 state-court judgment was valid
pursuant to the terms of the subdivision plat, and asked the state court to declare that the 1995
state-court judgment was valid. Doc. 58-3, pp. 8-10 (Second Amended Counterclaim, Count I).
Peterson voluntarily dismissed his petition in the 2015 Camden County case on
6/14/2016, stating that he would refile in the near future. Doc. 58-2. However, the defendants,
or counterclaim plaintiffs, continued to pursue their counterclaims and on 5/25/017, the Camden
County Circuit Court granted their motion for summary judgment on Count I, holding that the
1995 state-court judgment “is valid and enforceable.” Doc. 58-4, p. 1. The state court then set
trial on any remaining issues for 7/14/2017.
“[D]istrict courts possess discretion in determining whether and when to entertain an
action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter
jurisdictional prerequisites.” Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 282 (1995); see also Royal
Indem. Co. v. Apex Oil Co., 511 F.3d 788, 793 (8th Cir. 2008) (“[I]n a declaratory judgment
action, a federal court has broad discretion to abstain from exercising jurisdiction[.]”).
determining whether to abstain,
James Charter IV, Stephanie Paro, Rosemary Butts, Patrick Garvey, Diana
Garvey, Michael McCray, Melanie McCray, William Crabtree, Michael Fogelson, Jeanette
McColligan, Kenneth Carpenter, and Erin Carpenter.
[T]he district court must consider the scope and nature of the
pending state court proceeding to ascertain whether the issues in
controversy between the parties to the federal action, not
foreclosed under applicable substantive law, can be better settled
by the state court. . . . . If so, the district court must dismiss the
federal action because it would be uneconomical as well as
vexatious for a federal court to proceed in a declaratory judgment
suit where another suit is pending in a state court presenting the
same issues, not governed by federal law, between the same
Capitol Indemnity Corp. v. Haverfield, 218 F.3d 872 (8th Cir. 2000).
The threshold question for determining whether the Court should abstain is whether there
are parallel proceedings in state court that present an opportunity for the same issues to be
addressed. “Suits are parallel if substantially the same parties litigate substantially the same
issues in different forums.” Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Detco Indus., Inc., 426 F.3d 994, 997 (8th Cir.
2005). Factors relevant to whether proceedings are parallel include “the scope of the pending
state court proceeding and the nature of defenses open there.” Wilton, 515 U.S. at 282-83
(quotation omitted). Evaluating these factors “entails consideration of whether the claims of all
parties in interest can satisfactorily be adjudicated in that proceeding, whether necessary parties
have been joined, whether such parties are amenable to process in that proceeding, etc.” Id. at
283 (quotation omitted).
Substantially the same parties are litigating substantially the same issues in state court
and before this Court. Peterson sued in state court and in this Court for a declaration that the
1995 state-court judgment is void, alleging that the state court had not had necessary and
indispensable parties before it, that he had no notice whatsoever, and the state court did not have
authority to enter the judgment. Although Peterson voluntarily dismissed his claims in state
court, the counterclaim plaintiffs in the state court proceeding, who are also defendants in the
case before this Court, asserted a mirror-image claim, asking that the 1995 state-court judgment
be declared valid.
In considering whether to abstain, federal courts also look to which case was filed first
and which has made more progress. BASF Corp. v. Symington, 50 F.3d 555, 559 (8th Cir. 1995).
The 2015 state-court case was filed more than 18 months ago. That court recently issued an
interlocutory ruling granting summary judgment in favor of the counterclaim plaintiffs on their
Count I, holding that the 1995 state-court judgment was valid and enforceable, and setting the
remaining claims for trial in July 2017. The case before this Court was filed after the state-court
case, just over two months ago and is not as far along. Service has only recently been completed
and motions to dismiss in lieu of answers have been filed.
Nothing appears in the record demonstrating that Peterson could not raise appropriate
defenses in the 2015 state-court case, or that the claims could not be satisfactorily adjudicated
there, which is not surprising, given that that the counterclaim was the mirror image of
Peterson’s own claim for relief. Peterson in fact suggests that the judge in the currently pending
state-court case may yet agree with his argument that the 1995 judgment is invalid. Doc. 67,
pp. 2-3. Furthermore, nothing appears in the record demonstrating that necessary parties could
not be joined in the state court proceeding. Peterson seeks to add Ameren UE as a party plaintiff
to the case before this Court, Doc. 56, but he makes no argument that he could not have joined
Ameren UE in the state court proceeding, nor any argument that he sought to, nor is the Court
aware of any reason he could not have sought to do so. Finally, the issues concerning the 2015
judgment in both the pending state court case and this Court are based on state law.
In view of the foregoing, the Court concludes in its broad discretion that abstention is
appropriate with respect to Count I of the First Amended Complaint. Requiring the parties to
proceed in both courts would be uneconomical and vexatious, and serve no useful purpose. See
State Farm Fire and Cas. Co. v. Carnnahan, 2008 WL 205266, at * 2-3 (W.D. Mo. 2008)
(abstention from declaratory judgment suit was appropriate where the two cases were parallel;
the court was aware that hardly any progress had occurred in the federal case; the same issues
and parties were involved; and the legal matters involved only state law); American Family Mut.
Ins. Co. v. Carter Enterprises, Inc., 2005 WL 3310467, at *1-3 (W.D. Mo. 2005) (the two
pending parallel actions involved the same issues between the same parties; the state court action
could resolve all of the issues; and it would be inefficient to require litigation over the common
issue in two separate actions); and Federal Ins. Co. v. Sprigg Lane Inv. Corp., 915 F. Supp. 122,
124 (E.D. Mo. 1996) (the claims of all parties of interest could satisfactorily be adjudicated in
the state court proceeding; there were no matters of federal law to be decided; and a declaratory
judgment would serve no useful purpose). The Court is also mindful that if it elected to decide
the issue in the place of the Missouri court that is currently resolving the same question, then it
could be indulging in the very “gratuitous interference” that the Supreme Court in Wilton warned
against. See Wilton, 515 U.S. at 283 (“[W]here another suit involving the same parties and
presenting opportunity for ventilation of the same state law issues is pending in state court, a
district court might be indulging in gratuitous interference…if it permitted the federal declaratory
action to proceed”).
When a district court has determined that a federal declaratory judgment action serves no
useful purpose, it may dismiss or stay the action. Cincinnati Indem. Co. v. A.K. Constr. Co., 542
F.3d 623, 625 (8th Cir. 2008). When the scope of the state court action is broad enough to resolve
all disputes between the parties and there is no apparent reason why an action would return to
federal court, then dismissal rather than a stay is the most appropriate course. Capitol Indem.
Corp. v. Haverfield, 218 F.3d 872, 875 (8th Cir. 2000) (holding that dismissal was appropriate
where the state trial court had already rendered its decision and there appeared to be no reason
for the case to return to federal court). The scope of the pending state court proceeding is broad
enough to resolve Peterson’s claims before this Court concerning the 1995 state-court judgment,
inasmuch as the claims are essentially the same. Furthermore, there is no apparent reason why
the claim would return to this Court, particularly in view of the fact that the state court has
already rendered an interlocutory order on the merits of the claim. Accordingly, Count I will be
dismissed in its entirety and with respect to all Defendants whom it is brought against.
Defendants’ motions to dismiss Count I of the First Amended Complaint, Docs. 58, 63,
64, and 66, are granted. This Court will abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Count I and it is
dismissed in its entirety.
In view of the foregoing, Peterson’s motion to join a party plaintiff and to substitute a
plaintiff for purposes of Count I, Doc. 56, and Ameren UE’s motion to dismiss, Doc. 70, are
denied as moot. The pending motions to dismiss the original complaint, Docs. 40, 45, 46, 48, 49,
and 51, are also denied as moot.
s/ Nanette K. Laughrey
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
United States District Judge
Dated: July 5, 2017
Jefferson City, Missouri
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