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Chiampi v. Bally's Park Place

February 7, 2007

DONNA CHIAMPI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BALLY'S PARK PLACE, INC. D/B/A BALLY'S HOTEL AND CASINO, AND CAESAR'S ENTERTAINMENT, INC. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiff commenced this personal injury action in this Court on July 6, 2005, asserting diversity jurisdiction. Defendant moved to dismiss on July 26, 2006, arguing that the Court should abstain from adjudicating this case to avoid duplicative litigation. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be granted.

I.

On or about July 8, 2003, Plaintiff stayed at Bally's Hotel and Casino, located at Park Place and Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-7). Shortly after checking into her room, Plaintiff slipped and fell in the bathroom. (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff claims that the fall caused various injuries, and that Defendants are responsible.*fn1 (Id. at ¶¶ 10-12).

On July 6, 2005, Plaintiff commenced this action in this Court. Plaintiff also commenced another suit on July 5, 2005, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Atlantic County. (Pl. Br. at p. 1). Plaintiff admits that "[t]he parties and the allegations in the two different law suits are identical." (Id.). She explains that she instituted the suit in the state court to toll the statute of limitations in the event that the federal action was dismissed.*fn2 (Id. at pp. 1-2).

II.

Abstention is a judicially created doctrine that permits a federal court to abstain from accepting jurisdiction over a matter when a parallel state proceeding addresses the same matter. See Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813 (1976). "Abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule." Id. Abdication of the obligation to decide cases can be justified under this doctrine only in the exceptional circumstances where the order to the parties to repair to the state court would clearly serve an important countervailing interest. Id.; see also County of Allegheny v. Frank Mashuda Co., 360 U.S. 185, 188-89 (1959).

Under the abstention doctrine articulated in Colorado River, federal courts must consider the principles regarding federal-state relations which govern in situations involving the contemporaneous exercise of concurrent jurisdictions. 424 U.S. at 817. These principles rest on considerations of "[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation." Id. (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equipment Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183 (1952)).

The Colorado River Court cited six factors in determining whether abstention is appropriate: (1) which court first assumed jurisdiction over property that is the subject of litigation; (2) the convenience of the federal forum; (3) the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forum; (5) whether, and to what extent, federal law provides the rules of decision on the merits; and (6) the adequacy of the state proceeding in protecting the rights invoking federal jurisdiction. See Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818-19. "No one factor is necessarily determinative; a carefully considered judgment taking into account both the obligation to exercise jurisdiction and the combination of factors [counseling] against that exercise is required." Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 15 (1983).

In this case, the factors weigh heavily in favor of abstention.*fn3 The first factor is irrelevant since neither court in this case asserted jurisdiction over any property. The second factor weighs in favor of abstention. Atlantic City is where the accident occurred, and where Defendant and the witnesses are located. While Plaintiff claims that she must travel further to reach Atlantic City (175 miles compared to 117 miles), no party, no witness, and no evidence is located in Camden County. Atlantic City, overall, is more convenient than Camden.

The third factor also weighs in favor of abstention.

Litigating the same claim in two separate forums is a waste of judicial resources, and will undermine the goal of "wise judicial administration" envisioned by the Colorado River Court.

The fourth factor examines the order in which each forum asserted jurisdiction over the matter. Here, the Supreme Court cautions that "priority should not be measured exclusively by which complaint was filed first, but rather in terms of how much progress has been ...


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