United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MILOWE ANGER, DAVID V. SIMUNOVICH OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY
On behalf of Plaintiff
M. HOFFMAN, ANDREW M. ERDLEN, HANGLEY ARONCHICK, SEGAL PUDLIN
& SCHILLER CHERRY HILL, On behalf of Defendant
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
case concerns Defendant's alleged violation of Title III
of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42
U.S.C. §§ 12151-89. Presently before the Court is
Defendant's Motion to Stay and, Alternatively, for
Partial Dismissal. For the reasons that follow,
Defendant's Motion to Stay is denied, as is
Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal.
Court takes its facts from Plaintiff's January 18, 2017
complaint. Defendant Nobel Learning Communities (NLC)
is the owner and operator of Chesterbrook Academy
("Chesterbrook") in Moorestown, New Jersey.
Chesterbrook offers daycare services and an educational
foundation program for young children. M.M., born on July 11,
2011 with Down syndrome, enrolled at Chesterbrook on January
Chesterbrook, diaper-changing services are provided to
children enrolled in its "Infants, "
"Toddlers, " "and "Beginners"
programs. Diaper-changing services are not provided to
children enrolled in its "Intermediates" or
December 2014, Chesterbrook informed M.M.'s parents of
its intention to move M.M. into the "Intermediates"
program. At that time, M.M. still required diapers. M.M. was
moved into the "Intermediates" program on January
21, 2015. Chesterbrook worked with M.M. to try to get her
toilet trained, setting a deadline pursuant to corporate
policy for M.M. to be toilet trained by April 1, 2015.
March 26, 2015, Chesterbrook informed M.M.'s parents that
M.M. was being expelled effective April 1, 2015 because she
was not toilet trained. M.M.'s last day at Chesterbrook
was March 31, 2015.
brought a claim under Title III of the ADA asking for a
declaration that Defendant violated Title III of the ADA, for
Defendant to be enjoined from engaging in discrimination
against individuals with disabilities and from failing to
comply with Title III of the ADA, for an award of
compensatory damages to M.M. and M.M.'s parents, and for
a civil penalty against Defendant to vindicate the public
interest. Defendant filed a Motion to Stay or, Alternatively,
for Partial Dismissal on March 24, 2017.
asks the Court to stay this action under the Colorado
River abstention doctrine, arguing there is similar
litigation in state court. In October 2016, the Director of
the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights filed a complaint
against NLC, alleging a violation of the New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination (NJLAD) based on Chesterbrook's
treatment of M.M.
case and the state court case arise out of the same factual
Whether abstention is appropriate is a two-part inquiry. The
initial question is whether there is a parallel state
proceeding that raises "substantially identical claims
[and] nearly identical allegations and issues." If the
proceedings are parallel, courts then look to a multi-factor
test to determine whether "extraordinary
circumstances" meriting abstention are present.
Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. George V. Hamilton,
Inc., 571 F.3d 299, 307-08 (3d Cir. 2009) (alteration in
original) (first quoting Yang v. Tsui, 416 F.3d 199,
204 n.5 (3d Cir. 2005); and then quoting Spring City
Corp. v. Am. Bldgs. Co., 193 F.3d 165, 171 (3d Cir.
1999)). "The doctrine is to be narrowly applied in light
of the general principle that 'federal courts have a
strict duty to exercise the jurisdiction that is conferred
upon them by Congress.'" Id. at 307
(quoting Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S.
706, 717 (1996)).
Court first looks to whether the federal and state cases are
parallel. See, e.g., Trent v. Dial Med., 33
F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 1994). "Generally, cases are
parallel so as to justify abstention under Colorado
River when they involve the same parties and
claims." Id. However, the Third Circuit has
applied Colorado River abstention even where the
parties were not "perfectly identical, " but were
"substantially the same." Barron v.
Caterpillar, Inc., No. 95-5149, 1996 WL 368335, at *2
n.2 (E.D. Pa. June 26, 1996); accord Mamouzette v.
Jerome, No. 13-117, 2017 WL 3083628, at *8 (D.V.I. July
19, 2017) ("[C]omplete identity of parties is not
required to satisfy the first prong. Courts look past the
names and number of parties in determining whether there is
an identity of parties for purposes of the abstention
doctrine."); Glades Pharm., LLC v. Call, Inc.,
No. 04-4259, 2005 WL 563726, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 9, 2005)
("Two actions may involve different parties and still be
parallel so long as there is a substantial similarity between
the two actions.").
action, Plaintiff is the United States of America and
Defendant is NLC. In the state court action, the plaintiff is
the Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, and
the defendant is also NLC. Accordingly, the defendants are
the same, but the plaintiffs are different - one a state
entity and one a federal entity. Defendant argues that, while
the two cases "are nominally brought by different
parties, " that "the real party in interest is
indisputably M.M." Plaintiff counters that it is not a
party to the state litigation, and this action was filed on
behalf of the United States of America, not on behalf of M.M.
or her parents. This Court agrees that this is significant.
plaintiffs in the state and federal actions are different,
representing separate and distinct government entities. While
the discrimination alleged was directed toward the same
individual, this does not affect the parties listed on the
complaint in the sense their interests are broader. Indeed,
neither are actions where a party is bringing suit on behalf
of another. While the Third Circuit has not required complete
identity of parties, this Court's purview of the case law
reveals that this leniency is adopted largely for where the
parties are switched, such that a plaintiff in the federal
action is a defendant in the state action (and vice
versa) and where there are additional parties to
one action that are not included in the other, but where the
parties are otherwise identical. This is not such a case.
This Court has not found a case where circumstances similar
to these warranted a finding that the parties were
"essentially identical, " and this Court is not
convinced that such a finding would be appropriate.
this Court does not find the federal and state actions
concern the same claims. "The courts have been cautious
in finding actions that are merely similar to be
duplicative." Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London
v. Ross, No. 98-1037, 1998 WL 372304, at *2 (E.D. Pa.
1998). "[W]hile certain issues to be litigated in the .
. . federal claim may be identical to issues that have been
or will be raised ... in state court, the lack of identity of
all issues necessarily precludes Colorado River
abstention." Univ. of Md. v. Peat Marwick Main &
Co., 923 F.2d 265, 276 (3d Cir. 1991).
federal complaint alleges a violation of the ADA, whereas the
state complaint alleges a violation of the NJLAD. There is no
doubt the federal and state actions involve common facts, and
that the legal analyses will have much overlap. However,
"[t]he Colorado River analysis . . . turns on
the claims brought, rather than upon whether or not those
claims can trace their origin to a common nucleus of
operative facts." Oliver v. Sid Bernstein,
Ltd., No. 96-4471, 1997 WL 135751, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Mar.
11, 1997). Where two cases "employ substantially
different 'approaches' and might 'achieve
potentially different results, '" Colorado
River abstention is inappropriate. See Trent,
33 F.3d at 224. This is such a case. Plaintiff's claim in
the federal action falls under an entirely different statute
than the state action. While the state statute often borrows
from the federal statute, that does not make them identical,
and relief under one statute does not require relief under
the other. Nor does it appear the remedies are the
event, a full analysis of the Colorado River factors
fails to convince this Court that extraordinary circumstances
are present here, meriting abstention.
factors which govern a district court's exercise of
discretion in deciding whether to ...