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Gator Horizon Partners Ltd. v. Horizon Park Partners, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 23, 2017

GATOR HORIZON PARTNERS, LTD., Plaintiff,
v.
HORIZON PARK PARTNERS, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR STAY OR TO DISMISS.

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge.

         This contract dispute between Plaintiff, Gator Horizon Partners, Ltd. (“Gator”) and Defendant, Horizon Park Partners, LLC (“Horizon”) is pending pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Horizon has filed a Motion For Stay or to Dismiss, arguing the Court should refrain from hearing this case pursuant to the “Colorado River Doctrine, ” in light of state court litigation between the parties (ECF No. 26), and Gator opposes that motion (ECF No. 36). As explained below, the Court concludes that the state court proceedings are not sufficiently parallel to this action to warrant abstention under the Colorado River doctrine, so the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff and Defendant are the two owners of the Horizon Park Shopping Center, located in Longmont, Colorado. Each owns separate, adjoining parcels of land which together comprise the shopping center, including its parking lots.

         This lawsuit involves the parties' disputes over parking. Gator alleges that customers visiting businesses on Horizon's portions of the shopping center are parking in the wrong place, that is, in Gator's portion of the parking lot. Specifically, Gator alleges that visitors to a newly-constructed medical facility on Horizon's property are impermissibly parking on Gator's portion of the parking lot. (See generally ECF No. 35 at 2-3.) Gator alleges that this is in breach of contract, specifically, in violation of terms of the Declaration of Restrictions and Grant of Easements (the “Declaration”) which governs terms of the parties' relationship at the shopping center. (Id. at 4; ECF No. 35-1.) Gator alleges Horizon's conduct is causing it damages valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, by contributing to Gator's inability to re-lease a former K-Mart on its property (vacant since 2010), and by decreasing the value of Gator's property. (ECF No. 33 at 2-4; ECF No. 17.)

         As relevant here, the parties have had two prior lawsuits in Colorado state courts relating to their disputes at the shopping center, including parking disputes. First, in 2011, Horizon (the Defendant here) initiated a lawsuit in Boulder County District Court, alleging that Gator had failed to maintain its portions of the shopping center's parking lot and to properly maintain lights in the parking lot, thereby falling short of obligations arising under the Declaration. (See generally ECF No. 26-1.) In the same lawsuit, Gator counterclaimed that Horizon had failed to fulfill its own obligation under the Declaration to use “reasonable efforts” to require customers visiting Horizon's portions of the shopping center to park in Horizon's portions of the parking lot. The 2011 lawsuit focused on a portion of the parking lot which the parties insist on describing as the “crotch, ” that is, a corner where two buildings come together at a right angle. (See ECF No. 26-2; ECF No. 26 at 5; ECF No. 36 at 4-5; ECF No. 26-7.)

         Following an appeal, the 2011 litigation led to a March 25, 2016 order from the trial court, spelling out actions that Horizon must take to satisfy the Declaration's “reasonable efforts” requirement, specifically, certain signage that Horizon was required to place in the corner section of the parking lot. (ECF No. 26-7.) Cross-appeals following that order remain pending before the Colorado Court of Appeals.

         Second, in 2013 Horizon initiated a second action against Gator in Boulder County District Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent Gator from constructing new buildings or improvements on certain portions of the shopping center property. (See generally ECF No. 26 at 6; ECF No. 26-9.) More specifically, as Horizon characterizes it, the second lawsuit involved “whether or not Gator had the right to build a bank building on Main Street near the Noodles.” (ECF No. 26 at 6.) Following a grant of summary judgment, reversal, and remand, this second case went to trial in December 2016. (The outcome of that trial is not a matter of record before the Court, but does not alter the Court's analysis.)

         Gator initiated the present action in this Court on July 29, 2016. (See ECF No. 1.) On October 18, 2016, Horizon filed the motion now before the Court (ECF No. 26), arguing that in light of the two ongoing state court proceedings, this Court should either stay or dismiss this action under the “Colorado River Doctrine, ” first recognized in Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976) (“Colorado River”), or, in the alternative, stay this action under the “Priority Jurisdiction Rule, ” or “priority rule, ” as recognized by Colorado courts.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Colorado River Doctrine

         The Colorado River doctrine governs a federal court's authority to preside over a case when there is a concurrent action pending before a state court. See Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817. As compared to other federal abstention doctrines, the appropriate circumstances for deferral under the Colorado River doctrine are “considerably more limited than the circumstances appropriate for abstention” and must be “exceptional.” See Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817-18. Accordingly, the Court's “task in cases such as this is not to find some substantial reason for the exercise of federal jurisdiction . . .; rather, the task is to ascertain whether there exist exceptional circumstances, the clearest of justifications, that can suffice under Colorado River to justify the surrender of the jurisdiction.” Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 25-26 (1983) (“Cone”).

         The first step under the Colorado River analysis is to determine “whether the state and federal proceedings are parallel.” Allen v. Bd. of Educ., Unified Sch. Dist. 436, 68 F.3d 401, 403 (10th Cir. 1995). Suits are parallel if “substantially the same parties litigate substantially the same issues in different forums.” Id. A court must examine “the state proceedings as they actually exist to determine whether they are parallel to the federal proceedings, resolving any doubt in favor of exercising federal jurisdiction.” Id. If the cases are not parallel, the federal court must exercise jurisdiction. Id. at 403. Further, a federal court may enter a stay under the Colorado River doctrine only if it has “full confidence” that the parallel state litigation will end the parties' dispute. See Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. v. Mayacamas Corp., 485 U.S. 271, 277 (1988).

         Here, Horizon argues that “the exact same contract provision, ” is at issue in both the 2011 state court litigation and in this case. Specifically, Article IV, Section B of the Declaration states, “Each party shall use reasonable efforts to require its Occupants . . . to park vehicles within its respective tract.” (ECF No. 33 ¶ 17; ECF No. 33-1 at 8.) That provision underlies Gator's breach of contract claim in this case, in which Gator contends, in part, that “Horizon has configured its tract in a manner that . . . patrons of Horizon's tenants[] rely entirely and exclusively upon Gator's . . . parking spaces.” (See ECF No. 33 ΒΆ 22.) This is the same contractual provision which was at issue in the 2011 state court litigation (still pending on appeal), in which the central ...


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