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Dowling v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 13, 2018



          Nina Y. Wang Magistrate Judge

         This case was directly assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to D.C.COLO.LCivR 40.1 on July 16, 2018. [#8; #9]. This matter now comes before the court on two motions filed by Plaintiff Anne Maureen Dowling (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Dowling”): (1) Ex Parte Motion to Stay Proceedings [#13] and (2) Notice Requesting Administrative Closure, [#16, filed September 7, 2018].[1] After fully considering the record and the relevant case law, the court now orders and recommends as follows.


         On July 5, 2018, Ms. Dowling filed this action concerning an alleged sexual assault committed by Defendant Monte Michael Wedl (“Defendant Wedl” or “Mr. Wedl”) that occurred on a flight operated by Defendant United Air Lines, Inc. (“UAL”) that departed from Hong Kong, S.A.R. to San Francisco, CA on or about July 9, 2016. [#1]. The next day, Plaintiff filed an identical matter in California state court (“California action” or “California matter”). [#13 at 1]. In this case, UAL was served on August 16, 2018, but has not entered an appearance. [#11]. Mr. Wedl has not yet been served. [#12].

         On August 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to stay proceedings based on the identical California action. [#11]. This court set a Telephonic Status Conference for September 6, 2018, to discuss the request for a stay with counsel. [#14]. At that Status Conference, counsel for UAL made a special appearance and stated that, while it would not contest personal jurisdiction in the California action, it would contest personal jurisdiction here. [#15, #16 at 3]. Given the indefinite duration of a stay based upon the adjudication of the California action, this court discussed administrative closure with leave for opening with good cause, as an alternative to a stay, with the Parties. [#15]. Both counsel for Ms. Dowling and counsel for UAL agreed that administrative closure, to the extent that it preserved statute of limitations and personal jurisdiction issues, would be appropriate. Accordingly, Plaintiff filed her Motion Requesting Administrative Closure. [#16].


         Plaintiff represents that these matters are identical, and on that basis, moved for a stay of the federal case pursuant to the Colorado River doctrine. [#13]. Application of the Colorado River doctrine requires two steps: First, determining whether or not the matters are parallel, Fox v. Maulding, 16 F.3d 1079, 1081 (10th Cir. 1994), and then determining whether staying or dismissing the federal case is warranted based on a four-factor balancing test: (1) simultaneous jurisdiction over a single res; (2) the relative convenience of the forums; (3) the order in which proceedings were initiated; (4) the need to avoid piecemeal litigation. See Rienhardt v. Kelly, 164 F.3d 1296, 1302 (10th Cir 1999) (reciting the criteria for applying the doctrine) (citing Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976)).

         This court agrees that the Colorado River doctrine applies and this court should abstain from proceeding with this action until the resolution of the state court matter. The state court action in California involves precisely the same parties, the same claims concerning the same conduct, and was filed nearly contemporaneously with this action. See [#13 at 2, 3; #16]. Thus, the actions are parallel. The four-factor balancing test warrants administrative closure as well. As mentioned, UAL has agreed to accept service of process in the California action and while it will not challenge personal jurisdiction in that court, it would challenge personal jurisdiction in this court. [#16 at 3]. Defendant Wedl has not been served in either action. Abstaining from proceeding with this case pending the resolution of the California action will avoid piecemeal litigation and may resolve all claims that could be presented in this case.

         Instead of staying the case, however, this court finds that administrative closure is more appropriate, given the fact that the California action just recently commenced; that no trial has been set in that matter (or this one); that the duration of that proceeding is unknown at this time; and that the resolution of the California action may effectively resolve this one as well. Through administrative closure, the Parties may preserve any issues or arguments with respect to statute of limitations and/or personal jurisdiction. In addition, the court notes that the allegations in the Complaint do not suggest that Defendant Wedl is a resident or citizen of Colorado, and therefore, this court's ability to exercise personal jurisdiction over him might also be contested.

         Because all Parties have not consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge, this matter should be reassigned to a District Judge pursuant to D. C.COLO.LCivR 40.1(c)(3)(b).


         For the foregoing reasons, this court ORDERS that:

         (1) The Motion to Stay Proceedings [#13] is DENIED;

         (2) The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to REDRAW this action to a District ...

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