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Kendall v. Lancaster Exploration & Development Company LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 23, 2018

CHARLES RICE KENDALL and ANN P. HOCHBERG, as Trustees for The Thomas E. Proctor Heirs Trust, and BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., and JOHN J. SLOCUM, JR., as Trustees for The Margaret O.F. Proctor Trust, Plaintiffs.
v.
LANCASTER EXPLORATION & DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court for disposition are (1) Defendant Lancaster Exploration and Development Company, LLC's Motion to Dismiss, (2) Defendant SWN Production Company, LLC's Motion to Dismiss, (3) Defendants Chief Oil & Gas, LLC, Chief Exploration and Development, LLC, Radler 2000 L.P., Tug Hill Marcellus, LLC, and Enerplus Resources (USA) Corporation's Motion to Dismiss, and (4) Plaintiff Trustees of the Thomas E. Proctor Heirs Trust and the Trustees of the Margaret O.F. Proctor Trust's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss will be denied in all respects, and Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         This is an action to quiet title brought pursuant to Pennsylvania state law.[1]The parties to this suit, holding interests in estates spanning Bradford, Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, Lycoming and Sullivan counties, are as follows.[2] The Plaintiffs are trustees for The Thomas E. Proctor Heirs Trust (“PHT”) and The Margaret O.F. Proctor Trust (“MPT”). Plaintiffs Charles Rice Kendall, an individual domiciled in Maine, and Ann P. Hochberg, an individual domiciled in Massachusetts, are co-trustees of the PHT.[3] Plaintiffs Bank of America, N.A., a citizen of North Carolina, and John J. Slocum, Jr., an individual domiciled in Rhode Island, are co-trustees of the MPT.[4] Together, the PHT and the MPT are trusts held for the benefit of heirs of Thomas E. Proctor, Sr. and Margaret O.F. Proctor, respectively.[5]

         Defendants, named in both the original Complaint and added through intervention pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24, are as follows. Defendant Lancaster Exploration & Development Company, LLC (“Defendant Lancaster”) is a limited liability company with both a principal place of business in the state of Michigan and members residing in Michigan.[6] It is therefore deemed a citizen of that state. On August 15, 2017, the Court approved a stipulation of the parties allowing for the intervention of SWN Production Company LLC (“Defendant SWN”), Chief Oil and Gas, LLC, Chief Exploration and Development, LLC, Radler 2000 L.P., Tug Hill Marcellus, LLC, and Enerplus Resources (USA) (“Chief Defendants”) as Defendants to this action.[7] These additional Defendants are the assignees of the Lease Agreement executed between Plaintiffs and Defendant Lancaster.[8]

         B. The Lease Agreement

         Together, the PHT and MPT Trusts (collectively “Proctor Trusts”) own 100% of the oil and gas rights to certain properties in Bradford, Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, Lycoming and Sullivan Counties (“subject property”).[9]These properties cover approximately 100, 240 acres.[10] PHT owns a 93.75 % interest in the subject property and MPT owns a 6.25% interest.[11] MPT has not assigned its interest to PHT.[12]

         On June 17, 2002, PHT entered into an Agreement in which it leased all of its petroleum and natural gas rights in the subject property to Defendant Lancaster for five years.[13] Thereafter, on February 17, 2005 and June 22, 2005, PHT and Defendant Lancaster executed a Letter Agreement (“2005 Letter Agreement”) and Extension of Oil and Gas Lease, (“2005 Extension”) respectively, which extended the term of this lease for ten years and modified the royalty to be paid to PHT.[14]This agreement was further amended by a “Second Letter Agreement, ” on August 5, 2005, to exclude property located outside Pennsylvania.[15] Together, Plaintiffs aver that the Lease forged in 2002, as modified by Letter Agreement and Extension in 2005, constitutes the whole agreement (“Lease Agreement”) between the parties.[16] Not a party to this suit is the Thomas E. Proctor, Jr. Trust (“TEP Jr. Trust”). Through agreements identical to those between PHT and Defendant Lancaster, TEP Jr. Trust leased all of its petroleum and natural gas rights in Pennsylvania to Defendant Lancaster for an initial period of five and later ten years.[17] TEP Jr. Trust later terminated and its beneficiaries have since transferred or assigned their interests to PHT.[18]

         The PHT and TEP Jr. Lease Agreements, as modified above, purport to assign 50% of the royalty to be earned by PHT and TEP Jr., as part of the lessors' 6.25% royalty.[19] The specific provisions of these identical lease agreements state as follows.[20] In the February 17, 2005 Letter Agreement executed between PHT and Defendant Lancaster, Section 3(b) states as follows:

The Proctor Pennsylvania Property's Lease, as amended by the First Amendment, provides for the industry standard twelve and one-half (12.5%) percent royalty. A “royalty interest” is the economic interest reserved by the mineral estate owner and is typically free of the cost of exploration and development of oil and gas wells. Lessor shall retain fifty percent (50%) of such royalty of Lessor's interest in the Proctor Pennsylvania Property and Lancaster shall be assigned the remaining fifty percent (50%), [21]

         This provision, in application, is explained in Section 3(d):

Example 1 -- Oil and Gas. Lessee subleases to exploration companies X, Y and Z, the parcels A, B, and C, respectively, for cash consideration of $10, 000, $30, 000 and $20, 000, respectively, and also receives an overriding royalty interest of 0%, 4%, and 6%, respectively. Lessor would receive a total cash consideration of $30, 000 ($10, 000 $30, 000 $20, 000 = $60, 000 x 50% = $30, 000 and Lessee would also receive a total cash consideration of $30, 000). Lessor would receive its 6.25% royalty interest in parcels A, B and C. Lessee would also receive 6.25% royalty interest in parcels A, B, and C. Lessor would also receive an overriding royalty interest of 0%, 2%, and 3% in parcels A, B and C, respectively. Lessee would also receive an overriding royalty interest of 0%, 2%, and 3% in parcels A, B and C, respectively. The amounts contained in this Example 1 are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be construed as any type of representation or projection.[22]

         C. Procedural History of the State Litigation

         In 2012, based in part on the above royalty provision of 6.25%, state court litigation was commenced in Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County (“Lycoming County Court”).[23] In that case, Plaintiffs alleged declaratory relief and constructive trust claims against Defendants Lancaster and SWN.[24] These claims asked the Lycoming County Court to “determine the validity of any writing affecting the rights, status or other legal relations of the parties in this lawsuit, including, but not limited to deeds, leases and assignments, ” and, more pertinently, enter an order that the PHT Lease, as amended, and the TEP Jr. Lease, as amended, violate the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act [GMRA], and therefore are both considered invalid.”[25] The Lycoming County Court subsequently granted judgment on the pleadings to instant Defendants Lancaster and SWN on these counterclaims, but was later reversed by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Southwestern Energy Prod. Co. v. Forest Resources, LLC (“Forest Resources, LLC”).[26] In that case, the Superior Court (1) found, among other things, that the trial court “erred as a matter of law in concluding on the pleadings in this declaratory judgment action that the PHT/Lancaster Lease Agreement . . . did not violate the GMRA, ” and (2) remanded the case to that court “[t]o the extent the various motions and preliminary objections raised other grounds not addressed.”[27]

         On remand, the Lycoming County Court ordered Plaintiffs to join indispensable parties, but then dismissed their claims concerning the GMRA as barred by the statute of limitations.[28] That court specifically found dismissal to be appropriate because both the lease invalidity claims and the quiet title claims were barred by a four year statute of limitations.[29] Plaintiffs attempted to appeal this adverse ruling but the interlocutory appeal was quashed by a per curiam order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.[30] Trial for the remaining claims in this state action is scheduled to commence in May 2018, and continue through June 2018.[31]

         D. The Filing of a Declaration of Claim of Interest and Commencement of this Federal Litigation

         On August 24, 2016, Defendant Lancaster filed a declaration of claim of interest against the subject property with the Sullivan County Recorder of Deeds (“2016 Declaration of Interests”).[32] Defendant Lancaster has since filed similar declarations against the subject property in other counties.[33] These filings have created a cloud on Plaintiffs' title to the subject property and have prevented them from leasing their interests in same.[34]

         Based on these 2016 filings, this action was commenced in this Court by way of Complaint on June 23, 2017.[35] In this Complaint, Plaintiffs assert a quiet title claim, and seek the following relief:

(i) That the Court enter an order requiring Lancaster to strike, withdraw or otherwise remove all Lancaster Filings in the chains of title for the Subject Property;
(ii) That the Court enter an order compelling Lancaster to record surrenders of the Leases in the Recorder of Deeds Office for each county;
(iii) That the Court enter an order enjoining Lancaster from (i) entering into any additional leases relating to the Subject Property, (ii) filing any documents claiming title or interest in the Subject Property; (iii) receiving, accepting and/or depositing any funds associated with any leases of the Subject Property;
(iv) That the Court enter an order requiring Lancaster to turn over to the Proctor Trusts any and all funds received in connection with any lease of the Subject Property;
(v) That the Court enter an order compelling Lancaster to admit that the Leases are invalid and to cancel or discharge any obligations under the Leases; and
(vi) That the Court grant such other relief as it shall deem just and equitable under the circumstances.[36]

         Defendant Lancaster subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss based on both a lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[37]In this motion, Defendant Lancaster argues, in the alternative, that (1) this case should be dismissed under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, (2) if jurisdiction is found, this Court should abstain under either the Brillhart or Colorado River abstention doctrines, or (3) this case should be dismissed on the merits for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[38] Finally, in the event that all other relief is denied, Defendant Lancaster requests that this Court order Plaintiffs to join indispensable parties or allow them to intervene.[39] On August 15, 2017, the Court approved a stipulation of the parties allowing for the intervention of Defendant SWN, Chief Oil and Gas, LLC, Chief Exploration and Development, LLC, Radler 2000 L.P., Tug Hill Marcellus, LLC, and Enerplus Resources (USA) as Defendants to this action.[40] These additional Defendants later filed motions to dismiss on these bases and the additional grounds of issue and claim preclusion.[41] In quick succession thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the Lease Agreement at issue is invalid under the GMRA, and that this impermissible cloud should therefore be removed from the title of the subject property.[42] Following full briefing, and a temporary stay agreed to by the parties, these motions are now ripe for disposition.[43]

         II. LAW

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, [44] a court assumes the truth of all factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all inferences in favor of that party;[45] the court does not, however, assume the truth of any of the complaint's legal conclusions.[46]If a complaint's factual allegations, so treated, state a claim that is plausible - i.e., if they allow the court to infer the defendant's liability - the motion is denied; if they fail to do so, the motion is granted.[47]

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is granted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[48] A dispute is “genuine if a reasonable trier-of-fact could find in favor of the non-movant, ” and “material if it could affect the outcome of the case.”[49] To defeat a motion for summary judgment, then, the nonmoving party must point to evidence in the record that would allow a jury to rule in that party's favor.[50] When deciding whether to grant summary judgment, a court should draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.[51]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss

         Defendants have moved for the dismissal of this action on numerous grounds both jurisdictional and merits-based. Specifically and as previously noted, Defendants suggest that this Court lacks jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, or in the alternative, should otherwise abstain under either the Brillhart or Colorado River doctrines. Reaching the merits of Plaintiffs' claim, they also argue for dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Having carefully considered the arguments of both parties, I find that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action; I will not abstain under either the Brillhart or Colorado River doctrines; and I will not dismiss this case as time-barred or subject to res judicata. My reasoning follows.

         1. Whether this Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over this Action Under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine.[52]

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits a federal district court from exercising jurisdiction over a later-filed federal action.[53] This doctrine specifically concerns “cases brought by state-court losers challenging state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced” and inviting review and rejection of those judgments.[54] While the Rooker-Feldman doctrine had, since its inception, been expanded by the lower federal courts to preclude any federal claim that was “inextricably intertwined with an issue adjudicated by a state court, ”[55] the Supreme Court suppressed this expansive application in Exxon Mobil by reiterating the truly “limited circumstances” in which the doctrine acts to bar a federal district court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction.[56] The Supreme Court specifically explained that Rooker-Feldman is not implicated simply because a party attempts to litigate in federal court a matter previously litigated in state court so long as the federal plaintiff presents some independent claim; albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party.[57]

         Following the holding of Exxon Mobil, the Third Circuit in Fox Rothschild LLP, reiterated four requirements that must be met for the Rooker- Feldman doctrine to apply: (1) the federal plaintiff lost in state court; (2) the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state-court judgments; (3) those judgments were rendered before the federal suit was filed; and (4) the plaintiff is inviting the district court to review and reject the state judgments.[58] According to our Court of Appeals, “[t]he second and fourth requirements are the key to determining whether a federal suit presents an independent, non-barred claim.”[59]

         In opposing Defendants' motions to dismiss under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Plaintiffs argue that the instant action does not satisfy its requisites because (1) the Lycoming County Court's August 2016 dismissal of their GMRA-related claims did not render them state court losers, and (2) the injury they sustained was not caused by the state court decision but rather the actions of Defendant Lancaster.[60] Because I am in agreement that the injury sustained by Plaintiffs was not caused by the August 2016 dismissal of this GMRA-related state claims, and in fact pre-dated that ruling, this federal suit is necessarily outside the ambit of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         In Exxon Mobil, the Supreme Court emphasized that Rooker-Feldman is “confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.”[61] Here, Plaintiffs specifically complain of injury inflicted by the 2016 Declarations of Interest filed following the Lycoming County Court's dismissal of their GMRA-related claims, and therefore argue that this injury was not caused by this decision.[62] Defendants counter by arguing that the filing of these Declarations was in fact spurred by that state court decision, and that this action therefore satisfies the requisites of Rooker- Feldman.[63] While I am cognizant of, and will separately address Defendants' essential argument that this action closely parallels and implicates the claims, issues, and conclusions of the state court, I nevertheless find this connection insufficient to satisfy factors two and four of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         First, even if the Court were to accept Defendants' averment that the 2016 Declarations of Interest were spurred by the Lycoming County Court's August 2016 dismissal of the GMRA-related claims, this argument does not tell the complete, and complicated, background of this litigation. These 2016 Declarations on Interest, even if cloaked as somehow independent from the previously executed Lease Agreement, stem from the same royalty provision and effect the same injury-cloud on Plaintiffs' title. Therefore, while I accept that the Declarations may have been filed in response to the state court decision, the injury alleged to be created by this cloud was pre-existing given the existence of the yet-to-be-invalidated Lease Agreement. A causal connection can therefore not be made between the ultimate injury and this state court decision.

         Second, Defendants' argument that this matter should be dismissed simply because the Court would in the course of this litigation be required to reject the Lycoming County Court's legal conclusions on Plaintiffs GMRA-related claims is similarly unavailing.[64] Here's why. In the Exxon Mobil decision, the Supreme Court wrote, on this very point, that “neither Rooker nor Feldman supports the notion that properly invoked concurrent jurisdiction vanishes if a state court reaches judgment on the same or related question while the case remains sub judice in a federal court.”[65] Rather, “[i]f a federal plaintiff ‘present[s] some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party . . ., then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion.' ”[66] Here, the Plaintiffs' quiet title claim, based ostensibly on the filing of the 2016 Declarations of Interests, may implicate the negation of a legal conclusion reached by the Lycoming County Court. Pursuant to the direction of the Supreme Court, however, this issue is more properly analyzed under preclusion principles.

         2. Whether the Quiet Title Claim is Barred by Res Judicata

         Having found that this Court's jurisdiction is not barred under the Rooker- Feldman doctrine, but nevertheless cognizant of Defendants' arguments concerning the common issues presented by these suits, I will now address whether Plaintiffs' quiet title claim is barred by res judicata.[67] Generally, res judicata encompasses two preclusion concepts: (1) issue preclusion, a more narrow application of traditional res judicata that forecloses litigation of a litigated and decided matter (often referred to as collateral estoppel); and (2) claim preclusion, which disallows litigation of claims that have either been litigated or were never litigated, but which should have been presented in an earlier suit.[68] Common to both of these encompassed doctrines is the requirement that the previous suit culminate in a judgment on the merits.[69] Plaintiffs argue that this element is lacking and both doctrines are therefore inapplicable.[70] I agree.

         As noted above, the procedural history of the Lycoming County Court action demonstrates that, following the issue of judgment on the pleadings to Defendants Lancaster and SWN on Plaintiffs' GMRA-related claims, the Superior Court reversed the Lycoming County Court's conclusion that the PHT/Lancaster Lease Agreement did not violate the GMRA, but remanded to the Court to adjudicate on other grounds raised by the various motions and preliminary objections.[71]

         On remand, the Lycoming County Court dismissed Plaintiffs' GMRA-related claims as barred because the joinder of necessary parties could not be effectuated without running afoul of the statute of limitations.[72] This dismissal is not, however, a final adjudication on the merits. Indeed, a merits adjudication is one made on substantive law, rather than procedural rules.[73] Dismissal made pursuant to the statute of limitations, as in the state action, is the latter.[74] That ruling therefore has no preclusive effect here.

         3. Whether this Court Should Abstain from Exercising Jurisdiction Over this Action Under the Brillhart or Colorado River Abstention Doctrines.

         Coloring this dispute is the substantial overlap between the claims and issues of this federal action and those in dispute in the Lycoming County Court action. Based on this overlap, Defendants argue that, if this Court were to determine that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and preclusion principles were inapplicable, it should nevertheless abstain from exercising its jurisdiction over this matter under either the Brillhart or Colorado River abstention doctrines.[75] I will examine the applicability of these doctrines below.

         a. Brillhart Abstention

         Defendants first argue that, because the relief sought by Plaintiffs is essentially declaratory in nature, this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction pursuant to the discretion first enunciated by the Supreme Court in Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co. of America, [76] and reiterated in Wilton v. Seven Falls Co.[77], [78] Under this discretion, a federal court may decline to exercise jurisdiction properly afforded under the Declaratory Judgment Act[79] when an action seeks declaratory relief.[80] This discretion to decline jurisdiction is guided by the factors outlined by the Third Circuit in Reifer v. Westport Insurance Corporation.[81] While cabined, this discretion also exists when both declaratory and legal relief are sought.[82]

         Here, Defendants argue that, while styled as a quiet title claim, the relief sought is declaratory in nature and this Court should therefore abstain from exercising jurisdiction pursuant to Brillhart. In my view, Brillhart and its progeny are inapposite to the instant scenario. Indeed, examination of the analytical basis of Brillhart abstention reveals that it is derived from the permissive language of the Declaratory Judgment Act and therefore applies only when this jurisdiction is premised on this federal act.[83] Therefore, although I recognize Defendants' argument that Plaintiff's legal claim essentially requests declaratory relief, the absence of an actual claim under the Declaratory Judgment Act is dispositive on this issue. Abstention under Brillhart is therefore inapplicable.

         b. Colorado River Abstention

         Defendants next argue that abstention is appropriate under the Colorado River doctrine because the action within the Lycoming County Court and this federal action are parallel proceedings which demonstrate “extraordinary circumstances” justifying abstention.[84] I disagree.

         Federal courts have a “virtually unflagging obligation to exercise the jurisdiction given them.”[85] The Colorado River doctrine, however, permits courts to abstain from exercising jurisdiction by staying or dismissing a pending federal action in favor of a parallel state court proceeding.[86] This abstention is based on “principles of ‘[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.' ”[87] Pursuant to a directive by the Supreme Court, lower federal courts must however apply this doctrine cautiously and be mindful that abstention is an “extraordinary and narrow exception.”[88] The abstention analysis comprises a two-part inquiry: the court must decide first whether the actions are indeed “parallel” and, second, whether the matters present the “extraordinary circumstances” contemplated by Colorado River and its progeny.[89]

         As noted, the first step in determining whether Colorado River abstention is appropriate is to determine if there exists a parallel state court proceeding.[90] Generally, proceedings are “parallel” when they “involve the same parties and substantially identical claims, raising nearly identical allegations and issues.”[91] In reaching this issue, the Third Circuit has noted that “it is important . . . that only truly duplicative proceedings be avoided. When the claims, parties or requested relief differ, deference may not be appropriate.”[92] Defendants argue that this action and the state proceeding are parallel because the parties are the same in both actions and the state action involved a now dismissed quiet title claim.[93]Plaintiffs, in turn, respond that the ongoing state court proceeding is not parallel because it no longer addresses their GMRA-related claim.[94] This argument, presumably premised on the Lycoming County Court's August 2016 dismissal of GMRA-related claims, ignores the potential that this dismissal may be revisited and potentially reversed on appeal. The current absence of this issue in the state proceeding therefore is not sufficient so as to find that it is also not a parallel proceeding under Colorado River.

         Once proceedings are deemed to be parallel, a court shall then consider “whether ‘extraordinary circumstances' meriting abstention are present.”[95] This determination requires consideration of the following factors:

(1) Which court first assumed jurisdiction over property involved, if any;
(2) Whether the federal forum is inconvenient;
(3) The desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation;
(4) The order in which the respective courts obtained jurisdiction;
(5) Whether federal or state law applies; and
(6) Whether the state court proceeding would adequately protect the federal plaintiff's rights.[96]

         None of these factors are determinative; rather, they require “a careful balancing of the important factors as they apply in a given case, with the balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.”[97]

         Here, the first three Colorado River factors are neutral. The Third Circuit has described the first factor as whether either court has obtained jurisdiction over property in the matter.[98] Here, neither the state nor the instant proceeding is in rem and the Court therefore finds this factor to be neutral. The second factor refers to the federal forum's geographic location in relation to the state court location.[99]Given the close proximity of the federal courthouse in this division of the District Court to the Lycoming County Courthouse, this factor in the Colorado River analysis is similarly neutral. The third factor-the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation- weighs against abstention in this matter, as well. In assessing this factor, a court must examine whether a statute, regulation, or authority at issue evinces a policy of avoiding piecemeal litigation in this context.[100] Here, the parties are essentially in agreement that no such policy exists.[101]

         Factor four -the order in which the respective courts obtained jurisdiction- weighs in favor of abstention. In reaching this determination, I note that the Third Circuit has cautioned that we must consider not only “which action was filed first, ” but also “[t]he comparative progress made in the state cases and this one also needs to be considered.”[102] Here, litigation has been pending in the Lycoming County Court since 2011. That litigation has encompassed an appeal to the Superior Court, and now includes a planned trial from May 2018 through June 2018. By contrast, litigation in this Court commenced in 2017, and this instant Memorandum Opinion is this Court's first foray into the merits of this action. The nascent procedural posture of this litigation, as compared to the state proceeding, augurs in favor of abstention.

         The fifth element-whether federal or state law applies-is neutral. Indeed, while state law unquestionably controls here, abstention cannot be justified on that fact alone.[103] I specifically note that, while the presence of federal issues often weighs against abstention, federal jurisdiction here is invoked under the diversity statute which requires federal courts to routinely interpret issues entirely within the realm of state law. Therefore, this factor, based on properly pled diversity jurisdiction, is neutral. Finally, the sixth factor-whether the state court proceeding would adequately protect the federal plaintiff's rights-actually weighs against abstention. Here, the Lycoming County Court dismissed Plaintiff's GMRA-related claims on procedural grounds. The action in this Court is therefore necessary to protect Plaintiffs' interests and reach a decision on the merits of these claims. In sum, on balance, and upon consideration of the above Colorado River factors, I find that “exceptional circumstances” are not presented by this litigation.[104] Abstention in deference to the state court proceeding is therefore not warranted.

         4. Whether Plaintiffs' Quiet Title Claim ...


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