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Carsten v. Boylan

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 4, 2018

JUSTIN. J. CARSTEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CINDY A. BOYLAN and ANDREW F. BOYLAN, her husband, et al., Defendants
v.
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA, INC. and BRANDON BOYINGTON, Additional Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This diversity action is before us on the motion for reconsideration (Doc. 45) filed by additional defendants Waste Management of Pennsylvania, Inc. and Brandon Boyington. They seek reconsideration of our order (Doc. 44) denying their motions to dismiss which sought abstention under Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). (Doc. 35; Doc. 36). For the reasons set forth herein, we will deny the motion for reconsideration.

         I. Statement of Facts

         As we write solely for the parties, we incorporate our recitation of the facts and applicable law set forth in our Memorandum dated April 6, 2018. (Doc. 43). Carsten v. Boylan, No. 3:17-cv-00733, 2018 WL 1696649 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 6, 2018). In their motion for reconsideration, Waste Management and Boyington contend that we erred as a matter of law in denying their motions to dismiss, which had the practical effect of creating a manifest injustice to the many parties involved in three litigations arising from the same motor vehicle accident. The three litigations include this action in federal court, the action initiated by the Boylans in state court, and the subrogation action initiated by Carsten's insurer in state court against the Boylans. The subrogation action is confined to state court regardless of our decision as the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. As the motion for reconsideration has been fully briefed, it is ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standards

         A motion for reconsideration is a device of limited utility, which serves to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. See Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). Accordingly, a party seeking reconsideration must demonstrate at least one of the following grounds prior to the court altering or amending a court's ruling: (1) "an intervening change in the controlling law, " (2) "the availability of new evidence, " or (3) "the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Soto v. Sleet, 458 Fed.Appx. 89, 90 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)). "It may not be used as a means to reargue unsuccessful theories, or argue new facts or issues that were not presented to the court in the context of the matter previously decided." Snyder v. United States, No. 07-450, 2013 WL 1730537, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 22, 2013) (citing Drysdale v. Woerth, 153 F.Supp.2d 678, 682 (E.D. Pa. 2001)).

         III. Discussion

         Waste Management and Boyington argue that we made a manifest error of law when we determined that abstention was not warranted in this matter. Upon review of the additional defendants' motion papers, their argument is a narrow one. They contend that we erred in failing to address or follow Trent v. Dial Medical of Florida, 33 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 1994), which they maintain is "better suited for serving the interests of 'wise judicial administration'" than Ryan v. Johnson, 115 F.3d 193 (3d Cir. 1997), a subsequent decision by the Third Circuit upon which we principally relied in our previous decision. (Doc. 45, at 17). Under Trent, these defendants argue, the "avoidance of piecemeal litigation" is the paramount factor in considering whether to abstain under Colorado River, particularly where state rather than federal law is at issue. (Id.). The Ryan approach, they argue, "simply ignores the reality of the harms that piecemeal litigation will wreak, " and thus "should not be followed." (Id.). They suggest that we are presented with a choice between two conflicting panel opinions by the Third Circuit, and that it was clear error for us to follow Ryan instead of Trent, which the additional defendants subjectively find to be more persuasive.

         We find no error in our reliance on Ryan, much less clear error. Nor do we find any error in our failure to discuss Trent in weighing the "avoidance of piecemeal litigation" factor under Colorado River. As the Third Circuit itself best explained in Ryan:

We cannot reconcile Trent with either the caselaw of this circuit, or Colorado River and [Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp., 461 U.S. 1 (1983)] [N]either we nor the Supreme Court had ever held, until our decision in Trent, that the mere possibility of piecemeal litigation justifies Colorado River abstention; rather, there must be a strongly articulated congressional policy against piecemeal litigation in the specific context of the case under review. The presence of garden-variety state law issues has not, in this circuit, been considered sufficient evidence of a congressional policy to consolidate multiple lawsuits for unified resolution in the state courts.
Indeed, if the mere possibility of concurrent state-federal litigation satisfies Colorado Rivers "piecemeal adjudication" test, the test becomes so broad that it swallows up the century-old principle expressed in University of Maryland [v. Peat Marwick Main & Co., 923 F.2d 265 (3d Cir. 1991)], Colorado River, McClellan [v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268 (1910), ] and [Chicot County v.] Sherwood[, 148 U.S. 529 (1893), ] that "the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal Court having jurisdiction[.]" If this were the law, it is difficult to conceive of any parallel state litigation that would not satisfy the "piecemeal adjudication" factor and militate in favor of Colorado River abstention. If that is true, then the "virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given themG" recognized in Colorado River and reiterated in Cone would effectively be eviscerated, a result we cannot presume either the Supreme Court or this court to have intended.

         [Moreover, ] [u]nder Third Circuit Internal Operating Procedure 9.1, when two decisions of this court conflict, we are bound by the earlier decision. It is clear that, under our prior caselaw, specifically University of Maryland, Kentucky West Virginia Gas Co. [v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 791 F.2d 1111 (3d Cir. 1986)], Harris [v. Pernsley, 755 F.2d 338 (3d Cir. 1985), ] and Western Auto Supply [Co. v. Anderson, 610 F.2d 1126 (3d Cir. 1979)], the "piecemeal adjudication" factor would not have been satisfied by the presence of a state law negligence action. Thus, we will not apply Trent's pronouncement on this point to decide the issue before us. Ryan, 115 F.3d at 198-99 (non-textual citations omitted) (emphasis in original). If any room for doubt may be found in Ryan's discourse, the Third Circuit later found cause to revisit and underscore this holding in Spring City Corp. v. American Buildings, Co., 193 F.3d 165 (3d Cir. 1999):

Spring City relies on this court's decision in Trent.... We held in Ryan that under Third Circuit Internal Operating Procedure 9.1, our prior case law takes precedence over an inconsistent later case. We agree and hold that Ryan represents the ...

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