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Pullman Arms, Inc. v. Healey

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 8, 2019

PULLMAN ARMS INC.; GUNS and GEAR, LLC; PAPER CITY FIREARMS, LLC; GRRR! GEAR, INC.; and NATIONAL SHOOTING SPORTS FOUNDATION, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
MAURA HEALEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STAY (DOCKET NO. 67)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pullman Arms, Inc., Guns and Gear, LLC, Paper City Firearms, LLC, and National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. (“Plaintiffs”) brought this action to challenge the Enforcement Notice issued by Attorney General Healey. Attorney General Healey now moves to stay this litigation pursuant to Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813, 96 S.Ct. 1236 (1976). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion (Docket No. 67) is denied.

         Background

         In July 2016, Attorney General Healey informed the public of her plan to enforce the Commonwealth's Assault Weapons Ban, which prohibits the possession and sale of “copies or duplicates” of certain enumerated weapons. See Mass. Gen. L. c. 140, §§ 121; 131M. She issued a public Enforcement Notice, which applied prospectively, to provide “guidance on the identification of weapons that are ‘copies' or duplicates' of the enumerated Assault weapons that are banned under Massachusetts law.” (Docket No. 15-7, at 2).

         On September 22, 2016, Plaintiffs filed this action challenging the Enforcement Notice. On January 10, 2017, the Attorney General moved to dismiss. (Docket No. 22). On March 14, 2018, this Court denied the motion in part, and granted it in part. Pullman Arms v. Healey, 301 F.Supp.3d 227 (D. Mass. 2018). This Court allowed Plaintiffs to proceed with two claims: that the Enforcement Notice is unconstitutionally vague and that it deprived Plaintiffs of property without due process.

         Attorney General Healey then took an interlocutory appeal regarding the dismissal of state law claims. When Plaintiffs' counsel stipulated at oral argument that Plaintiffs would not pursue any state law claims, the First Circuit dismissed the appeal “[b]ased upon the representation of the plaintiffs-appellees, made in open court, that they are not pursing any state-law claims in the underlying action” Judgement, Pullman Arms v. Healey, First Cir. No. 18-1331.

         In August 2018, while the First Circuit appeal was pending, Baystate Firearms and Training, LLC and Downrange Inc. filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County against Attorney General Healey asserting a Declaratory Judgment Act claim under Mass. Gen. L. c. 231A. In that lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend that the Enforcement Notice is not advisory but rather constitutes a regulation promulgated without the requisite public hearing and comment period. See Mass. Gen. L. c. 30A, § 2(a). On October 25, 2018, the Single Justice requested supplemental briefing on whether the claim was “ripe for review” and “whether the enforcement notice identified in the plaintiff's complaint should be subject to pre-enforcement judicial review.” (Docket No. 67-2, at 2-3). On December 20, 2018, the Single Justice transferred the case to the Massachusetts Superior Court pursuant to Mass. Gen. L. c. 221, § 4A. See Docket No. 67-3. The case is now pending in Suffolk Superior Court.

         On February 7, 2019, Attorney General Healey moved to stay these proceedings pursuant to the Colorado River abstention doctrine. (Docket No. 67).

         Legal Standard

         Parallel litigation in state court is not sufficient to merit abstention in federal court. See McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282, 30 S.Ct. 501 (1910); Stanton v. Embrey, 93 U.S. 548, 554, 23 L.Ed. 983 (1876). That is, “[c]oncurrent federal-state jurisdiction over the same controversy does not generally lessen the federal courts' virtually unflagging obligation to exercise the jurisdiction given them.” Jiménez v. Rodriguez-Pagán, 597 F.3d 18, 27 (1st Cir. 2010) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         This obligation, however, “is not infinite.” Id. “Over time, categories of cases have emerged illustrating when abstention may be appropriate” such as Pullman, Burford, and Younger abstention. Nazario-Lugo v. Caribevisión Holdings, Inc., 670 F.3d 109, 115 (1st Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). In Colorado River, the Supreme Court recognized another situation where abstention is appropriate, which “allows federal courts in limited instances to stay or dismiss proceedings that overlap with concurrent litigation in state court.” Id. at 21.

         “The crevice in federal jurisdiction that Colorado River carved is a narrow one.” Id. at 27. Thus, “[a]bdication of the obligation to decide cases can be justified under the doctrine only in the exceptional circumstances where the order of the parties to repair to the state court would clearly serve an important countervailing interest.” Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813, 96 S.Ct. 1236 (1976) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         “An evolving list of factors exists to aid in discerning whether a particular case involves exceptional circumstances that tip a scale heavily weighted in favor or the exercise of federal jurisdiction.” Nazario-Lugo, 670 F.3d at 115. The list includes:

(1) whether either court has assumed jurisdiction over a res; (2) the geographical inconvenience of the federal forum; (3) the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which the forums obtained jurisdiction; (5) whether state or federal law controls; (6) the adequacy of the state forum to protect the parties' interests; (7) the vexatious or contrived ...

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