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Orthmann v. Apple River Campground

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit
Jun 17, 1985
765 F.2d 119 (8th Cir. 1985)

Summary

holding that the first-to-file rule is "not intended to be rigid, mechanical, or inflexible, but should be applied in a manner serving sound judicial administration"

Summary of this case from Novartis AG v. Ezra Ventures, LLC

Opinion

No. 83-2519.

Submitted June 13, 1984.

Decided June 17, 1985.

Clint Grose, Minneapolis, Minn., for appellant.

Kay Hunt, Minneapolis, Minn., Tim Murphy, St. Paul, Minn., and Thomas D. Bell, New Richmond, Wis., for appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

Before LAY, Chief Judge, HEANEY, Circuit Judge, and COLLINSON, Senior District Judge.

The HONORABLE WILLIAM R. COLLINSON, Senior United States District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri, sitting by designation.


Owen Orthmann was innertubing on the Apple River near Somerset, Wisconsin, on July 19, 1980. During his trip down the river, he stopped at the river bank and dove into the water. Orthmann struck his head on the bottom or a submerged object, crushing several vertebrae. The blow rendered him a quadriplegic.

Orthmann filed a tort action against the Apple River innertube rental establishments in federal district court for the District of Minnesota on April 18, 1983. Although he was an Iowa resident at the time of the accident, Orthmann later became a Minnesota resident; he alleged subject matter jurisdiction in Minnesota federal district court based on diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. On July 13, 1983, he filed an identical action in federal district court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Orthmann apparently filed the Wisconsin action in order to toll the statute of limitations in that court should the Minnesota forum not have personal jurisdiction over the defendants. Orthmann requested that the Wisconsin district court stay its proceedings pending the outcome of the Minnesota action.

On October 13, 1983, the Minnesota federal district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction over the defendants. Orthmann appealed this order to our Court on November 8, 1983.

On January 24, 1984, the Wisconsin federal district court dismissed Orthmann's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Orthmann filed a notice of appeal from this order with the Seventh Circuit on February 17, 1984. On March 19, 1985, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court as to all but one defendant, holding that the district court erred in disposing of the case on the pleadings. Orthmann v. Apple River Campground, Inc., 757 F.2d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 1985). The Seventh Circuit remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. Id.

We thus have remaining before us Orthmann's appeal on the question of whether there is personal jurisdiction over the defendants in Minnesota. As detailed above, nearly two years have gone by while this case has proceeded on identical complaints in two jurisdictions. Generally, the doctrine of federal comity permits a court to decline jurisdiction over an action when a complaint involving the same parties and issues has already been filed in another district. Pacesetter Systems, Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc., 678 F.2d 93, 94-5 (9th Cir. 1982). Hence, courts follow a "first to file" rule that where two courts have concurrent jurisdiction, the first court in which jurisdiction attaches has priority to consider the case. Hospah Coal Co. v. Chaco Energy Co., 673 F.2d 1161, 1163 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 1007, 102 S.Ct. 2299, 73 L.Ed.2d 1302 (1982). The Eleventh Circuit has similarly stated that "[i]n the absence of compelling circumstances, the court initially seized of a controversy should be the one to decide the case." Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner Smith v. Haydu, 675 F.2d 1169, 1174 (11th Cir. 1982). The purpose of this rule is to promote efficient use of judicial resources. The rule is not intended to be rigid, mechanical, or inflexible, but should be applied in a manner serving sound judicial administration. Pacesetter Systems, Inc., 678 F.2d at 95.

We conclude that the federal comity doctrine is best served in this case by dismissing Orthmann's action in Minnesota district court. Although he filed his action first in Minnesota, the decision by the Seventh Circuit means that the controversy is now further developed in the Wisconsin district court. We note that while none of the parties question whether the Wisconsin court has personal jurisdiction, the parties vigorously dispute whether there is personal jurisdiction over the defendants in Minnesota. In the absence of clear guidance from the Minnesota Supreme Court, we hesitate to construe the limits of Minnesota's long-arm statute when the identical lawsuit is proceeding without jurisdictional problems in Wisconsin federal district court. See BLC Ins. Co. v. Westin, Inc., 359 N.W.2d 752 (Minn.App. 1985) (Minnesota Court of Appeals decision holding that Wisconsin bar owner's act of soliciting Minnesota customers by advertising on Minnesota radio station establishes sufficient minimum contacts under Minn.Stat. § 543.19, subd. 1); cf. Pearrow v. National Life Accident Ins. Co., 703 F.2d 1067, 1068-69 (8th Cir. 1983) (holding that advertising is insufficient contact under similar Arkansas statute).

For these reasons, we decline to rule on whether the district court erred in dismissing the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and dismiss the instant appeal with prejudice.


Summaries of

Orthmann v. Apple River Campground

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit
Jun 17, 1985
765 F.2d 119 (8th Cir. 1985)

holding that the first-to-file rule is "not intended to be rigid, mechanical, or inflexible, but should be applied in a manner serving sound judicial administration"

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adopting the first-to-file rule

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adopting the "first to file" rule that when two courts have concurrent jurisdiction, the first court in which jurisdiction attaches has priority to consider the case

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recognizing a district court's discretion in declining to follow the first-filed rule if the litigation is further along in another jurisdiction

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dismissing first-filed suit when jurisdiction was more in doubt than the second-filed suit

Summary of this case from Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC

In Orthmann, the plaintiff filed the identical complaint in two federal district courts: initially in the District of Minnesota, and then in the Western District of Wisconsin. Id at 120.

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In Orthmann, the dispositive issue in determining not to follow the first-filed rule was that federal comity was better served by dismissing the first-filed case because the second-filed action was further advanced based on which appeals court entered its decision first.

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stating that "the first court in which jurisdiction attaches has priority to consider the case"

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applying first-filed rule without first ruling on whether personal jurisdiction exists over the defendant

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In Orthmann, the Eighth Circuit found that a second-filed Wisconsin case had progressed further than the first-filed Minnesota case, and the court presiding over the first-filed case had already dismissed its action for lack of personal jurisdiction.

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In Orthmann, the plaintiff filed an action in the District of Minnesota on April 18, 1983, and an identical action in the Western District of Wisconsin on July 13, 1983.

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In Orthmann, the plaintiff filed an action in the District of Minnesota on April 18, 1983, and an identical action in the Western District of Wisconsin on July 13, 1983.

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In Orthmann, two different complaints concerning the same subject matter were filed in two different courts: the first was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, and the second was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

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noting that this court has previously relied on that decision

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dismissing the first-filed action

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dismissing first-filed action where second action, involving the same parties and issues, has developed further than the first

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In Orthmann, the court of appeals cited to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Hospah Coal Co. v. Chaco Energy Co., 673 F.2d 1161, 1163 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 1007, 102 S.Ct. 2299, 73 L.Ed.2d 1302 (1982).

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Case details for

Orthmann v. Apple River Campground

Case Details

Full title:OWEN ORTHMANN, APPELLANT, v. APPLE RIVER CAMPGROUND, INC., SOMERSET CAMP…

Court:United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

Date published: Jun 17, 1985

Citations

765 F.2d 119 (8th Cir. 1985)

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