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Jlm Financial Investments 4 LLC v. Stelios Aktipis

January 9, 2012

JLM FINANCIAL INVESTMENTS 4 LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STELIOS AKTIPIS DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In this breach of contract diversity action, Defendant Stelios Aktipis moves to dismiss Plaintiff JLM Financial Investments 4 LLC's ("JLM's") complaint or, in the alternative, moves that this court abstain from resolving this matter pending the outcome of related state court proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the court denies Aktipis' motion.

I.BACKGROUND

JLM is the assignee of a mortgage involving the Spring Hill Fashion Corner Shopping Center (the "Property") which was originally recorded in Kane County, Illinois on November 10, 2004. Springhill Gateway LLC ("Springhill") assumed all obligations under the mortgage's underlying $7,900,000 loan (the "Loan") on May 11, 2007, and on May 7, 2007 Aktipis, in his individual capacity, executed a Guaranty of Recourse Obligations of Borrower (the "Guaranty") for the benefit of Trustee and its successors and assigns (in this case, JLM).

In its complaint, JLM alleges that various mechanics liens have encumbered the Property. (Compl. ¶ 12-14.) In the Guaranty, Aktipis agreed to be held personally liable for all amounts due and payable under the Loan "in the event of [Springhill's] default under the provisions of the Note, Security Instrument, or other Security Documents relating to . . . (ii) a prohibition of sale, transfer, or encumbrance of the Property." (Id. ¶ 15.) Because encumbrances can produce default under the Loan, JLM alleges that the Guaranty makes "Atkipis . . . liable for all amounts now due and payable under the Loan." (Id. ¶ 29.) JLM also alleges that Springhill has failed to pay required monthly installments of principal and interest on the Loan since April 2010. (Id. ¶ 22.)

On August 10, 2010, JLM's predecessor-in-interest filed a lawsuit to foreclose on the Property in the Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois (Case No. 10-CH-3862). This lawsuit relating to the Guaranty was filed on April 15, 2011. Aktipis argues that abstention is appropriate under Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 818 (1976), because, in his view, the state court action will likely dispose of all of the claims presented in the federal case. (Def. Br. at 2.);

II.LEGAL STANDARD

"[A] federal court may stay or dismiss a suit when there is a concurrent state proceeding and the stay or dismissal would promote 'wise judicial administration.'" AXA Corp. Sol'ns v. Underwriters Reins. Corp., 347 F.3d 272, 278 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818). Nonetheless, abstention is allowed only in "exceptional circumstances," and the Seventh Circuit recognizes a general presumption against abstention. AXA, 347 F.3d at 278. In assessing the propriety of abstention under Colorado River, "the district court must undertake a two-part inquiry." Tyrer v. City of South Beloit, Ill., 456 F.3d 744, 751 (7th Cir. 2006). First, the court must decide whether the concurrent state and federal actions are "actually parallel." Id. (quoting Clark v. Lacy, 376 F.3d 682, 685 (7th Cir. 2004)). Once the court determines that the actions are parallel, the court can then engage in an inquiry into several factors to assess whether "exceptional circumstances" warrant abstention. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Here, the court may dispose of this matter on the first prong because the state and federal actions in this case are not parallel. Parallel actions do not need to be formally symmetric. See Clark, 376 F.3d at 686. However, there must be a "substantial likelihood that the [state court] litigation will dispose of all claims presented in the federal case." AAR Int'l, Inc. v. Nimelias Enters. S.A., 250 F.3d 510, 518 (7th Cir. 2001). To assess whether state and federal proceedings are parallel, "a district court should examine whether the suits involve the same parties, arise out of the same facts and raise similar factual and legal issues." Tyrer, 456 F.3d at 744. The court agrees with JLM that the suits essentially involve the same parties and arise out of the same set of facts; however, the legal issues presented by the two cases are sufficiently distinct such that the state and federal cases are not parallel.

A.The Legal Rights and Obligations of the Guarantor Are Distinct from Those of the Mortgagor

The first reason the state foreclosure action is not parallel to the federal action on the Guaranty contract is because the rights and obligations associated with the proceedings are substantially different. The Guaranty is contained in a contract distinct and independent from the mortgage note and loan. As noted in a similar case, "A foreclosure proceeding is a creature of property law, whereas a guaranty agreement is contractual in nature." Mitsui Taiyo Kobe Bank, Ltd. v. First Nat'l Realty & Dev. Co., Inc, 788 F.Supp. 1007, 1009 (N.D. Ill. 1992). Because a mortgagee may ultimately be forced into a foreclosure sale when a risky borrower assumes a mortgage, moreover, a party may "bargain[] for and receive[] additional assurances from the defendant[] that the debt will be paid" apart and separate from the mortgage and note. Id. (emphasis added). As in Mitsui, where the value of a guaranty would be greatly diminished if the court deemed the state and federal actions to be parallel and thus stayed the proceeding, JLM would lose a substantial benefit of its bargain. In a guaranty like the one in this case, "the guarantor makes an unconditional promise to pay the lender as soon as there is a default by the principal debtor." Bank of Am., N.A. v. WRT Realty, LLP, 769 F. Supp. 2d 36,40-41 (D. Mass. 2011). The entire purpose of the contract is to allow the lender to pursue remedies before awaiting the result of a foreclosure proceeding. This purpose would be thwarted if this court were to grant Atkipis a stay.

B.Several Provisions of the Guaranty Contract Counsel Against Abstention and Render this Case Independent from the State Mortgage Proceeding

Several bargained-for rights in the Guaranty contract underscore why this guaranty action is not parallel to the state court foreclosure proceeding. First, Atkipis agreed that his obligations under the Guaranty contract would not be impaired ...


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