be disturbed upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. See Matter of Howe, 913 F.2d 1138,
1143 (5th Cir. 1991). Many courts, in an effort to give expression to the parameters of that
discretion, have developed multi-factor tests.8 While helpful, they are by their very nature, not
dispositive. Mechanical applications of such tests to rule on equitable issues that are heavily
fact-specific are often doomed to produce incorrect outcomes.9 The various tests offered by
these opinions must be viewed in the larger context of the task presented – to arrive at the
equitable application of the permissive abstention doctrine, as appropriately applied in the
bankruptcy context. Or, more simply, we must avoid losing the forest for the trees. See Murphy
jurisdiction because of parallel state court litigation does not rest on a “mechanical checklist” of
[abstention] factors, but on a ‘careful balancing’ of them, ‘as they apply in a given case, with the
balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction.’), citing Moses H. Cone Mem'l
Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16, (1983)).
The larger context of permissive abstention is informed by the base principles that led to
importance of centralized administration in one forum, the breadth of bankruptcy jurisdiction
intended to have been conferred, the need to deal with unexpected exigencies or to step back
when the matter to be litigated is especially important to be resolved in a state forum,10
need to do justice (as well as to avoid doing an injustice).11
8 In re Denton County Elec. Co-Op, Inc., 281 BR 876, 881 and notes 10-11 (Bankr. N.D. Tex.) (citing cases from the 7th and 9th Circuits and bankruptcy districts in the southern and northern districts of Texas).
9 A person is sent into a crowded room with directions to find Judge Clark by applying the following multi-factor test : (1) tall, (2) blond hair, (3) angular features, (4) dressed stylishly, and (5) having a resonant voice. The person returns with David Bowie in tow. If the person had simply been given a recent picture of Judge Clark (which would have been worth far more than all the factors one could write down on a piece of paper), chances are he would have quickly returned with the judge, not the singer.
10 The legislative history specifically cited to Thompson v. Magnolia Petroleum, 309 U.S. 478 (1940), a case which involved the intersection of federal bankruptcy jurisdiction with the State of Texas’ strong interest in regulating the law surrounding the development and sale of oil and gas in that state.
11 The example offered in the legislative history involved a preference for not abstaining if the matter in question could not be brought elsewhere.