The issue presented in this action is essentially the proper interpretation of an Illinois statute. That is, Green argues that Stack and the Board are interpreting the Pension Code incorrectly, and that he is suffering as a result. Green asserts that Section 8-234 essentially requires that the amount deducted from an employee's actual salary in a given year not exceed 8 1/2 percent (the "proper salary deduction rate") of the "annual salary" for pension purposes (i.e., the annualized amount that the employee was making for the greater portion of the year). As the Fund is currently being administered, however, no consideration is paid to whether the amount deducted from an employee's actual salary is equal to, greater than, or smaller than the amount obtained by applying the deduction rate to the "annual salary," as determined for pension purposes. As a result, Green claims, when an employee receives a raise for a lesser portion of the year, the amount deducted from that employee's salary for contribution into the Fund for that year exceeds the amount which would be obtained by applying the deduction rate to that employee's fictitious "annual salary."
Because Green's reading of the statute prohibits that result, he asserts that he is being denied his property (the money he would have received but for the impermissible excessive deductions) without due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and of Article I, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution. In addition, as noted above, Green maintains that Stack and the Board's improper interpretation and application of the Pension Code amounts to a breach of their statutory fiduciary duty. Finally, Green alleges that, if the statute is currently being interpreted correctly, then the statute itself is unconstitutional.
We certainly have jurisdiction to consider Green's claims. However, it is equally apparent that resolution of Green's state law claims in state court would almost certainly obviate the need for us to reach the constitutional issues which provide the federal basis for this suit. That is, if the state court were to find in favor of Green, then they could also remedy defendants' breach of their fiduciary duty and violation of the Illinois due process clause, eliminating any federal constitutional issue. If, on the other hand, the state court ruled in favor of defendants, then we would not have to resolve, at minimum, a significant portion of Green's federal claim, since it is the statute itself which provides Green his property interest in his pension. See, e.g., Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972).
For these reasons, we conclude that Pullman abstention is appropriate. See Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman, 312 U.S. 496, 85 L. Ed. 971, 61 S. Ct. 643 (1941). As the Seventh Circuit has noted, "Pullman abstention is invoked to obviate the need to decide a federal constitutional issue where an unsettled question of state law might be dispositive." Moses v. County of Kenosha, 826 F.2d 708, 709 (7th Cir. 1987). See also Mireles v. Crosby County, 724 F.2d 431, 433 (5th Cir. 1984) ("Pullman abstention is a judicially created doctrine which postpones the exercise of federal jurisdiction in order to clarify ambiguous state law issues when resolution of such issues might eliminate or substantially modify a federal constitutional question."). In Mireles, plaintiffs contended that Texas law gave rise to a property interest in certain welfare benefits, and that defendants had deprived them of that property without due process of law. The district court concluded that Pullman abstention was appropriate, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed:
It is well settled that Pullman abstention may be appropriate where an interpretation of the scope of the entitlement may have a considerable impact on the posture and resolution of the federal issues. Although clarification of the scope of article 2351, § 11 by the Texas courts might not eliminate the federal constitutional issue, it would certainly narrow the constitutional question.
Mireles, 724 F.2d at 433.
The same analysis applies with equal force here. Neither party has cited an Illinois case addressing the issue presented here, and our independent research has failed to disclose any. And, as discussed above, clarification of the relevant sections of the Pension Code will eliminate, either in whole or in significant part, the federal constitutional issue raised in Green's complaint. Accordingly, we invoke the Pullman doctrine and abstain from further proceedings in this case until the Illinois state courts have had an opportunity to rule on the issues of state law presented here.
For the reasons set forth above, we dismiss this action without prejudice to file in the Illinois state court, and with leave to reinstate in this court, if necessary, following resolution of the state law issues in the state court. It is so ordered.
MARVIN E. ASPEN
United States District Judge
JUDGMENT IN A CIVIL CASE
IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED
that we dismiss this action without prejudice to file in the Illinois state court, and with leave to reinstate in this court, if necessary, following resolution of the state law issues in the state court.
February 2, 1995