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RODRIGUEZ v. RAMSEY

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois


January 27, 2004.

Rodriguez
v.
Ramsey

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES ZAGEL, District Judge

On June 9, 2003, Plaintiff, Erma Rodriguez, filed a Title VII complaint with this court alleging that the Sheriff, through his employees, subjected her to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and retaliation. Rodriguez's claims of retaliation are based on her dismissal from the Kane County Sheriff's department. According to the Sheriff's Merit Commission's Opinion and Order, Rodriguez was terminated for (1) knowingly and felsely accusing a Sheriff's Office employee of sexual harassment and (2) being dishonest in her statements to investigative personnel in connection with her accusations of sexual harassment. On June 30, 2003, Rodriguez filed a complaint with the Circuit Court for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, Kane County, Illinois seeking administrative review of the Merit Commission's Opinion and Order. Because of this pending administrative review, Defendant asks that I abstain from exercising jurisdiction at this time and stay these proceedings based on the Younger and Colorado River abstention doctrines.

The Younger principle is an exception to the rule that a federal court normally will not abstain from deciding cases within its jurisdiction. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employee v. Tristano, 898 F.2d 1302, 1304 (7th Cir. 1990). In Younger, the Supreme Court held that federal courts should abstain from enjoining pending state court criminal proceedings, absent very rare circumstances such as bad faith or harassment. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971). The principles developed by Younger were subsequently extended to state civil proceedings and state administrative proceedings involving important state interests. American Federal, 898 F.2d at 1305.

While Rodriguez does have a pending state administrative proceeding involving an important state interest — the conduct of state correctional officers, Nudell v. Nevius, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12272 at *6-7 (N.D. Ill. 1988), the application of Younger abstention is still inappropriate. The principles of comity and federalism that underlie the Younger doctrine do not require that a federal court abandon jurisdiction it has properly acquired when a state suit is later filed. Midwestern Gas Transmission Co. v. McCarty, 270 F.3d 536, 538 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Town of Lockport v. Citizens for Community Action at Local Level, Inc. 430 U.S. 259, 264 n.8 (1977). Since Rodriguez's federal suit was filed before the suit for administrative review, Younger does not require that I stay these proceedings.

  Under the Colorado River doctrine, I may stay the proceedings in exceptional circumstances when there is a concurrent state proceeding and when abstaining would promote wise judicial administration. Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). The Colorado River doctrine, like the Younger doctrine, is a limited exception to the district court's "virtually unflagging obligation" to exercise its jurisdiction. Id.

  In considering Colorado River abstention, I must first determine whether the state and federal proceedings are parallel. Proceedings are parallel when "substantially the same parties are contemporaneously litigating substantially the same issues in another forum. Lowery v. Schnorf, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9455 at *10 (N.D. Ill. June 17, 1999)(citation omitted). The actions, however, need not be identical. Id. While the federal and state suits here are not identical, they present very similar issues. In both the state and federal cases, Rodriguez must attempt to prove that she was sexually harassed and discriminated against and that charges were brought against her in retaliation. Given the substantial overlap in the state and federal cases, I find that they are parallel proceedings.

  Next, to determine whether exceptional circumstances warrant abstention, I must balance the following factors: (1) whether the state or federal court has assumed jurisdiction over property, (2) the geographical inconvenience, (3) the desirability of avoiding piecemeal litigation, (4) the order in which jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums, (5) the source of governing law, (6) the adequacy of the state court action to protect the federal plaintiff's rights, (7) the relative progress of the state and federal proceedings, (8) the presence or absence of concurrent jurisdiction, (9) the availability of removal, and (10) the vexatious or contrived nature of the federal claims. Lowrey, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9455 at * 17-18; See Also LaDuke v. Burlington N.R. Co., 879 F.2d 1556, 1559 (7th Cir. 1989).

  Several of these factors weigh against abstention: neither the state nor the federal court has assumed jurisdiction over property, the federal forum is not inconvenient, federal jurisdiction was obtained before that of the state, Title VII is the source of the federal law claims, and the claims here are not vexatious or contrived. The decision to abstain under Colorado River, however, "does not rest upon a mechanical checklist, but on a careful balancing of the important factors as they apply in a given case. . . ." Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16(1983).

  The factors most significant to this case weigh in favor of abstention. First, because of the overlap in the issues, allowing both cases to go forward would result not only in duplicative litigation but could also lead to inconsistent resolution of those same issues. See Lowrey 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9455 at *18 (citing Caminiti & latarola, Ltd. v. Behnke Warehousing, Inc., 962 F.2d 698, 701 (7th Cir. 1992). Second, the state court, unlike the federal court, has jurisdiction over both the administrative review and the Title VII claims. Since abstention would provide for the greatest judicial economy and does not compromise Rodriguez's federal right, I find a stay under the Colorado River doctrine is appropriate.

  Defendant's Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Resolution of State Court Proceedings is GRANTED.

20040127

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