United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
January 27, 2004.
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.
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.
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