United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
August 2, 2005.
JOHN KORANDA, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CHICAGO AND AS-YET UNKNOWN CHICAGO OFFICIALS Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES HOLDERMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff John Koranda ("Koranda"), filed a four-count
complaint on March 31, 2005 against defendants City of Chicago
and unknown Chicago officials (collectively "the City"), alleging
federal civil rights claims for First Amendment retaliation and
conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims for
respondeat superior and indemnification. (Dkt. No. 1). The City
filed on May 25, 2005 the pending motion to dismiss or, in the
alternative, for a stay of these proceedings. (Dkt. No. 13). For
the reasons set forth below, this court grants the City's May 25,
2005 motion to dismiss.
In his complaint, John Koranda alleges that he attended a party
on June 29, 2003 at 713 West Wrightwood, a three flat apartment
building in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶
5). Koranda's brother, Robert Koranda, lived on the second floor
of the apartment building and was one of the hosts of the party.
(Id.) During the event, the apartment building's multi-story
back porch collapsed killing or injuring several of the
party-goers. (Id. at ¶ 6). John Koranda survived the porch collapse but his brother
Robert was killed. (Id.)
Robert Koranda's estate filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook
County against a number of defendants including the City of
Chicago over Robert Koranda's death. Koranda v. L.G. Prop. Co.
et al., 03 L 9791; (Dkt. No. 14 at Ex. A). The estate's lawsuit
alleged in part that the Chicago Department of Buildings was
understaffed, its employees and agents were untrained and
unqualified, and many obtained positions in the department
through political patronage. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 8). The complaint
further alleged that the City's building department failed to
properly inspect the porch at 713 West Wrightwood and also
alleged that the failure was partially responsible for Robert
Koranda's death. (Id.)
Robert Koranda's family, including plaintiff John Koranda, also
publically criticized the City through public statements reported
in the local and national media. These public statements alleged
that the porch collapse would not have happened had the City
enforced its own codes regarding the permitting, construction and
inspection of porches. (Id. at ¶ 10).
In February 2005, the City filed a third-party complaint
against John Koranda in Robert Koranda's state court case. Ware
v. L.G. Prop. Co. et al., 03 L 8084 (Consolidated); (Dkt. No. 14
at Ex. C). The City alleged that John Koranda was responsible for
the porch collapse and resulting deaths and injuries. (Id. at ¶
12). According to the City's third-party complaint, John Koranda
jumped up and down on the porch before it collapsed. (Dkt. No.
14, Ex. C).
John Koranda's complaint pending before this court alleges that
the City filed the third-party complaint in the state case in
direct retaliation for the public statements Koranda made
criticizing the City. (Id. at ¶ 11). According to Koranda's
complaint, the City knows that the allegations it made against
him in the state case are false, that the allegations are based
on fabricated evidence, and that the allegations were made for the
purpose of retaliating against Koranda for his public comments
against the City.
The City argues in its present motion that John Koranda's
complaint should be dismissed under the Younger abstention
doctrine, or in the alternative, the suit should be stayed under
the Colorado River abstention doctrine. The City also argues
for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure ("Rules"), if the court reaches the merit of
Koranda's claims, for what the City asserts is a failure by
Koranda's complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be
A. Younger Doctrine
The City argues for a dismissal pursuant to the Younger
abstention doctrine. Koranda counters that Younger is
inappropriate in this case because of the bad faith exception to
Younger. The court agrees with the City that dismissal pursuant
to Younger is appropriate in this case.
"In Younger, the Supreme Court held that absent extraordinary
circumstances federal courts should abstain from enjoying ongoing
state criminal proceedings." Simpson v. Rowan, 73 F.3d 134, 137
(7th Cir. 1995) (citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 53
(1971)). "The Younger abstention requires that a federal court
abstain out of comity to a state court because both proceedings
involve important state functions." Daniels v. Sheahan, No. 97
C 5430, 1997 WL 786649, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 15, 1997). It is
presumed under Younger "that a plaintiff's federal
constitutional claims can be fairly vindicated in the state court
proceedings without federal intrusion." Snell v. Pucinski, No.
02 C 8172, 2003 WL 21321348, at *2 (N.D. Ill. June 6, 2003).
The Younger, doctrine has been applied beyond its original
factual situation to "non criminal judicial proceedings when important state interests are
involved." Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar
Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982). This includes civil suits
seeking monetary relief. Robinson v. Lother, No. 04 C 2382,
2004 WL 2032120, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 1, 2004) (citation
The existence of factually related concurrent state and federal
cases does not by itself require a federal court to abstain under
the Younger doctrine. "The Younger principle is an exception
to the rule that a federal court normally will not abstain from
deciding a case within its jurisdiction." American Fed'n of
State, County and Mun. Employees v. Tristano, 898 F.2d 1302,
1304 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing New Orleans Pub. Serv. v. Counsel
of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 368 (1989); Moore v. Sims,
442 U.S. 415, 423 n. 8 (1977)). "Federal courts have a virtually
unflagging obligation to exercise the jurisdiction given to
them. . . . [O]nly exceptional circumstances justify a federal
court's refusal to decide a case in deference to the States."
Trust & Inv. Advisers, Inc. v. Hogsett, 43 F.3d 290, 295 (7th
Cir. 1994) (internal citations omitted).
"In deciding whether the Younger abstention applies, a court
must determine, at the threshold, whether litigating claims that
are present could interfere with an ongoing state proceeding."
Soriano v. Town of Cicero, No. 04 C 2774, 2004 WL 2966967, at
*1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 22, 2004) (quoting Robinson v. Lother, No.
04 C 2382, 2004 WL 2032120, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 1, 2004));
see e.g., Fox v. Office of the Sheriff of Will County, No. 04 C
7309, 2005 WL 991901, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 13, 2005) (citing
Simpson v. Rowan, 73 F.3d 134, 138 (7th Cir. 1996)). If
litigating the federal case could interfere with the ongoing
state proceeding, "a federal court should abstain under Younger
if the impacted state proceeding: (1) is judicial in nature and
ongoing; (2) implicates important state interests; and (3)
provides an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges." Walker v. Village of
Northbrook, No. 04 C 3814, 2005 WL 692402, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar.
22, 2005) (citing Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State
Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)).
According to the twenty-count second amended complaint filed by
Robert Koranda's estate in Circuit Court of Cook County on June
11, 2004,*fn1 Robert Koranda's estate is suing the owner and
management company of the apartment building, the company that
constructed the porch, the City of Chicago and certain individual
defendants for various tort claims arising from the porch
collapse. (Dkt. No. 14 at Ex. A). Koranda v. L.G. Properties
Co., 03 L 9791. Robert Koranda's case and several other cases
related to the June 29, 2003 porch collapse have been
consolidated for pretrial purposes before the Honorable William
D. Maddux, Presiding Judge of the Law Division of the Circuit
Court of Cook County. (Dkt. No. 14 at Ex. B). The City's
third-party complaint, alleging that John Koranda is liable for
the porch collapse, was filed in state court on February 2, 2005.
(Id. at Ex. C).
The City argues that the state court litigation over the porch
collapse focuses on the issue of allocating tort liability. This
court recognizes that the ultimate questions of the state court
litigation are whether the named defendants are legally
responsible for the porch collapse, and if so, whether that legal
liability translates into monetary compensation for the damages
suffered by the plaintiffs under a proper application of Illinois
law. The City also argues that litigating John Koranda's civil
rights case in this court will interfere with the state court's
determination of the tort issues. Koranda's complaint in this court alleges that the
City knows that he was not responsible for the porch collapse,
and that the City brought its false allegations in retaliation
for Koranda's public statements criticizing the City in violation
of his First Amendment rights.
This court agrees with the City that the determination of the
question of tort liability is properly before Presiding Judge
Maddux. Presiding Judge Maddux is an outstanding jurist and is
more than able to appropriately address the issues raised among
the litigants in the state cases currently pending before him in
the Circuit Court of Cook County. Decisions made by this court in
the present case could possibly hinder Presiding Judge Maddux's
ability to fully address the tort issues raised by the state
court litigants through the doctrines of claim preclusion or res
judicata. Robinson v. Lother, No. 04 C 2382, at *2 (N.D. Ill.
Sept. 1, 2004) (quoting Simpson, 73 F.3d at 137-39 ("[A]
federal damages suit, although not interfering with the state
proceeding to the same degree as an injunction, could beat the
state action to judgment and either undermine or preclude the
State's consideration of some issue.") (citation omitted)). The
existence of parallel proceedings leads a potentially
inappropriate "race" among the parties to be the first to
litigate an issue in their respective case so that a preclusive
effect in other cases could be established. Consequently, this
court believes that abstention in this case is appropriate to
prevent any undermining of the state court's consideration of the
tort liability issues that are properly before that court.
Koranda's First Amendment retaliation claim brought pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 in his complaint before this court is evaluated
under a burden shifting approach. Koranda must first demonstrate
that (1) his speech was constitutionally protected and (2) the
City's alleged retaliatory actions were motivated by his
constitutionally protected speech. Rasche v. Village of Beecher, 336 F.3d 588, 596 (7th Cir. 2003). If Koranda was to
establish that his constitutionally protected speech was a
substantial or motivating factor in the City's actions, then the
burden would shift to the City to rebut Koranda's allegations by
demonstrating that the City would have taken the same action in
the absence of Koranda's constitutionally protected speech.
Healy v. City of Chicago, No. 00 C 6030, 2004 WL 1630578, at *4
(N.D. Ill. July 20, 2004) (citing Kokkinis v. Ivkovich,
185 F.3d 840, 843 (7th Cir. 1999)).
This court cannot consider Koranda's federal claims without
also considering the related state law tort issues because the
state tort law liability issues are central to Koranda's First
Amendment retaliation claim. Koranda must demonstrate that the
City's alleged retaliatory actions were motivated by his
constitutionally protected speech. He is likely to argue that he
was not responsible for the porch collapse and that the City's
third-party complaint was filed in retaliation. The City, under
the burden shifting approached employed for the evaluation of a
First Amendment retaliation claim, is likely to counter that
Koranda is liable for the porch collapse and therefore the City
had a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for filing the
third-party complaint. To evaluate these potential arguments,
this court would have to enter into a consideration of who is
ultimately responsible for the porch collapse and that issue is
one that is properly reserved for the Circuit Court of Cook
The evaluation of the state tort law liability questions are
issues that the state court should decide in the first instance.
The fact that there is (1) an ongoing judicial proceeding on the
state tort law liability issue, (2) the allocation of tort law
liability is a traditional state law function that implicates an
important state interest, and (3) the ongoing state court
proceeding provides an adequate opportunity for Koranda to raise
constitutional changes all counsel for this court's abstention
pursuant to the Younger doctrine. This court must abstain in
order to allow the state court the opportunity to adjudicate the
tort law liability issues. This court's failure to abstain would
result in this court's usurpation of the adjudication of the
state tort law liability issue. These matter are traditionally
ones for the state court (since diversity of citizenship is not
present in this case), and therefore this court must abstain so
as to allow the state court the opportunity to decide those
B. Bad Faith Exception to the Younger Doctrine
Koranda does not dispute that this case meets the requirements
for the application of the Younger abstention doctrine. He also
does not dispute that the state tort law liability questions are
at the center of his First Amendment claim and that this court's
evaluation of his First Amendment claim could impact on the
ongoing state court proceedings. Instead, he argues that
abstention pursuant to the Younger doctrine is not appropriate
due to the application of the bad faith exception to Younger.
A federal court should not refrain from abstaining under
Younger when "extraordinary circumstances exist which would
make abstention inappropriate." Otrompke v. Chairman of the
Comm. on Character and Fitness for the First Judicial District of
Illinois, No. 03 C 7198, 2004 WL 812993, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Apr.
14, 2004) (citations omitted). "[I]ntervention by a federal court
is warranted [despite the fact that abstention under Younger is
otherwise warranted,] if the state proceeding is motivated by a
desire to harass or is conducted in bad faith." Walker v.
Village of Northbrook, No. 04 C 3814, 2005 WL 692402, at *2 (N.D. Ill.
Mar. 22, 2005) (citations omitted). "The harm posed by [a] bad
faith prosecution is both immediate and great, and defending
against the state proceeding would not be an adequate remedy at
law because it would not ensure protection of the plaintiff's
federal constitutional rights." Arkebauer v. Kiley,
985 F.2d 1351, 1358 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Collins v. County of
Kendall, Illinois, 807 F.2d 95, 98 (7th Cir. 1986)).
"In order to establish [his] entitlement to the bad faith
exception to the Younger doctrine, [Koranda] must establish
specific facts to support [his] inference of bad faith . . . mere
allegations and conclusions" are not sufficient. Crenshaw v.
Supreme Court of Indiana, 170 F.3d 725, 729 (7th Cir. 1999)
(citing Pincham v. Illinois Judicial Inquiry Bd.,
872 F.2d 1341, 1349-50 (7th Cir. 1999)). The party seeking a court's
application of an exception to Younger, in this case Koranda,
bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of sufficient
circumstances. Otrompke, No. 03 C 7198, 2004 WL 812993, at *2
(citing Green v. Benden, 281 F.3d 661, 667 (7th Cir. 2002);
Ramsden v. AgriBank, FCB, 214 F.3d 865, 871 (7th Cir. 2000)).
Koranda has failed to provide any specific facts to support his
allegations that the City brought its third-party complaint
against him in bad faith. He has also failed to demonstrate that
he does not have an adequate remedy at law in defending against
the third-party complaint in the state court proceeding.*fn3
Koranda has failed to meet his burden and therefore cannot avail
himself of the bad faith exception to Younger. C. The Appropriate Remedy under Younger
The final consideration is whether the appropriate resolution
in this case is to dismiss Koranda's case or stay the proceedings
now that this court has concluded that it must abstain under
Younger. "A stay is appropriate when a plaintiff is foreclosed
from bringing his damages claims in the state proceeding." Green
v. Benden, 281 F.3d 661, 667 (7th Cir. 2002). "The crucial fact
[in determining whether to dismiss or stay] is whether damages
are available in the state proceeding. If [damages are not
available in the state proceeding], a stay is appropriate to
avoid losing the plaintiff's [federal] claim to the statute of
limitations . . . but where [damages are available in the state
proceeding], dismissal is appropriate." Majors v. Engelbrecht,
149 F.3d 709, 714 (7th Cir. 1998).
This court firmly believes that Koranda will be able to
litigate his federal claims in the state court proceedings. There
should be no need to return to this court. Therefore, the statute
of limitations is not an appropriate concern and dismissal, not a
stay, is the appropriate disposition.*fn4 CONCLUSION
For the reasons set forth above, the City defendants' motion to
dismiss or, in the alternative, for a stay of these proceedings
of May 25, 2005 (Dkt. No. 13), is granted. Case dismissed.