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Straw v. Indiana Supreme Court

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 23, 2017

ANDREW U.D. STRAW, Plaintiff,
v.
INDIANA SUPREME COURT, BRENDA RODEHEFFER, G. MICHAEL WITTE, LORETTA H. RUSH CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIANA, JAMES ROBERT AHLER Hearing Officer, LILIA G. JUDSON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Andrew Straw filed a Complaint in this Court against the Indiana Supreme Court and various affiliates (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Filing No. 1.] Mr. Straw is a licensed attorney in Indiana and currently has disciplinary proceedings pending against him before the Indiana Supreme Court. [Filing No. 1 at 2; Filing No. 1 at 27-28.] Mr. Straw has filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, asking this Court “to stop the Indiana Supreme Court from disciplining [him].” [Filing No. 2 at 4; see also Filing No. 8 (Minute Entry from telephonic conference with assigned Magistrate Judge where Mr. Straw “clarified that the relief he is seeking by way of his motion for preliminary injunction is an order preventing the Indiana Supreme Court from taking action on a disciplinary matter pending against Plaintiff”).] Defendants oppose the motion, [Filing No. 23], and Mr. Straw has filed his reply in support of his injunction request, [Filing No. 24; Filing No. 26-1].[1]

         I.

         Preliminary Injunction Standard

         “To obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must show that its case has ‘some likelihood of success on the merits' and that it has ‘no adequate remedy at law and will suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is denied.'” Stuller, Inc. v. Steak N Shake Enters., Inc., 695 F.3d 676, 678 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ezell v. City of Chi., 651 F.3d 684, 694 (7th Cir. 2011)). “If the moving party meets these threshold requirements, the district court ‘must consider the irreparable harm that the nonmoving party will suffer if preliminary relief is granted, balancing such harm against the irreparable harm the moving party will suffer if relief is denied.'” Stuller, 695 F.3d at 678 (quoting Ty, Inc. v. Jones Grp., Inc., 237 F.3d 891, 895 (7th Cir. 2001)). “The district court must also consider the public interest in granting or denying an injunction.” Stuller, 695 F.3d at 678.

         “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.” Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). “Preliminary relief is properly sought only to avert irreparable harm to the moving party.” Chicago United Indus., Ltd. v. City of Chicago, 445 F.3d 940, 944 (7th Cir. 2006). Because the merits of the underlying litigation are not at issue at this stage, “‘the reluctance to disturb the status quo prior to trial on the merits is an expression of judicial humility . . . [that] enables the court to stay relatively neutral in the underlying legal dispute.'” Id. at 945-46 (quoting O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 389 F.3d 973, 1012 (10th Cir. 2004)).

         II.

         Discussion

         Mr. Straw currently has disciplinary proceedings pending against him before the Indiana Supreme Court for alleged violations of Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.1.[2] [Filing No. 1-22 at 1.] He asks this Court to issue a preliminary injunction “to stop the Indiana Supreme Court from disciplining [him].” [Filing No. 2 at 4.] Mr. Straw does not cite or analyze the legal factors necessary for obtaining an injunction. [Filing No. 2.] In response, Defendants contend that Mr. Straw has not shown a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of his injunction request because this Court must abstain from exercising subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Younger abstention doctrine. [Filing No. 23 at 3-5 (citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971)).] In reply, Mr. Straw does not address the Younger abstention doctrine. [Filing No. 24; Filing No. 26-1.]

         The Younger abstention doctrine “is an exception to the general rule that federal courts must hear and decide cases within their jurisdiction.” Mulholland v. Marion Cty. Election Bd., 746 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 37). “[P]rinciples of equity, comity, and federalism” are the foundation of the doctrine. SKS & Assocs., Inc. v. Dart, 619 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2010). Younger provides “that federal courts should abstain from interfering with ongoing state judicial proceedings that are judicial in nature, involve important state interests, provide an adequate opportunity to raise federal claims, and do not contain special circumstances that would make abstention inappropriate.” Sykes v. Cook Cty. Circuit Court Prob. Div., 837 F.3d 736, 740 (7th Cir. 2016). Although Younger initially only applied to criminal proceedings, it has been extended to civil proceedings where there is “a federal suit filed by a party that is the target of state court or administrative proceedings in which the state's interests are so important that exercise of federal judicial power over those proceedings would disregard the comity between the states and federal government.” SKS, 619 F.3d at 678. The United States Supreme Court has extended Younger to attorney discipline proceedings. Id.(citing Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432-34 (1982)).

         Defendants raised the Younger abstention doctrine in their response brief, [Filing No. 23 at 3-5], but Mr. Straw ignores it in both of his reply briefs, [Filing No. 24; Filing No. 26-1]. It is beyond dispute that the disciplinary proceeding currently pending against Mr. Straw before the Indiana Supreme Court is judicial in nature and implicates important state interests. See Middlesex, 457 U.S. at 434 (noting during the Younger analysis that the state overseeing the pending disciplinary action in that case “has an extremely important interest in maintaining and assuring the professional conduct of the attorneys it licenses”); see also Appellate Case Search, Matter of Andrew U.D. Straw, Case No. 98S00-1601-DI-00012, available at https://public.courts.in.gov (last visited January 20, 2017). Mr. Straw does not dispute that he has had an adequate opportunity to respond and raise federal claims in the disciplinary proceeding.[3]Mr. Straw also does not dispute that he has an avenue for subsequent judicial review if the Indiana Supreme Court actually rules against him in that proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 1257; see also Majors v. Engelbrecht, 149 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 1998) (holding that “[s]ubsequent judicial review is a sufficient opportunity” to satisfy the requirement that the state proceeding allows an adequate opportunity to raise challenges). Finally, Mr. Straw does not argue that any special circumstances are present that would make this Court's abstention inappropriate, and the Court finds that there are none.

         For these reasons, the Court agrees with Defendants that it must deny Mr. Straw's preliminary injunction request because Younger precludes his success on the merits to the extent he is asking this Court to intervene in the disciplinary proceedings pending against him before the Indiana Supreme Court.[4] But Younger also requires the Court to go one step further and abstain from exercising federal jurisdiction over Mr. Straw's claims regarding those disciplinary proceedings. See Barichello v. McDonald, 98 F.3d 948, 955 (7th Cir. 1996) (“When confronted with circumstances that clearly implicate Younger concerns, a federal court must abstain.”). Because the Court will not exercise jurisdiction over those claims, it must dismiss them. Capitol Leasing Co. v. F.D.I.C., 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993) (“[A] court must dismiss the case without ever reaching the merits if it concludes that it has no jurisdiction.”); see also Brooks-Albrechtsen v. Individual Members of the Indiana State Bd. of Law Examiners, 2017 WL 131737, at *7 (S.D. Ind. 2017) (dismissing claims without prejudice after concluding that it should abstain pursuant to Younger from interfering in an ongoing state proceeding before the Indiana Board of Law Examiners).

         III.

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