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Straw v. State

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

August 16, 2018

ANDREW U.D. STRAW, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, Defendant.

          ENTRY GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND DENYING AS MOOT OTHER PENDING MOTIONS

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         Plaintiff Andrew Straw has filed another in a string of lawsuits in which he alleges the State of Indiana, its officials, or federal courts violated his civil rights or his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).[1] In the instant action, Straw names the State of Indiana as the defendant and attempts to recast his previous unsuccessful claims as a claim that the Indiana Constitution is to blame for the alleged ADA violations. The State has moved to dismiss the action (Dkt. No. 19). The motion is fully briefed and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS the motion for the reasons set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As discussed in an order dismissing one of Straw's earlier actions, he was conditionally admitted to the Indiana bar on June 7, 2002, while he was employed as a statistical analyst with the Indiana Supreme Court's Division of State Court Administration (STAD). Straw's employment with STAD apparently was terminated in July 2002. Straw v. Ind. Sup. Ct., No. 17-cv-2513-RLY-DML, 2017 WL 6316313 at *1 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 11, 2017) (citing Straw's complaint in Straw v. Ind. Sup. Ct., No. 15-cv-01015-RLY-DKL (S.D. Ind. filed June 28, 2015 at Dkt. No. 1)).[2]

         On August 15, 2014, Straw presented the Indiana Supreme Court with a “Petition for Redress of Grievances” seeking, among other things, compensation and an apology for the court's alleged discrimination in his bar admission and his employment. He apparently received no relief on this petition. Complaint, No. 15-cv-1015, ¶¶ 74-77.

         On September 3, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court employee Brenda Rodeheffer filed a “Request for Investigation” with the Disciplinary Commission of the Indiana Supreme Court, stating that she believed Straw was unfit to practice law. Complaint, No. 15-cv-1015, Ex. EE. The Disciplinary Commission investigated Rodeheffer's allegations and initiated attorney disciplinary proceedings against Straw on January 11, 2016. On February 14, 2017, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended Straw from the practice of law, based on his conduct as an attorney in four ADA-related federal court cases. Specifically, the court found that Straw violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 3.1, which prohibits “bringing a proceeding or asserting an issue therein unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous.” Dkt. No. 1-4.

         Straw filed this action on November 8, 2017. On February 16, 2018, the State filed a motion to dismiss, contending in part that Straw's claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata and that the Court lacks jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Straw seeks monetary damages of $300, 000. He also asks this Court to make several declarations of law, all of which ultimately are premised on his contention that the Indiana Supreme Court discriminated against him in violation of the ADA.

         A. Res Judicata

         Straw has litigated this claim ad nauseam and lost. See Straw v. Ind. Sup. Ct., No. 1:17-cv-02513-RLY-DML, 2017 WL 6316313 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 11, 2017), aff'd, No. 17-3596, 2018 WL 1309802 (7th Cir. Jan. 29, 2018), cert. denied; Straw v. Ind. Sup. Ct., No. 1:16-cv-3483-JMS-TAB, 2017 WL 289958 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 23, 2017), aff'd, 692 Fed.Appx. 291 (7th Cir. 2017), reh'g and reh'g en banc denied, cert. denied; Straw v. Ind. Sup. Ct., No. 1:15-cv-1015-RLY-DKL, 2016 WL 344720 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 28, 2016), appeal dismissed, No. 18-1497 (7th Cir. Mar. 27, 2018), cert. dismissed. The State therefore contends that Straw's suit is barred by the doctrine of res judicata.

         “‘Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.'” Barr v. Bd. of Trustees of W. Ill. Univ., 796 F.3d 837, 839 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980)). Res judicata's purpose is well-illustrated by this case; the doctrine safeguards limited judicial resources and protects litigants from vexatious lawsuits. Id. Straw attempts to duck the res judicata bar by contending this suit is different. Here, he blames the Indiana Constitution for the alleged ADA violations. But “‘a mere change in the legal theory does not create a new cause of action.'” Lim v. Cent. DuPage Hosp., 972 F.2d 758, 763 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 789 F.2d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 1986)). Res judicata bars this action.

         B. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         To the extent Straw attempts to use this lawsuit as a vehicle to appeal the Indiana Supreme Court's suspension of his law license, this Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain it. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine “prevents lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by state court losers challenging state court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.” Sykes v. Cook Cty. Cir. Ct. Prob. Div., 837 F.3d 736, 741 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Exxon-Mobil v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)); see also Johnson v. Sup. Ct. of Ill., 165 F.3d ...


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