Write a bench memo explaining whether or not the court should abstain from hearing the case based on Pullman, Burford, Younger, and the Colorado River doctrine and their application to the abstention fact pattern.
Base the memo on the abstention fact pattern. I will include a sample bench memo, which deals with Forum Non Conveniens. I will also include cases, outlines, notes based on abstention.
Added on 23.04.2016 12:01
Clark, et al. v. Harris (E.D. PA)
This case is one of many proceeding through the federal courts to challenges same-sex.
I. Pertinent Facts
Plaintiffs in the federal action are four gay and lesbian Philadelphia residents, two same-sex adult couples: Jamie Clark and Sara Borden; and Reed Feldman and Drake Swift. Plaintiffs argue that the right to marry is a fundamental right, giving every individual the opportunity to exercise choice in this important relationship. As such, the government must not interfere in that choice unless it demonstrates compelling state interests and carefully tailors its restrictions to protect those interests. Governmental restrictions on individual rights must be justified by more than simply strongly, or even widely, held opinions or traditions, and use of government power to prohibit the exercise of the right to marry fails to meet this test.
On August 1, 2015, an Administrative Law proceeding was filed by Jamie Clark challenging PA.C.S.A. 72-1-917, that governs public employees and employers, also known as Public Act 917. The Act prohibits public employers from providing medical assistance and other fringe benefits to any person cohabitating with public employees unless that person is legally married to the employee or a legal dependent or eligible to inherit under state intestacy lawsnone of which would permit a same-sex couple any recognized rights. As a state employee, before filing a claim in state court, Clark must first exhaust her administrative remedies before the Philadelphia County Administrative Law Judge for Public Employee Claims of Discrimination, who hears only claims of discrimination under state laws, particularly as they relate to who is entitled to health and other benefits under the Commonwealths marriage and intestacy laws. Jamie Clark works at the Department of Human Resources for the Commonwealth while Sara Borden stays at home and cares for the couples two children. In that proceeding, Jamie Clark has also sought a declaration that invalidates all Commonwealth laws that ban marriages. That proceeding allowed that claim to stand and has permitted full discovery against the Secretary of State. Discovery is now almost complete. The Attorney General is defending that administrative complaint. Upon the Judge rendering a decision, plaintiff will have 60 days to ask for reconsideration or choose to file a complaint in state court asserting any state or federal claims that the plaintiff might have. Should the administrative decision be upheld in a subsequent judicial proceeding, however, plaintiff is responsible for the States full costs and expenses of defending such action. On September 15, 2015, Reed Feldman, a state judicial administrative clerk, filed a state court proceeding in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court against the State Attorney General, George Stark, and Secretary of State, Martha Higgins, identical in all respects to Clarks administrative proceeding. Discovery is complete in that case and cross-motions for summary judgment were denied. Trial is set for July 20, 2016.
On February 14, 2016, Plaintiffs Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, pursuant to 42 USC 1983, seeking declaratory relief overturning PA.C.S.A. 98-2-104 and 98-2-401,which were enacted on January 1, 2015, as part of the Commonwealths Domestic Relations Code, as well as any other sources of Pennsylvania law that exclude same-sex couples from marriage, including Pubic Act 917, enacted December 14, 2014 (collectively the marriage ban). Plaintiffs also seek an injunction prohibiting defendant Nancy Harris, the Philadelphia County Clerk, from enforcing the marriage ban. The marriage ban was enacted in 2015 as part of the comprehensive Section 104 lists the requirements for marriage license applications. Among other requirements, [t]he application for a marriage license must contain a statement of the full names of both the female and the male parties and must contain the following statement: Marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man. PA.C.S.A. 98-2-104(a) (2015). Section 401 governs persons authorized to perform marriages and states in part, Celebration or solemnization of a marriage means the performance of the formal act or ceremony by which a man and woman contract marriage and assume the status of husband and wife. PA.C.S.A. 98-2-401(b) (2015).
Specifically, plaintiffs brought this action against Nancy Harris, in her official capacity as Philadelphia County Clerk. Defendant Harris is responsible for issuing marriage licenses and recording marriages that take place in jurisdictions outside of Pennsylvania. Her responsibility includes ensuring that marriage licenses and records comply with Commonwealth of Pennsylvania law, including the marriage ban. Each of the same-sex couples sought a marriage license from Defendant Harris, and each was denied. Plaintiffs contend that Defendant is violating Plaintiffs due process rights and equal protection rights, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The State Attorney General, State Registrar, Susan Small, and Secretary of State intervened to defend the constitutionality of the marriage ban on the basis that the State Registrar is exclusively responsible for creating marriage license applications and the primary official tasked with carrying out the challenged statute and the Secretary of State is responsible for determining which religious celebrants may solemnize marriages in Pennsylvania. The court found that intervention was proper under 28 USC 2403(b) and Fed.R.Civ. P. 5.1(c) and 24(a).
Plaintiffs have asked this Court to declare the marriage ban unconstitutional and enjoin enforcement of the marriage ban by Defendant Harris. The request for relief further seeks to declare unconstitutional all other laws that discriminate in any manner against same-sex couples, including public employee health benefit laws. Recognizing that Feldman, Swift and Borden have not filed an administrative proceeding, Clark, individually, also asks the court to enjoin the state administrative proceeding so that this issue can be decided in one forum. Likewise, Feldman has asked the federal court to enjoin his state court action.
Defendant Harris and the Commonwealth filed a motion to stay and/or dismiss based upon Pullman, Burford, Younger, Pullman and the Colorado River doctrine. They argue, inter alia, that the case challenges sensitive social issues of state law and is therefore more properly decided in the first instance by the state courts given the complex state administrative process involved, and given the uncertainty of the meaning of the law, the administrative agency judges who have particular competence over this issue should first resolve the question. Moreover, the case presents difficult questions of state law bearing on policy problems of substantial public import, and that the adjudication would be disruptive of state efforts to establish a cohesive state policy and regulatory uniformity in the treatment of a traditionally local issue. The case only names one clerk, not all clerks, and therefore would create inconsistencies state-wide. Moreover, arguably any decision in this case could implicate many other unique areas of state law, including public employee health benefits. They argue that since only equitable relief is sought (no monetary damages), as a matter of comity, abstention is appropriate.
For purposes of this oral argument only, assume that the Supreme Court did not render its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. For purposes of this motion only, also assume that
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