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Robinson v. Bridgeport Education Association

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 11, 2017

PATRICK ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIDGEPORT EDUCATION ASSOCIATION and NEBRASKA STATE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          John M. Gerrard United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the "Motion to Abstain or Stay Proceedings, or Modify Progression Order" (filing 20) filed by the defendants, the Bridgeport Education Association (BEA) and the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) (collectively, the Unions). The Unions' motion will be denied with respect to abstaining from exercising jurisdiction or staying the case, and the request to modify the progression order will be referred to the United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff, Patrick Robinson, was an employee of the Bridgeport Public Schools (BPS). Filing 1 at 2. He was also a member of the Unions. Filing 1 at 2. But after some personal and work-related conflicts with other BPS employees, Robinson was suspended by the superintendent of the BPS. Filing 1 at 8. The Bridgeport Board of Education held a hearing and decided to cancel Robinson's employment. Filing 22-2.

         Robinson filed a petition in error in the District Court for Morrill County, Nebraska, in which he appealed from the Board's decision to cancel his employment. Filing 22-3. He filed a separate complaint in Morrill County District Court against BPS and the Board, alleging violations of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 84-1407 et seq.Filing 22-7 at 1-6. He also filed a charge of discrimination against the BEA with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC) and U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Filing 1 at 15. And, after the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter, he filed suit in federal court in separate cases against the Board and the Unions. Filing 1; see case no. 8:16-cv-177.

         In this case, against the Unions, Robinson generally alleges that the Unions conspired with the Board to have his employment canceled. Filing 1. He alleges that the Union's representatives acted to retaliate against him for his NEOC charge, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., resulting in his suspension and then the cancellation of his employment. Filing 1 at 9-10. He also alleges that the Unions colluded to hold a members-only meeting from which only Robinson and one other union member were excluded, and that the events of that meeting and some subsequent emails tortiously interfered with Robinson's employment relationship with BPS. Filing 1 at 10-11. And, he alleges that the Unions negligently breached their duty to represent him when they denied him union representation, resulting in the loss of his job and "emotional distress and humiliation." Filing 1 at 12.

         Meanwhile, back in state court, on January 5, 2017, the Morrill County District Court issued its Ruling on Appeal with respect to Robinson's petition in error, affirming the Board's decision to cancel Robinson's employment. Filing 22-4. The court rejected Robinson's claim that his due process rights had been violated, and found that

Robinson's conduct was clearly insubordinate and unprofessional. He created an adversarial environment in which he was difficult to supervise, and in which he refused to follow directions of his supervisors who had clear authority to direct him. He refused to meet with his supervisors without union representation - which may not be a contract violation in itself, but demonstrates an insubordinate attitude. His strong suspicion of other teachers being unsupportive of him, and his refusal to make himself available to teachers in their classrooms affected his ability to competently perform his duties as a curriculum director.

         Filing 22-4. So, the court found "no error in any of the board's findings or decisions" and "no merit in any of the thirty-two noted errors" in Robinson's petition in error. Filing 22-4 at 2. Robinson appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals. Filing 22-5. That appeal is still pending.

         DISCUSSION

         The Unions move the Court to abstain from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction (essentially, to dismiss the case) based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See, D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Rooker v. Fid. Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). Alternatively, they ask the Court to stay the case based on the Colorado River doctrine. See Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976); see also Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1 (1983). Finally, they ask the Court to extend the case progression schedule.

         Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         Rooker-Feldman holds that federal district courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction over "cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Shelby Cty. Health Care Corp. v. S. Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co., 855 F.3d 836, 840 (8th Cir. 2017). The Unions contend that the Morrill County District Court's ruling in Robinson's appeal from the cancellation of his employment is such a state-court judgment.

         Robinson is a state court loser, and his alleged damages are at least arguably the result of a state-court judgment. SeeDodson v. Univ. of Ark. for Med. Scis., 601 F.3d 750, 754-55 (8th Cir. 2010). But there is a problem with the Unions' argument: the Eighth Circuit has held that a state proceeding is not complete for Rooker-Feldman purposes until the appellate process is complete. See Dornheim v. Sholes, 430 F.3d 919, 923-24 (8th Cir. 2005); see also Stebbins v. Harp & Assocs., LLC, 586 F.App'x 682 (8th Cir. 2013). Plainly, this case was commenced before the state-court proceedings were complete, because the state-court proceedings are still not complete: this case was, in fact, filed before the state court even ruled on Robinson's petition in error. So, "any effect that the ...


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