Corporacion Insular de Seguros v. Garcia, Civ. No. 87-0431(RLA).

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtACOSTA
PartiesCORPORACION INSULAR de SEGUROS, Plaintiff, v. Hon. Juan Antonio GARCIA, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Insurance of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Defendant.
Docket NumberCiv. No. 87-0431(RLA).
Decision Date24 February 1988

680 F. Supp. 476

CORPORACION INSULAR de SEGUROS, Plaintiff,
v.
Hon. Juan Antonio GARCIA, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Insurance of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Defendant.

Civ. No. 87-0431(RLA).

United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.

February 24, 1988.


680 F. Supp. 477

Jesús Rabell Méndez, Harry R. Nadal Arcelay, Cancio, Nadal & Rivera, San Juan, P.R., Sheldon H. Nahmod, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff.

José Luis González Castañer, Luis N. Blanco Matos, Pedro A. Del Valle, Dept. of Justice, Federal Litigation Div., San Juan, P.R., for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ACOSTA, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Corporación Insular de Seguros, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Insurance asking this Court to declare Puerto Rico Act No. 4, of December 30, 1986, 26 L.P.R.A. §§ 4101 et seq. unconstitutional. Act. No. 4 authorized the creation and operation of a medical malpractice insurance syndicate generally to ensure that doctors and health institutions have continued access to adequate insurance coverage and specifically to provide insurance coverage to high risk professionals.

Plaintiff alleges that Act. No. 4 violates the taking, due process and equal protection clauses of — as well as the First Amendment to — the United States Constitution. A few days after filing this federal action, plaintiff instituted a parallel suit in Puerto Rico Superior Court raising only Puerto Rico constitutional claims. See Corporación Insular de Seguros v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, et al., Civil No. 87-1658 (902), Superior Court of Puerto Rico, San Juan Section.

Before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint or to otherwise stay the present action pending resolution of the parallel State action. The motion is premised on various doctrines of abstention. Succintly, defendant argues that the Court should reject its original jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3), over this controversy in favor of the ongoing and more advanced proceedings1 in the Superior Court. This, argues defendant, would promote comity, avoid piecemeal litigation, and let the state courts, with their admittedly greater sensitivity to local issues, deal with an uninterpreted but otherwise unambiguous state statute which addresses important state health issues.

Plaintiff, in opposition, argues that since it bifurcated its prosecution so that state claims are heard in state court and federal claims in federal court there are no compelling concerns justifying abstention.

After a careful study of the record, the pertinent law, and the arguments made by counsel at a hearing held on January 5, 1988, we conclude that defendant has not shown any special circumstances warranting abdication of federal jurisdiction over the present cause. We will accordingly deny defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint or to stay the proceedings.2

DISCUSSION

A. The Abstention Doctrine

The only issue before the Court is whether or not to abstain from hearing the present case.

680 F. Supp. 478

Since defendants have raised just about all of the categories of abstention to support their motion to dismiss the instant complaint, we will discuss all theories of abstention and quickly apply each type to the facts of this case.

Abstention, of which there are various categories, is a sharply circumscribed exception to "the virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them." Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 1246, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976). The various categories of abstention reflect a "complex of considerations designed to soften the tensions inherent in a system that contemplates parallel judicial processes." Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 1519, 1526, fn. 9, 95 L.Ed.2d 1 (1987). The circumstances, or "complex of considerations," that usually compel abstention are the following: (1) When there are pending criminal state proceedings, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed. 2d 669 (1971); (2) When the state's interest in a pending local civil proceeding is so important that exercise of the federal judicial power would disregard the comity between the states and the National Government, Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 603-605, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 1207-1208, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975) (extending Younger type abstention to civil proceedings); (3) When abstention would avoid an unwarranted determination of federal constitutional questions involved in the interpretation of an unclear state statute, Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941) or that the federal-court decision would be rendered advisory or the litigation underlying it meaningless, Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 428, 99 S.Ct. 2371, 2379, 60 L.Ed. 994 (1978); (4) When federal intervention regarding a direct challenge to the constitutionality of an unambiguous state statute, i.e., one that is not subject to a limiting construction, could potentially disrupt state appellate procedures intimately related to a complex state regulatory process or when transcendental state policies would be seriously undermined, Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943), Harris County Commissioners Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 95 S.Ct. 870, 43 L.Ed.2d 32 (1975); and (5) When there are "exceptional circumstances" weighing in favor of a state court resolution of a particular dispute involving essentially the same property, parties and legal issues in both the state and federal forums such that rejection of federal concurrent or parallel jurisdiction would foment wise judicial administration, comity and the comprehensive disposition of litigation. Colorado River, supra.

All the doctrines, except that of Pullman, require dismissal of the complaint. In addition, a plaintiff who is being denied his choice of a federal forum through the abstention doctrine must always be ensured an adequate and fair opportunity to have his federal claims heard be it in a state forum or in a later federal one. See Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 93 S.Ct. 1689, 36 L.Ed.2d 488 (1973); Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813, 106 S.Ct. 1580, 89 L.Ed.2d 823 (1986). It is undisputed that state courts can competently adjudicate federal claims; thus the main concern of Gibson is to have federal courts initially resolve any allegations of state partiality or bias, particularly regarding any "direct, personal, substantial, pecuniary interest" of the adjudicator, vis-a-vis the plaintiff. Middlesex Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association, 457 U.S. 423, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982). No such claims of bias have been made in the case at bar.

The categories of abstention are all interrelated, i.e., they are not "rigid pigeon-holes into which federal courts must try to fit cases." Pennzoil, supra 107 S.Ct. at 1526, fn. 9. Rather, they all reflect some common values of federalism: respect for state court interpretation of uncertain and difficult state law while ensuring that a plaintiff's federal rights can be adjudicated in a fair and adequate forum; avoiding needless conflict between two sovereignties; and not disrupting a state's efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a matter of substantial public concern. In

680 F. Supp. 479
addition, there is the policy of avoiding federal constitutional issues, yet this seems to have the least controlling effect especially since Colorado River.

Though Colorado River is at times not considered a true abstention-doctrine-case it nonetheless infuses this whole area of judicial self-abnegation with practical concerns of: judicial administration, primary jurisdiction over property and non-duplicative litigation. These concerns seem to put aside the constitutional mootness issues and their concomitant federalist theoretical structures in favor of more practical case management principles. In other words, Colorado River appears to condone that the first court to carry the ball and run with it the fastest should not be blocked by the other jurisdiction and thus be the one to score in the adjudication of cases involving federal and state claims and important state interests. Consequently, case management factors are an important consideration in any abstention analysis.

A final note on the topic of prerequisites to the application of the abstention doctrine particular to § 1983 actions. It is now established that federal plaintiffs aggrieved by the results of a state trial must pursue their state judicial appeals before going to federal court. Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 710-711, 97 S.Ct. 1428, 1433, 51 L.Ed.2d 752 (1977). In the case at bar, this prerequisite is inapplicable because plaintiff does not seek "to annul the results of a state trial." Id. Rather, the Patsy rule prevails, to wit: A § 1983 action does not generally require exhaustion of state remedies. Patsy v. Florida Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172 (1982). Abstention, in any event, should not be required where a case has already been long delayed. Harris County, supra.

B. Some Limitations to the Doctrine

Even though all the factors discussed above favoring abstention may be present in a case, the "complex of considerations" underlying the doctrine includes certain case-specific limitations that may force a federal court to retain jurisdiction despite the fact that abstention would be the more courteous and expedient move.

There is influential case law to the effect that cases involving civil rights issues, especially in the context of a § 1983 action, are not good candidates for abstention. Since the very basis of a § 1983 action is that the State has done one of its citizens wrong, there is an unspoken tendency on the part of federal courts to hear the case in order to ensure the highest protection of that...

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9 practice notes
  • Morales v. Nationwide Ins. Co., No. CIV.01-1815 PG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 10, 2002
    ...has been specifically applied to Puerto Rico. See Sancho, 308 U.S. at 470-71, 60 S.Ct. 349; Corporación Insular de Seguros v. García, 680 F.Supp. 476, 482 In the case at hand, the Court is not reinterpreting Puerto Rico law or questioning the wisdom or efficacy of Puerto Rico statutes. The ......
  • Casiano–Montañez v. State Ins. Fund Corp., Civil No. 11–1002 (DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • March 5, 2012
    ...922 (D.P.R.1985); Amelunxen v. University of Puerto Rico, 637 F.Supp. 426 (D.P.R.1986); and Corporacion Insular de Seguros v. Garcia, 680 F.Supp. 476 (D.P.R.1988). Nonetheless, should a plaintiff that has recourse to a federal claim voluntarily engage the wheels of an administrative procedu......
  • South Boston Allied War Veterans Council v. Boston, Civ. A. No. 94-11402-MLW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • January 17, 1995
    ...that federal courts should not, except in extreme circumstances, refuse to hear them. See Corporacion Insular de Sequros v. Garcia, 680 F.Supp. 476, 479 (D.P.R.1988), citing, Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 379, 84 S.Ct. 1316, 1326-27, 12 L.Ed.2d 377 (1964), and Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380......
  • Ciudadana v. Gracia, Civil No. 02-2191(DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • July 21, 2003
    ...applied to Puerto Rico. See Sancho, 308 U.S. at 470-71, 60 S.Ct. 349, 84 L.Ed. 401; Corporacion Insular de Seguros v. Garcia, 680 F.Supp. 476, 482 However, this Court is not reinterpreting Puerto Rico law "or questioning the wisdom or efficacy of Puerto Rico statutes." Nationwide, 237 F.Sup......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Morales v. Nationwide Ins. Co., No. CIV.01-1815 PG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 10, 2002
    ...has been specifically applied to Puerto Rico. See Sancho, 308 U.S. at 470-71, 60 S.Ct. 349; Corporación Insular de Seguros v. García, 680 F.Supp. 476, 482 In the case at hand, the Court is not reinterpreting Puerto Rico law or questioning the wisdom or efficacy of Puerto Rico statutes. The ......
  • Casiano–Montañez v. State Ins. Fund Corp., Civil No. 11–1002 (DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • March 5, 2012
    ...922 (D.P.R.1985); Amelunxen v. University of Puerto Rico, 637 F.Supp. 426 (D.P.R.1986); and Corporacion Insular de Seguros v. Garcia, 680 F.Supp. 476 (D.P.R.1988). Nonetheless, should a plaintiff that has recourse to a federal claim voluntarily engage the wheels of an administrative procedu......
  • South Boston Allied War Veterans Council v. Boston, Civ. A. No. 94-11402-MLW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • January 17, 1995
    ...that federal courts should not, except in extreme circumstances, refuse to hear them. See Corporacion Insular de Sequros v. Garcia, 680 F.Supp. 476, 479 (D.P.R.1988), citing, Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 379, 84 S.Ct. 1316, 1326-27, 12 L.Ed.2d 377 (1964), and Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380......
  • Ciudadana v. Gracia, Civil No. 02-2191(DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • July 21, 2003
    ...applied to Puerto Rico. See Sancho, 308 U.S. at 470-71, 60 S.Ct. 349, 84 L.Ed. 401; Corporacion Insular de Seguros v. Garcia, 680 F.Supp. 476, 482 However, this Court is not reinterpreting Puerto Rico law "or questioning the wisdom or efficacy of Puerto Rico statutes." Nationwide, 237 F.Sup......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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