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CENTIFANTI v. NIX

May 28, 1987

J. Benedict Centifanti
v.
Honorable Robert N. C. Nix, Jr. et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HUYETT

 HUYETT, J.

 Plaintiff is an unsuccessful applicant for reinstatement to the Pennsylvania bar who has brought this § 1983 action to challenge the rules and procedures applied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to applications for reinstatement. The complaint asserts violations of plaintiff's rights under the Due Process, Equal Protection and Privileges and Immunities clauses of the Constitution and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

 On February 18, 1987, defendants filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment in this matter. In that motion, defendants challenge the merits of the plaintiff's claim under each of these clauses. Defendants also argue that the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971), requires that this Court abstain from deciding this action.

 On March 6, 1987, plaintiff filed his first set of interrogatories and first set of requests for production of documents. Plaintiff seeks statistical information relating to other disbarment and suspension cases. Plaintiff argues that this discovery is necessary before he can fully respond to the motion to dismiss or for summary judgment on the merits of his constitutional claims.

 Defendants have not responded to these discovery requests and have, instead, filed a motion for stay of discovery. Essentially, defendants argue that the pending motion to dismiss, if granted, would dispose of the case and render the need for discovery moot. Defendants assert that any discovery is, therefore, unduly burdensome, particularly because they are government officers. For the reasons which follow, I will deny the motion for stay of discovery.

 Younger Abstention

 As a preliminary matter, I must determine whether I should abstain from hearing this case. After considering the memoranda submitted by the parties on this issue, I am persuaded that abstention is not appropriate in this case.

 The doctrine of Younger v. Harris recognizes the national policy forbidding federal courts to stay or enjoin pending state court proceedings except under special circumstances. 401 U.S. 37, 41, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971). The doctrine is based on principles of comity, federalism, and a respect for vital state interests. Id. at 44. Although the doctrine has its roots in cases seeking to enjoin criminal prosecutions, it is equally applicable to civil actions and, specifically, to actions seeking to enjoin state bar disciplinary proceedings. Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 73 L. Ed. 2d 116, 102 S. Ct. 2515 (1982). The doctrine also applies to federal actions seeking declaratory relief. Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 73, 27 L. Ed. 2d 688, 91 S. Ct. 764 (1971).

 In the present case, no state action is pending. *fn1" The question before the Court is, therefore, whether the possibility of a future state action, instituted by the plaintiff, requires abstention by the federal court today.

 This question was left open by the Supreme Court in Younger, 401 U.S. 37, 41, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 and Samuels, 401 U.S. 66, 73-74, 27 L. Ed. 2d 688, 91 S. Ct. 764. However, an answer was provided in Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 39 L. Ed. 2d 505, 94 S. Ct. 1209 (1974):

 
When no state prosecution is pending and the only question is whether declaratory relief is appropriate[,] . . . the congressional scheme that makes the federal courts the primary guardians of constitutional rights, and the express congressional authorization of declaratory relief, afforded because it is a less harsh and abrasive remedy than the injunction, become the factors of primary significance.

 415 U.S. 452, 463, 39 L. Ed. 2d 505, 94 S. Ct. 1209 quoting Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 104, 27 L. Ed. 2d 701, 91 S. Ct. 674 (1971) (separate opinion of Brennan, J.). Where no state criminal proceedings was pending at the time the federal complaint was filed, the Court held that

 
principles of federalism not only do not preclude federal intervention, they compel it. Requiring federal courts totally to step aside when no state criminal prosecution is pending against the federal plaintiff would turn federalism on its head. When federal claims are premised on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) . . . we have not required exhaustion of state judicial or administrative remedies, recognizing the paramount role Congress has assigned to the federal courts to protect constitutional rights. But exhaustion of state remedies is precisely what ...

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