SKS & ASSOCIATES v. DART (August 27, 2010)

SKS & Associates owns a number of residential rental properties in and around Chicago. From time to time, SKS has used Illinois' eviction procedures to deal with tenants who do not pay their rent. In November of 2008, the Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court entered a General Order that prohibited the Sheriff from carrying out an eviction order during a specified period around the winter holidays, whenever the temperature was lower than 15°, or when the Sheriff determined that "extreme weather conditions" threatened the health and welfare of persons evicted. SKS brought an action pursuant to § 1983 against the Chief Judge and the Sheriff. It alleges that the Order denies it equal protection, deprives it of property without due process, and that it amounts to the establishment of a religion. Judge Shadur (N. D. Ill.) dismissed the action before the defendants appeared. SKS appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Kanne, Wood, and Hamilton affirmed. Although a federal court should normally exercise the jurisdiction which it has been granted by the Constitution, there are exceptions. The Court noted the four main abstention doctrines: Pullman, Burford, Younger, and Colorado River. With respect to each of these doctrines, a federal court can decline to exercise its jurisdiction. The Younger doctrine, the only abstention doctrine inapplicable here, teaches a federal court to abstain from resolving federal constitutional claims when doing so would interfere with ongoing state proceedings. The Younger doctrine started in the criminal context and required abstention when a criminal defendant sought to block a state prosecution on federal constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court has extended it, on a limited basis, to civil proceedings. It has not, however, extended to a situation, like this, where SKS is not the target of any state enforcement. Nevertheless, the Court identified the same principles (equity, comity, and federalism) at stake here that support the Younger doctrine. SKS wants a federal court to tell a state court how to manage its cases. Doing so would demonstrate a lack of respect for the state court's abilities. Furthermore, the Court did not believe that SKS had no state remedies. It could simply ask the court to issue an eviction order notwithstanding the General Order, it could file suit in state court to vacate the General Order, or it could seek a writ of mandamus to compel a reversal of the Order. SKS must allow a state court the opportunity to address its constitutional complaints about the Order.