United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO STAY Re: Dkt., 19
R. LLOYD United States Magistrate Judge
Balakanapathy Rajaratnam (“Rajaratnam”) sues
Defendant Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior
University (“Stanford”) for retaliation in
violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the
American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009
(“ARRA”). Dkt. No. 1. Rajaratnam also sues
Stanford and other defendants in state court for retaliation
(under state law) and various additional claims related to
the same underlying events. In the motion pending before the
court, Stanford moves to dismiss or, in the alternative, to
stay this action pursuant to the Colorado River
doctrine. Dkt. No. 19. Both parties have consented to
magistrate judge jurisdiction. Dkt. Nos. 6, 13. For the
reasons explained below, the court grants defendant's
motion and STAYS this action.
is an Assistant Professor of Statistics and Earth System
Science at Stanford. Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 3. Rajaratnam
reported suspected plagiarism and conflicts of interest to
the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, which appointed
Stanford Professor Iaian Johnstone (“Johnstone”)
to investigate the accusations. Id., ¶¶
13, 14. Johnstone rejected Rajaratnam's charges, though
Rajaratnam alleges that Johnstone concealed evidence of
plagiarism and warned Plaintiff to keep his accusations quiet
if he wanted to stay at Stanford. Id., ¶¶
reported the suspected plagiarism and Johnstone's
cover-up to Stanford Dean Pamela Matson
(“Matson”) and several others, but Stanford
declined to investigate Johnstone. Id., ¶¶
17, 18. Instead, Rajaratnam alleges, when a graduate student
advisee whose romantic overtures he had previously rebuffed
filed a complaint against him, Dean Richard Saller, a
“close personal friend of Johnstone, ” led the
investigation. Id., ¶ 20. Rajaratnam asserts
that the investigation did not comply with Stanford's
procedures for handling such complaints and included
irrelevant questions about his plagiarism accusations.
Id., ¶ 20. At the conclusion of the
investigation, Saller and Matson issued findings adverse to
Rajaratnam and prohibited him from mentoring graduate
students. Id., ¶ 21. Rajaratnam appealed to
Provost John Etchemendy, and later to President John
Hennessey, asserting that Saller used a student complaint as
a pretext for retaliating against him for reporting
Johnstone's cover-up. Id., ¶ 22. Etchemendy
upheld Saller's decision. Id., ¶ 22.
Hennessey denied the appeal and ordered Saller and
Etchemendy's findings to be placed in Rajaratnam's
personnel file, where they would be visible to the tenure
review committee. Id., ¶ 26. Rajaratnam's
tenure application was denied. Id., ¶ 27.
April 2015, Rajaratnam filed a whistleblower report against
Stanford with the Office of the Inspector General of the
National Science Foundation (“NSF”), alleging
reprisal in violation of ARRA whistleblower provisions.
Id., ¶ 25. The NSF declined to investigate.
See id., ¶ 8.
action against Stanford includes one claim for violation of
ARRA Section 1553. This claim alleges that Stanford, a
non-Federal employer receiving ARRA funds, retaliated against
Plaintiff for reporting plagiarism and a related cover-up by
disciplining him for unfounded sexual harassment allegations
and denying him tenure. Id., ¶¶ 30-32.
Plaitiff seeks compensatory damages, damages for mental and
emotional distress, attorney fees, costs, and prejudgment
filed an action in Santa Clara County Superior Court in
January 2015 against Stanford and various individual
defendants, including Etchemendy, Saller, Matson, and others.
Dkt. No. 19, Hurtado Decl., ¶ 3, Ex. 1. The First
Amended Complaint in that action is based on the same
sequence of events described above. Id., Ex. 1. It
includes claims for breach of contract, breach of the
covenant of good faith and fair dealing, retaliation (Cal.
Lab. Code § 1102.5), violation of the fair procedure
doctrine, violation of privacy interests, interference with
prospective economic advantage, specific performance, and
defamation. Id. The retaliation claim asserts that
defendants retaliated against Rajaratnam for reporting
plagiarism and a cover-up by disciplining him. Id.
the named parties in the state court action have been served
and have filed answers. Dkt. No. 19, Hurtado Decl., ¶ 5.
The court has conducted three case management conferences and
four mediation status reviews, and the parties participated
in a full-day mediation session. Id. The parties
have exchanged written discovery, and the court ruled on one
discovery motion. Id. The state court also denied
Rajaratnam's motion for a preliminary injunction.
Id., ¶ 4.
light of the state court action, Stanford moves the court to
dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay this action pursuant
to the Colorado River doctrine, arguing that the
relevant factors for declining jurisdiction have been met.
Rajaratnam opposes the motion, responding that the state and
federal court actions are not parallel and that the
Colorado River factors favor retaining jurisdiction.
“the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar
to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal
court having jurisdiction.” Colo. River Water
Conservation Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976)
(quoting McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282
(1910)). But under “exceptional” circumstances, a
district court may stay or dismiss an action where there are
parallel proceedings pending in a state court. Moses H.
Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S.
1, 15 (1983). Such a surrender of jurisdiction is not a form
of abstention, but rather a form of deference to the state
court in the interest of “wise judicial administration,
giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and
comprehensive disposition of litigation.” Colo.
River, 424 U.S. at 817 (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v.
C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183 (1952)).
Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit have described several
factors to consider in determining whether to stay or dismiss
an action pursuant to Colorado River. These factors
include: (1) whether either the state or federal court has
assumed jurisdiction over a res, (2) the convenience
of the forums, (3) the desirability of avoiding piecemeal
litigation, (4) the order in which the forums obtained
jurisdiction, (5) whether state or federal law provides the
rule of decision, (6) whether the state court is capable of
adequately protecting the federal litigant's rights, (7)
the avoidance of forum-shopping, and (8) whether the state
court proceedings will resolve all issues before the federal
court. Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 818-20; Moses H.
Cone, 460 U.S. at 23, 26; Nakash v. Marciano,
882 F.2d 1411, 1415 (9th Cir. 1989); R.R. Street &
Co. Transp. Ins. Co., 656 F.3d 966, 978-79 (9th Cir.
2011). No factor is necessarily dispositive, and courts
should not ...