MONA T. KANCIPER, Plaintiff- Appellant,
SUFFOLK COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, INCORPORATED; ROY GROSS; GERALD LAUBER; SHAWN A. DUNN; MICHAEL NORKELUN; JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-10, Defendants-Appellees,
Argued: June 18, 2013
Mona Kanciper appeals from the District Court's dismissal of her complaint, in which she sought both a declaratory judgment that N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 2.10(7) is unconstitutional and damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, stemming from a search of her property by agents of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. ("SPCA"). We conclude that the District Court's decision to dismiss her § 1983 claims under claim splitting principles was erroneous, and its decision to apply Wilton/Brillhart abstention to dismiss her claim for declaratory relief was error. We therefore VACATE the judgment and REMAND the case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
ALAN E. SASH (Steven J. Hyman, on the brief), McLaughlin & Stern, LLP, New York, N.Y., for Plaintiff-Appellant.
JOSEPH SALVO (Ryan Sestack, on the brief), Gordon & Rees, LLP, New York, N.Y., for Defendants-Appellees.
Before: CALABRESI, CABRANES and B.D. PARKER, Circuit Judges.
CALABRESI, Circuit Judge:
Mona Kanciper appeals from the District Court's February 23, 2013 Memorandum of Decision and Order, dismissing her complaint, which sought: (1) a declaration that N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 2.10(7)—allowing Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to grant their employees "peace officer status, " and thereby empowering them with various governmental investigatory and enforcement functions—is unconstitutional under the United States Constitution; and (2) damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, stemming from a search of her property and her arrest by agents of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. ("SPCA").
Because Kanciper filed a suit for tort damages based on the same facts in state court, the District Court (Spatt, J.) applied claim splitting principles to dismiss Kanciper's § 1983 action. Although district courts have some authority to manage their dockets by declining to entertain claims that a plaintiff could have brought in another pending federal case, we conclude that the District Court's decision to dismiss a federal claim because of a similar pending state court litigation was in error. In these situations, the Supreme Court's Colorado River abstention standard applies to ensure that federal courts do not abdicate "the virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given them." Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976).
The District Court relied on Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co., 316 U.S. 491 (1942) and Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277 (1995), in deciding to abstain from hearing Kanciper's claim for declaratory relief. Because Brillhart/Wilton abstention cannot apply when, as in this case, a plaintiff seeks damages in addition to declaratory relief, we hold that the District Court erred (or, in the awkward locution traditionally adopted by this Court, "abused its discretion") in dismissing Kanciper's declaratory judgment claim.
We therefore VACATE the judgment and REMAND the case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
Kanciper owns and lives on a horse farm in Manorville, New York. She is the President of The New York Horse Rescue Corporation, a non-profit organization located at her horse farm that rescues unwanted and abandoned horses. Kanciper asserts that, since 1998, her horse farm has rescued more than 1, 500 horses.
In August 2009, the SPCA received a complaint about "equine abuse" at the Kanciper horse farm. In response, the SPCA sent a person it refers to as a detective, Shawn Dunn, to investigate the situation. After Dunn had visited the horse farm twice, and allegedly threatened Kanciper and her ailing husband with prosecution and the loss of her husband's ...