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Court Reinstates Fired Employee’s $20M Claim

(CN) - The 6th Circuit reinstated the $20 million federal lawsuit of a former Michigan Gaming Control Board employee who claims he was unconstitutionally fired after he filed two whistleblower lawsuits in state court, including one against the board.

In 2008 Patrick Devlin filed actions in Ingham County Circuit Court. The first lawsuit alleged that Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox was not properly enforcing the state's liquor licensing laws against tribal casinos. The second accused the Michigan Civil Service Commission and the gaming board of failing to follow their own hiring policies.

Newspapers quoted Devlin in articles about those lawsuits, and the board fired him. Devlin then filed a federal action against half a dozen state officials, and complained about his firing to the civil service commission.

In the commission grievance, Devlin argued that he was entitled to reinstatement and back pay, or front pay from his firing date to his planned retirement.

In the federal lawsuit, Devlin claimed that his firing violated his rights under the First Amendment, the due process clause and state law.

The defendants successfully moved to dismiss the federal lawsuit based on Younger v. Harris, which bars federal courts from interfering in some state civil actions.

But the Cincinnati-based appellate panel found that Younger, which is typically cited in cases where a "federal plaintiff is a defendant in ongoing or threatened state court proceedings seeking to enjoin continuation of those state proceedings," does not apply in this case.

Younger is not applicable when a plaintiff is party to both a federal and state action and is not trying to use the federal court to stop the state court action, Judge John Rogers wrote for the three-judge panel.

"Accordingly, Younger does not prevent the federal court from ruling on Devlin's claims in the present suit because Devlin is the plaintiff in both the federal and state proceedings, and Devlin does not seek to enjoin the state proceedings or otherwise use the federal court to shield him from state enforcement efforts," Rogers wrote.

As Devlin dose not seek to stop the civil service commission's proceedings, but rather "seeks consistent forms of relief in federal and state proceedings," Younger does not bar the federal suit, the court concluded.

"On remand, however, the district court may consider other possible bases for dismissal or stay," Rogers added.

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