Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Ninth U.S. Circuit Won’t Interfere With Denial of State Bar Admission
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed the dismissal of an action by a man who claims the State Bar has given him a flunking grade on the bar exam, which he has taken repeatedly since 2001, because it is miffed at him for suing it when he was a law student.
Sohrab Haroonian’s 1997 Los Angeles Superior Court action, filed while he was a student at Abraham Lincoln University School of Law, contested the State Bar’s action in finding him ineligible to take the “baby” bar exam. The State Bar settled the action with him by allowing him to take the exam, which he passed.
In his May 2, 2016 complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California—seeking declaratory relief, compensatory damages of $1 million, and punitive damages from the State Bar and the Committee of Bar Examiners—he claims the State Bar has retaliated against him for filing the 1997 lawsuit by refusing to find that he has passed the bar exam, and also failing to find he has established moral fitness.
Haroonian asserts various federal constitutional deprivations, including equal protection. His complaint alleges:
“All the circumstantial evidences and the conduct of the Committee of Bar Examiners clearly shows that the Committee is intentionally discriminating plaintiff who is similarly situated among other candidates for passing the Bar Exam and preventing Plaintiff from passing the Slate General Bar Exam. At several times Plaintiff demanded that The State Bar of California to release the [multistate bar exam] questions and answers to Plaintiff including the grades of other Plaintiff for the purpose of comparison.
“Plaintiff alleges that the State Bar of California and [National Committee of Bar Examiners] refused to release the information and violated the Plaintiff’s rights under the Due Process of 14th Amendment and violated Plaintiff’s rights under Equal Protection Clause of 14th Amendment.”
The Ninth Circuit said in a memorandum opinion yesterday:
“The district court properly dismissed Haroonian’s claims for damages against the State Bar of California and the Committee of Bar Examiners because Those defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.”
The opinion also said that U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank properly concluded that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the declaratory relief claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine—the principle that federal courts lack jurisdiction over decisions of state courts or claims inextricably intertwined with earlier state-court judgments.
Entertaining Haroonian’s declaratory relief claim, the opinion said, would amount to a “forbidden de facto appeal” of the California Supreme Court’s determination that Haroonian not be admitted to the State Bar.
The case is Haroonian v. Committee of Bar Examiners, No. 16-56035.
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