A high-profile lawsuit brought against an Illinois sperm
bank by a white woman who claims she was wrongfully impregnated by a black
donor’s sperm is on hold after a federal judge in Chicago granted a motion to stay
the case, to allow an Illinois appeals court to decide the fate of a nearly identical
lawsuit dismissed from DuPage County court.
Judge John Z. Lee on Jan. 27 issued a memo granting Midwest
Sperm Bank’s motion to stay a federal diversity action it faces from Jennifer L.
Cramblett, of Canton, Ohio, who alleges she was given sperm from a black donor
when she requested a specimen from a white donor.
Cramblett signed her sperm purchase agreement with Midwest
in August 2011 and was inseminated that December. She was five months pregnant
when she learned she’d gotten a sample from Donor 330, though she’d requested
Donor 380. Her daughter was born in August 2012. The child’s mixed race,
according to her complaint, fostered “numerous challenges and external
pressures associated with an unplanned transracial parent-child relationship
for which (she) was not, and is not, prepared.”
She sued Midwest Sperm in Cook County Circuit Court on Sept.
29, 2014, alleging wrongful birth and warranty breach. That complaint was
transferred to DuPage County, where Cramblett filed an amended complaint on
Sept. 3, 2015, adding fraud and negligence claims. On March 11, 2016, the state
court dismissed two of the claims with prejudice and the other seven without.
After she did not file a second amended complaint within 45 days, the court dismissed
the remaining claims with prejudice. Cramblett’s appeal of that dismissal is
Cramblett filed her federal action in April 2016, making
many of the same allegations — some
with nearly identical language — wrapped up in her pending state case. Since
that appeal has yet to work through the Illinois Appellate Court, Midwest asked
the court to stay the federal proceeding.
In filing a brief opposing the motion to stay, Lee noted
Cramblett took “the rather curious position that she actually complied with the
state court’s order by refiling her claims in federal court. But this could not
have been what the state court meant, as evidenced by its subsequent order
dismissing the suit with prejudice.”
In its motion, Midwest cited the 1976 decision in Colorado River Water Conservation District
v. United States, arguing a federal court can stay a complaint on account
of a concurrent state proceeding. Such an action requires “exceptional
circumstances” and the stay must promote “wise judicial administration.”
As neither party disputed the parallel nature of Cramblett’s
actions, Lee focused on the circumstances. The judge noted the state court has
not assumed jurisdiction over any property connected to the case, and Midwest has
not argued it would be inconvenient to litigate in federal court.
However, Lee agreed with Midwest’s argument that allowing
the federal action to proceed might create “a high risk of both piecemeal
litigation and a waste of judicial resources.” He also noted the county courts
had the matter, which also significantly alleges violation of Illinois state
laws, 19 months before the federal claim was filed.
Cramblett argued the state action is not adequate for fully
protecting her rights, but Lee said she “wholly undercut” that stance by
choosing to litigate first in Illinois. Lee also noted the state action has
progressed further than the federal, another factor in granting the stay.
Lee placed Cramblett’s complaint on the suspended trial
calendar and asked the parties to provide notice within 28 days of the state
Cramblett is represented in the action by attorneys with the
firm of Ostojic & Scudder LLC, of Chicago.
Midwest Sperm Bank is represented by the firm of Cassiday
Schade LLP, of Chicago.