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 pending. 

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 action’s completion. 

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.

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