Broadly-Construed “Election of Remedies” Doctrine Operates to Deprive Federal Court of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Over NYS and NYC Human Rights Law Claims

In Chakraborty v. Valentina Soto & The Riverside Church, 16-cv-9128, 2017 WL 5157616 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2017), the court explained and applied the “election of remedies” doctrines codified in the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. Specifically, it held that that doctrine deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s NYSHRL and NYCHRL claims against defendants.

In sum, explained the court, “[u]nder the so called election of remedies doctrine, a complainant who files a complaint with either the NYSDHR or [the New York City Commission on Human Rights … cannot subsequently sue in court on the same claims.”

The court continued to explain the breadth of that doctrine:

The election-of-remedies doctrine imposes two kinds of jurisdictional bars: one direct, and one derivative. See Smith, 2016 WL 3440553, at *2. The direct bar divests courts of subject-matter jurisdiction “over any claims previously submitted to the NYSDHR” or NYCCHR (the direct bar). Id. And the derivative bar prevents courts from hearing “claims arising out of the same incident[s] on which [an NYSDHR or NYCCHR] complaint was based.” Id. (internal quotation mark omitted) (quoting Higgins, 836 F. Supp. 2d at 188). Because of this derivative bar, “[c]laims need not be identical in order to be barred by the state or city election of remedies provisions.” Rosario v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., No. 10 Civ. 6160 (DLC), 2011 WL 1465763, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 15, 2011). To the contrary, if there is “a sufficient identity of issue [s] … between” the claims a plaintiff pursued before the NYSHRL or NYCCHR, and those he alleges in a federal complaint, then the election-of-remedies doctrine precludes courts from adjudicating those federal claims. Id. (quoting Spoon v. Am. Agriculturalist, Inc., 478 N.Y.S.2d 174, 175 (App. Div. 3d Dep’t 1984)). *8 The election-of-remedies’ derivative bar is expansive. A plaintiff cannot escape the bar by raising a new legal theory, if that theory is premised on the same events underlying his NYSDHR or NYCCHR complaint. [Paragraphing modified.]

The court held, inter alia, that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s NYSHRL and NYCHRL claims against an individual – even though plaintiff did not name them in his NYSDHR complaint. It reasoned that “[t]he election-of-remedies doctrine plainly applies here, because the First Amended Complaint’s allegations arise out of the same operative events as Plaintiff’s NYSDHR action.”

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