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Valenzuela-alvarado, José-enrico, Xliii Rev. Jur. Inter-american University Law 279, No. 2 (spring, 2009) "federal Jurisdiction V. Abstention, Who Prevails?"

Description: States, in ratifying the Constitution, did surrender a portion of their inherent immunity by consenting to suits brought by sister States or by the Federal Government. Nevertheless, the Convention ...

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States, in ratifying the Constitution, did surrender a portion of their inherent immunity by consenting to suits brought by sister States or by the Federal Government. Nevertheless, the Convention did not disturb States' immunity from private suits, thus firmly enshrining this principle in our constitutional framework. “The leading advocates of the Constitution assured the people in no uncertain terms that the Constitution would not strip the States of sovereign immunity.” Does this Federalist explanation still the doctrine in these days? Does Alexander Hamilton’s federalist thinking still in practice? Although public perception is that federal jurisdiction is bigger than the sea, in federal civil cases there are some exceptions which provide deference and limited space to the state jurisdiction. Without entering in political sterile discussions, the instant article intends to inform readers about different abstention doctrines which precludes federal jurisdiction in entertaining local matters reserved by the U.S. Constitution and by the States. Generally speaking, the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “renders states, including Puerto Rico, immune from claims brought in federal court by citizens of the same or any other state.” This includes state agencies that are not public corporations . The Supreme Court has consistently held that “Constitution does not provide for federal jurisdiction over suits against non-consenting States.” This what precisely Alexander Hamilton was referring long time ago, that any non-consenting state, including Puerto Rico for purposes of the discussion, cannot be sued in Federal Court. Nevertheless, what about cases we see by the press in which the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been sued in federal court, like for example, the “Morales-Feliciano” case, or the Electronic Surveillance Program or “grilletes” case? In both, Plaintiffs requested injunctive relief which is an exception to the Eleven Amendment Immunity developed through jurisprudence and thus, the State can be sued for those purposes only. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ex parte Young, specifically concluded that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar claims against state officials for prospective injunctive relief. The Supreme Court has interpreted Young to mean that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar a suit for injunctive relief if: (1) the complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law, and (2) the relief requested is prospective. Thus, a plaintiff is not barred from bringing suit against a state officer in his or her official capacity for injunctive relief. This exception to the Eleven Amendment Immunity developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Young has been subjected to changes throughout decades. For example, criminal State court proceedings if ongoing, gives the obligation to federal courts to abstain while the state proceeding finishes. Another example is shown by state administrative agencies, which have the role in providing services to the citizens in order to avoid cluttering courts of suits that can be resolved by a quasi-judicial forum. The state administrative era of expansion has been in full evolution conversely with the Young exception of filing suits against the State Government for injunctive relief. In simple words, the state government bureaucracy expands and the Young exception has been reduced by different abstention doctrines that provide deference and comity to the state’s jurisdiction. The Author refers to the following abstention doctrines: Younger , Rooker-Feldman , Pullman , Colorado River and Burford . All of them are discussed in this Article in order to illustrate that Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist conception still in debate and appears as a thermostat that arises at different levels, either in favor of the state sovereignty or in favor of the federal jurisdiction intervention. The balance between both jurisdictions as interpreted