375 U.S. 411 (1964), 7, England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners

Docket Nº:No. 7
Citation:375 U.S. 411, 84 S.Ct. 461, 11 L.Ed.2d 440
Party Name:England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners
Case Date:January 13, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 411

375 U.S. 411 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 461, 11 L.Ed.2d 440

England

v.

Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners

No. 7

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 13, 1964

Argued October 15, 1963

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

Syllabus

Appellants are chiropractors who seek to practice in Louisiana without complying with the educational requirements of the Louisiana Medical Practice Act. They brought this action against appellee Board of Medical Examiners in a Federal District Court for an injunction and a declaration that, as applied to them, the Act violated the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge court invoked the doctrine of abstention and remitted the parties to the state courts on the ground that a decision that the Act does not apply to chiropractors might end the controversy. Appellants then brought proceedings in the state courts, unreservedly submitting for decision not only the state law question, but also their Fourteenth Amendment claims, which were resolved against them. Appellants returned to the District Court, which dismissed the complaint on the ground that the federal questions had been decided by the state courts and the proper remedy was by appeal from the state courts to the Supreme Court.

Held: On the record in this case, the judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the District Court for decision on the merits of appellants' Fourteenth Amendment claims. Pp. 412-423.

1. A party remitted to state courts by an abstention order of a Federal District Court has the right to return to the District Court, after obtaining the authoritative state court ruling for which the court abstained, for a determination of his federal claims. Pp. 415-417.

2. Where a party freely and without reservation submits his federal claims for decision by the state courts, litigates them there, and has them decided there, then -- whether or not he seeks direct review of the state decision in this Court -- he has elected to forgo his right to return to the District Court. Pp. 417-419.

3. The case of Government Employees v. Windsor, 353 U.S. 364, is not to be read as meaning that a party must litigate his federal claims in the state courts, but only that he must inform

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those courts what his federal claims are, so that the state statute may be construed "in light of" those claims. P. 420.

4. A party may readily forestall any conclusion that he has elected not to return to the District Court by making on the state record an explicit reservation to the disposition of the entire case by the state courts; that is, he may inform the state courts that he is exposing his federal claims there only for the purpose of complying with Windsor, and that he intends, should the state courts hold against him on the question of state law, to return to the District Court for disposition of his federal contentions. P. 421.

5. However, such an explicit reservation is not indispensable, for a litigant is not to be denied his right to return to the District Court unless it clearly appears that he voluntarily did more than Windsor required, and fully litigated his federal claims in the state courts. P. 421.

6. On the record in this case, the Court does not apply to these appellants the rule here announced, since their primary reason for litigating their federal claims in the state courts was assertedly the view that Windsor required them to do so -- a view which was mistaken, and will not avail other litigants who rely upon it after today's decision, but which was not unreasonable at the time. P. 422.

194 F.Supp. 521, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellants are graduates of schools of chiropractic who seek to practice in Louisiana without complying with the educational requirements of the Louisiana Medical Practice Act, Title 37, La.Rev.Stat. §§ 1261-1290. They brought this action against respondent Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners in the Federal District Court

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for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeking an injunction and a declaration that, as applied to them, the Act violated the Fourteenth Amendment. A statutory three-judge court1 invoked, sua sponte, the doctrine of abstention, on the ground that "[t]he state court might effectively end this controversy by a determination that chiropractors are not governed by the statute," and entered an order

staying further proceedings in this Court until the courts of the State of Louisiana shall have been afforded an opportunity to determine the issues here presented, and retaining jurisdiction to take such steps as may be necessary for the just disposition of the litigation should anything prevent a prompt state court determination.

180 F.Supp. 121, 124.2

Appellants thereupon brought proceedings in the Louisiana courts. They did not restrict those proceedings to the question whether the Medical Practice Act applied to chiropractors. They unreservedly submitted for decision, and briefed and argued, their contention that [84 S.Ct. 464] the Act, if applicable to chiropractors, violated the Fourteenth Amendment.3 The state proceedings terminated with a

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decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court declining to review an intermediate appellate court's holding both that the Medical Practice Act applied to chiropractors and that, as so applied, it did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. 126 So.2d 51.

Appellants then returned to the District Court,4 where they were met with a motion by appellees to dismiss the federal action. This motion was granted on the ground that,

since the courts of Louisiana have passed on all issues raised, including the claims of deprivation under the Federal Constitution, this court, having no power to review those proceedings, must dismiss the complaint. The proper remedy was by appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The court saw the case as illustrating

the dilemma of a litigant who has invoked the jurisdiction of a federal court to assert a claimed constitutional right and finds himself remitted to the state tribunals.

The dilemma, said the court, was that,

[o]n the one hand, in view of Government & Civic Employees Organizing Committee v. Windsor, 353 U.S. 364, he dare not restrict his state court case to local law issues. On the other, if, as required by Windsor, he raises the federal questions there, well established principles will

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bar a relitigation of those issues in the United States District Court. . . . Since, in the usual case, no question not already passed on by the state courts will remain, he is thereby effectively deprived of a federal forum for the adjudication of his federal claims.

194 F.Supp. 521, 522. Appellants appealed directly to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1253, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 372 U.S. 904. We reverse and remand to the District Court for decision on the merits of appellants' Fourteenth Amendment claims.

There are fundamental objections to any conclusion that a litigant who has properly invoked the jurisdiction of a Federal District Court to consider federal constitutional claims can be compelled, without his consent and through no fault of his own, to accept instead a state court's determination of those claims.5 Such a result would be at war with the unqualified terms in which Congress, pursuant to constitutional authorization, has conferred specific categories of jurisdiction upon the federal courts, and with the principle that,

[w]hen a Federal court is properly appealed to in [84 S.Ct. 465] a case over which it has by law jurisdiction, it is its duty to take such jurisdiction. . . . The right of a party plaintiff to choose a Federal court where there is a choice cannot be properly denied.

Willcox v. Consolidated Gas Co., 212 U.S. 19, 40. Nor does anything in the abstention doctrine require or support such a result. Abstention is a judge-fashioned vehicle for according appropriate deference to the "respective competence of the state and federal court systems." Louisiana P. & L. Co. v. Thibodaux, 360 U.S. 25, 29. Its recognition of the role of state courts as the final expositors of state law implies no disregard for the primacy of

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the federal judiciary in deciding questions of federal law.6 Accordingly, we have on several occasions explicitly recognized that abstention "does not, of course, involve the abdication of federal jurisdiction, but only the postponement of its exercise." Harrison v. NAACP, 360 U.S. 167, 177; accord, Louisiana P. & L. Co. v. Thibodaux, supra, 360 U.S. at 29.7

It is true that, after a post-abstention determination and rejection of his federal claims by the state courts, a litigant could seek direct review in this Court. NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415; Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections, 360 U.S. 45. But such review, even when available by appeal, rather than only by discretionary with of certiorari, is an inadequate substitute for the initial District Court determination -- often by three judges, 28 U.S.C. § 2281 -- to which the litigant is entitled in the federal courts. This is true as to issues of law; it is especially true as to issues of fact. Limiting the litigant to review here would deny him the benefit of a federal trial court's role in constructing a record and making factfindings. How the facts are found will often dictate the decision of federal claims. "It is the typical,

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not the rare, case in which constitutional claims turn upon the resolution of contested factual issues." Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 312. "There is always in litigation a margin of error, representing error in factfinding. . . ." Speiser v....

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