401 U.S. 216 (1971), 83, Byrne v. Karalexis

Docket Nº:No. 83
Citation:401 U.S. 216, 91 S.Ct. 777, 27 L.Ed.2d 792
Party Name:Byrne v. Karalexis
Case Date:February 23, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 216

401 U.S. 216 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 777, 27 L.Ed.2d 792




No. 83

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1971

Argued April 30, 1970

Reargued November 17, 1970




Appellees, indicted for violating the Massachusetts obscenity law as a result of exhibiting the film, "I am Curious (Yellow)," brought this action in the federal district court for an injunction against the enforcement of the statute and for a declaration of its unconstitutionality. A three-judge District Court, holding that appellees might be irreparably injured if unable to show the film, granted injunctive relief.

Held: The District Court made no finding that the threat to appellees' federally protected rights "[could] not be eliminated by [their] defense against a single criminal prosecution," to meet the great and immediate irreparable injury requirement of Younger v. Harris, ante, p. 37, at 46, before a federal injunction of state criminal proceedings can properly issue. The judgment is therefore vacated, and the case remanded for reconsideration in the light of Younger, supra, and Samuels v. Mackell, ante, p. 66.

306 F.Supp. 1363, vacated and remanded.

Page 217

Per curiam opinion.


This is an appeal from the order of a three-judge court granting a preliminary injunction against any civil or criminal proceedings in state courts against the appellees. Appellant Byrne is the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. The appellees own and operate a motion picture theater in Boston. As a result of exhibiting the film entitled "I am Curious (Yellow)" at their theater, appellees were charged by District Attorney Byrne with violating Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 272, § 28A, which prohibits the possession of obscene films for the purpose of exhibition.1

After the filing of the original state indictments against them, appellees brought the present action in federal

Page 218

court.2 They sought an injunction against both pending and future prosecutions under the Massachusetts obscenity law, and a declaration that the state obscenity law was unconstitutional on its face and as applied.3 The

Page 219

three-judge [91 S.Ct. 779] District Court held that appellees had a probability of success in having the statute declared unconstitutional, that abstention would be improper, and that appellees might suffer irreparable injury if they were unable to show the film. The three-judge court, one judge dissenting, therefore granted a preliminary injunction, forbidding the initiation of any future prosecutions or the execution of the sentence imposed in the state proceedings then pending. 306 F.Supp. 1363 (1969). The district attorney appealed. We granted a stay of the district court order, 396 U.S. 976 (1969), and subsequently noted probable jurisdiction, 397 U.S. 985 (1970).

Page 220

In discussing the subject of irreparable injury, the court said:

We do not agree with defendant's contention that there is no indication of irreparable injury. Even if money damages could be thought in some cases adequate compensation for delay, this defendant will presumably be immune. We agree with plaintiffs that the box office receipts, if there is a substantial delay, can be expected to be smaller. A moving picture may well be a diminishing asset. It has been said, also, that, in assessing injury, [91 S.Ct. 780] the chilling effect upon the freedom of expression of others is to be considered. See Dombrowski v. Pfister, 1965, 380 U.S. 479, 486-489.

306 F.Supp. at 1367. There was, however, no finding by the District Court that the threat to appellees' federally protected rights is "one that cannot be eliminated by [their] defense against a single criminal prosecution." Younger v. Harris, ante, p. 37, at 46. Because the District Court, in considering the propriety of injunctive and declaratory relief in this case, was without the guidance provided today by our decisions in Younger v. Harris, supra, and Samuels v. Mackell, ante, p. 66, we vacate the judgment below and remand for reconsideration in light of those decisions.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of this appeal.

[For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE STEWART, see ante, p. 54.]

BRENNAN, J., dissenting


The injunction appealed from issued December 6, 1969, after appellees' convictions in state court on...

To continue reading