420 U.S. 592 (1975), 73-296, Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd.

Docket Nº:No. 73-296
Citation:420 U.S. 592, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482
Party Name:Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd.
Case Date:March 18, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

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420 U.S. 592 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482



Pursue, Ltd.

No. 73-296

United States Supreme Court

March 18, 1975

Argued December 10, 1974




Ohio's public nuisance statute provides, inter alia, that a place exhibiting obscene films is a nuisance, requires up to a year's closure of any place determined to be a nuisance, and also provides for the sale of personalty used in conducting the nuisance. Appellant officials instituted a proceeding under the statute in state court against appellee's predecessor as operator of a theater displaying pornographic films. Concluding that the defendant had displayed obscene movies, the trial court rendered a judgment in appellants' favor and ordered the theater closed for a year and the seizure and sale of the personal property used in its operation. Appellee, which had taken over operation of the theater prior to the judgment, rather than appealing within the state system, immediately filed suit in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that appellants' use of the nuisance statute constituted a deprivation of constitutional rights under the color of state law, and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Without considering whether it should have stayed its hand in deference to the federalism principles set forth in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, the District Court declared the nuisance statute unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds and enjoined the execution of the state court's judgment insofar as it closed the theater to films that had not been adjudged obscene in prior adversary hearings.


Under the circumstances, the principles of Younger are applicable even though the state proceeding is civil in nature, and the District Court should have applied the tests laid down in Younger in determining whether to proceed to the merits, and should not have entertained the action unless appellee established that early intervention was justified under the exceptions recognized in Younger, where the state proceeding is conducted with an intent to harass or in bad faith, or the challenged statute is flagrantly and patently unconstitutional. Pp. 603-613.

(a) The component of Younger, which rests upon the threat to our federal system if federal judicial interference with state criminal

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proceedings were permitted, applies equally to a civil proceeding such as this, which is more akin to a criminal prosecution than are most civil cases. Pp. 603-605.

(b) Apart from any right which appellee might have had to appeal to this Court if it had remained in state court, it should not, in view of the comity and federalism interests that Younger seeks to protect, be permitted the luxury of federal litigation of issues presented by ongoing state proceedings. But even [95 S.Ct. 1203] assuming, arguendo, that litigants are entitled to a federal forum for resolution of all federal issues, that entitlement is most appropriately asserted by a state litigant when he seeks to relitigate a federal issue adversely determined in completed state court proceedings. Pp. 605-607.

(c) Regardless of when the state trial court's judgment became final, Younger standards must be met to justify federal intervention in a state judicial proceeding as to which a losing litigant has not exhausted his state appellate remedies before seeking relief in federal district court. The considerations of comity and federalism which underlie Younger permit no truncation of the exhaustion requirement merely because the losing party in the state court of general jurisdiction believes, as appellee did here, that his chances of prevailing on appeal are not auspicious. Pp. 607-611.

(d) Since the District Court did not rule on the Younger issue, this case is appropriate for remand so that court may consider whether irreparable injury can be shown in light of an intervening Ohio Supreme Court decision, and, if so, whether that injury is of such a nature that the District Court may assume jurisdiction under an exception to the policy against federal judicial interference with state court proceedings of this kind. Pp. 611-613.

Vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 618. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 613.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires that we decide whether our decision in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), bars a federal district court from intervening in a state civil proceeding such as this, when the proceeding is based on a state statute believed by the district court to be unconstitutional. A similar issue was raised in Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564 (1973), but we were not required to decide it because there the enjoined state proceedings were before a biased administrative body which could not provide a necessary predicate for a Younger dismissal, that is, "the opportunity to raise and have timely decided by a competent state tribunal the federal issues involved." Id. at 577. Similarly, in Speight v. Slaton, 415 U.S. 333 (1974), we noted probable jurisdiction to consider the applicability of Younger to noncriminal cases, but remanded for reconsideration in light of a subsequent decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which struck down the challenged statute on similar facts. Today we do reach the issue, and conclude that, in the circumstances presented here, the principles of Younger are applicable even though the state proceeding is civil in nature.1

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Appellants are the sheriff and prosecuting attorney of Allen County, Ohio. This case arises from their efforts to close the Cinema I Theatre, in Lima, Ohio. Under the management of both its current tenant, appellee Pursue, Ltd., and appellee's predecessor, William Dakota, the Cinema I has specialized in the display of films which may fairly be characterized as pornographic,2 and which, in numerous instances, have been adjudged obscene after adversary hearings.

Appellants sought to invoke the Ohio public nuisance statute, Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 3767.01 et seq. (1971), against appellee. Section 3767.01(C)3 provides that

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a place which exhibits obscene4 films is a nuisance, while § 3767.065 requires closure for up to a year of any place determined to be a nuisance. [95 S.Ct. 1205] The statute also

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provides for preliminary injunctions pending final determination of status as a nuisance,6 for sale of all personal property used in conducting the nuisance,7 and for release from a closure order upon satisfaction of certain conditions (including a showing that the nuisance will not be reestablished).8

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Appellants instituted a nuisance proceeding in the Court of Common Pleas of Allen County against appellee's predecessor, William Dakota. During the course of the somewhat involved legal proceedings which followed, the Court of Common Pleas reviewed 16 movies which had been shown at the theater. The court rendered a judgment that Dakota had engaged in a course of conduct of displaying obscene movies at the Cinema I, and that the theater was therefore to be closed, pursuant to Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 3767.06 (1971),

for any purpose for a period of one year unless sooner released by Order of [the] Court pursuant to defendant owners fulfilling the requirements provided in Section 3767.04 of the Revised Code of Ohio.

The judgment also provided for the seizure and sale of personal property used in the theater's operations.9

Appellee, Pursue, Ltd., had succeeded to William Dakota's leasehold interest in the Cinema I prior to entry of the state court judgment. Rather than appealing that judgment within the Ohio court system, it immediately filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The complaint was based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and alleged that appellants' use of Ohio's nuisance statute constituted a deprivation of constitutional rights under the color of state law. It sought injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that the statute was unconstitutional and unenforceable.10 Since

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the complaint was directed against the constitutionality of a state statute, a three-judge court was convened.11 The District Court concluded that, while the statute [95 S.Ct. 1206] was not vague, it did constitute an overly broad prior restraint on First Amendment rights insofar as it permanently or temporarily prevented the showing of films which had not been adjudged obscene in prior adversary hearings. Cf. Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697 (1931). Fashioning its remedy to match the perceived constitutional defect, the court permanently enjoined the execution of that portion of the state court's judgment that closed the Cinema I to films which had not been adjudged obscene.12 The judgment and opinion of the District Court give no indication that it considered whether it should have stayed its hand in deference to the principles of federalism which find expression in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).

On this appeal, appellants raise the Younger problem, as well as a variety of constitutional and statutory issues. We need consider only the applicability of Younger.


Younger and its companion cases13 considered the propriety of federal court intervention in pending state

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criminal prosecutions. The issue was not a novel one, and the Court relied heavily on Fenner v. Boykin, 271 U.S. 240 (1926), and subsequent...

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