420 U.S. 738 (1975), 73-662, Schlesinger v. Councilman

Docket Nº:No. 73-662
Citation:420 U.S. 738, 95 S.Ct. 1300, 43 L.Ed.2d 591
Party Name:Schlesinger v. Councilman
Case Date:March 25, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 738

420 U.S. 738 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 1300, 43 L.Ed.2d 591




No. 73-662

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1975

Argued December 10, 1974




After court-martial charges were preferred against respondent Army captain for the sale, transfer, and possession of marihuana, he brought suit in Federal District Court to enjoin petitioner military authorities from proceeding with the court-martial. The District Court granted a permanent injunction, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, on the ground that the offenses charged were not "service-connected" and hence were not within court-martial jurisdiction. Petitioners contend in this Court (1) that any federal question jurisdiction that the District Court might have had under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 had been removed by Art. 76 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which provides that court-martial proceedings "are final and conclusive" and that "all action taken pursuant to those proceedings [is] binding upon all . . . courts . . . of the United States," and (2) that the District Court improperly intervened in a pending court-martial proceeding.


1. Article 76 does not stand as a jurisdictional bar to respondent's suit, and the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, assuming the requisite jurisdictional amount. Pp. 744-753

(a) The general rule that "the acts of a court martial, within the scope of its jurisdiction and duty, cannot be controlled or reviewed in the civil courts, by writ of prohibition or otherwise," Smith v. Whitney, 116 U.S. 167, 177, is subject to its own qualification that the court-martial's acts be "within the scope of its jurisdiction and duty," and hence collateral relief from the consequences of a court-martial judgment is not barred if the judgment was void. Pp. 746-748.

(b) The finality clause of Art. 76 does no more than describe the terminal point for proceedings within the court-martial system, Gusik v. Schilder, 340 U.S. 128, and the legislative history of the article does not support a conclusion that it was intended to confine collateral attack on court-martial proceedings in Art. III courts exclusively to habeas corpus. Pp. 748-753.

Page 739

2. When a serviceman charged with crimes by military authorities can show no harm other than that attendant to resolution of his case in the military court system, the federal district courts must refrain from intervention, by way of injunction or otherwise. There is nothing in the circumstances of this case to outweigh the strong considerations favoring exhaustion of remedies within the military court system or to warrant intruding on the integrity of military court processes, which were enacted by Congress in the UCMJ in an attempt to balance the unique necessities of the military system against the equally significant interest of ensuring fairness to servicemen charged with military offenses. Pp. 753-760.

481 F.2d 613, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in Part II of which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 761. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 762.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

On March 27, 1972, court-martial charges were preferred against respondent Bruce R. Councilman, an Army captain on active duty at Fort Sill, Okla. The charges alleged that Captain Councilman had wrongfully sold, transferred, and possessed marihuana. On July 6, 1972, the District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma permanently enjoined petitioners, the Secretaries of Defense and of the Army and the Commanding

Page 740

General and Staff Judge Advocate of Fort Sill, from proceeding with Captain Councilman's impending court-martial. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed, holding that the offenses with which Captain Councilman had been charged were not "service-connected," and therefore not within the military court-martial jurisdiction. 481 F.2d 613 (1973). The judgments of the District Court and the Court of Appeals were predicated on certain assumptions, not hitherto examined by this Court,1 concerning the proper relationship between the military justice system established by Congress and the powers and responsibilities of Art. III courts. In the view we take of the matter, the case presents no occasion for resolution of the merits of Councilman's "service connection" claim. Although the District Court may have had subject matter jurisdiction, we think that the balance of factors governing exercise of equitable jurisdiction by federal courts normally weighs against intervention, by injunction or otherwise, in pending court-martial proceedings. We see nothing in the circumstances of this case that alters this general equitable balance. Accordingly, we reverse.


The parties in the District Court stipulated the relevant facts.2 They need only be summarized here. The Army's Criminal Investigation Detachment at Fort Sill received information from a confidential informant that Councilman was using marihuana at his off-post apartment. The detachment arranged to have Councilman invited to an off-post party, where he was introduced to Specialist Four Glenn D. Skaggs, an enlisted man working as a detachment undercover agent. Skaggs, who

Page 741

used the name Danny Drees in his undercover activities, was identified as an enlisted clerk-typist at the Fort Sill Army Training Center. Shortly after their initial meeting, Councilman allegedly transferred to Skaggs small quantities of marihuana, once by sale and once by gift. On both occasions, Councilman and Skaggs were off-post, and not in uniform. Councilman was off-duty and, to all appearances, Skaggs was off-duty as well. Thereafter, based on Skaggs' investigations, Councilman was apprehended by civilian authorities, who searched his apartment and discovered additional quantities of marihuana. Councilman later was remanded to military authorities. He was charged with having violated Art. 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice3 by wrongfully selling, transferring, and possessing marihuana. Following an investigatory hearing,4 the charges were referred to a general court-martial for trial.

[95 S.Ct. 1305] At a preliminary hearing held on June 27, 1972, Councilman, represented by counsel, moved to dismiss the charges, contending that the court-martial lacked jurisdiction under this Court's decision in O'Callahan v. Parker, 395 U.S. 258 (1969), because the alleged offenses were not "service-connected." After an evidentiary hearing, the presiding military judge denied the motion and scheduled the court-martial to begin on July 11. On July 5, Councilman brought this action in the District Court, moving for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent his impending court-martial. Councilman claimed that, since

Page 742

the court-martial lacked jurisdiction over the alleged offenses, he

[would] suffer great and irreparable damage in that he [might] be deprived of his liberty without due process of law, if the Court-Martial Proceedings are permitted on July 11. . . .

On the following day, after a hearing on the service connection issue, the District Court permanently enjoined the military authorities from proceeding with the court-martial.5

The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the alleged offenses did not meet the tests for service connection set forth in O'Callahan v. Parker, supra, and elaborated in Relford v. U.S. Disciplinary Commandant, 401 U.S. 355 (171). The court found that only one of the factors enumerated in those decisions pointed to service connection in this case: the "factor relat[ing] to the rank of the persons involved in the incident or the fact that both were servicemen." 481 F.2d at 614. The court concluded that this factor, standing alone, was insufficient

Page 743

to sustain court-martial jurisdiction, and that Councilman's possession and distribution of marihuana "affect[ed] military discipline no more than commission of any crime by any serviceman." Id. at 615.

On behalf of the military authorities, the Solicitor General filed a petition for a writ of certiorari addressed to the "service-connected" offense issue,6 and noting the existence of conflicts on this issue between the decision below and decisions of the Court of Military Appeals.7 We granted the petition, 414 U.S. 1111 (1973),8 and, although normally we do not consider questions raised neither below nor in the petition, see United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 206 (1974) (STEWART, J., dissenting), the jurisdictional and equity issues necessarily implicit in this case seemed sufficiently important to raise them sua sponte. See, e.g., Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 40 (1971); Duignan v. United States, 274 U.S. 195, 200 (1927), and cases there cited. We therefore requested supplemental briefs

on the issues of (1) the jurisdiction of the District Court, (2) exhaustion of

Page 744

remedies, and (3) the propriety of a federal district court enjoining a pending court-martial proceeding.

Since our resolution of these issues disposes of the case, we express no opinion on the "service connection" question.


Presumably the District Court found jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331,9 which grants subject matter jurisdiction of civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds $10,000 "and arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." No contention is made that respondent's claim fails to assert a case arising under the Constitution. See O'Callahan v. Parker, supra. Petitioners...

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