43 636 Mtm, Inc v. Baxley 8212 1119, No. 73

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation95 S.Ct. 1278,420 U.S. 799,43 L.Ed.2d 636
Docket NumberNo. 73
Parties. 43 L.Ed.2d 636 MTM, INC., et al., Appellants, v. William J. BAXLEY, etc., et al. —1119
Decision Date25 March 1975

Robert Eugene Smith, Atlanta, Ga., for appellants.

Herbert Jenkins, Jr., Birmingham, Ala., for appellees.


The State of Alabama brought suit against appellant MTM in state court under the Alabama nuisance law, Ala.Code, Tit. 7, §§ 1081—1108 (1958),1 seeking to enjoin the continued operation of a nuisance by MTM. It alleged that because of convictions for violations of local obscenity laws by the Pussycat Adult Theater, an enterprise owned by MTM in Birmingham, Ala., the theater constituted a nuisance under this statute.2 After a hearing on the complaint, the state court issued a temporary injunction under the nuisance law, closing the theater.3

After issuance of the temporary injunction and while action on the request for a permanent injunction was pending in state court, appellant filed this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It asked the federal court to enjoin enforcement of the state-court temporary injunction and to declare the Alabama nuisance law unconstitutional. Appellant claimed that the challenged statutory provisions and the state-court temporary injunction infringed its First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

A three-judge federal court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 to consider appellant's complaint. Without resolving the constitutional merits of the complaint, the three-judge court dismissed the complaint without prejudice. 4 In view of the pendency of the state proceedings, the three-judge District Court applied the test enunciated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971),5 and concluded that federal intervention as requested by appellant would be improper.

Appellant has brought the case directly to this Court, asserting that jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1253, and arguing that the requirements of Younger v. Harris, supra, did not preclude relief on these facts. We noted pobable jurisdiction over this appeal and set this case for argument in tandem with Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482. 415 U.S. 974, 94 S.Ct. 1559, 39 L.Ed.2d 870 (1974).

Unless jurisdiction over this direct appeal from the three-judge court decision below is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1253, we are without authority to entertain it.6 Section 1253 provides:

'Except as otherwise provided by law, any party may appeal to the Supreme Court from an order granting or denying, after notice and hearing, an interlocutory or permanent injunction in any civil action, suit or proceeding required by any Act of Congress to be heard and determined by a district court of three judges.'

Appellant argues that its complaint presented a 'suit . . . required . . . to be heard' by a three-judge court7 and that the dismissal of its complaint seeking injunctive relief constituted 'an order . . . denying . . . an interlocutory or permanent injunction' within the meaning of § 1253.

In Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union, 419 U.S. 90, 95 S.Ct. 289, 42 L.Ed.2d 249 (1974), we recently discussed in some detail the question of what constitutes an order 'denying' injunctive relief for purposes of § 1253. There we held that direct appeal to this Court under § 1253 did not lie from the order of a three-judge court dismissing a complaint because of an absence of standing where the three-judge court did not reach the merits of the constitutional claim presented. Although our decision rested at least partially on the ground that a three-judge court was not 'required' where the ground for decision below was an absence of standing, 419 U.S., at 100, 95 S.Ct., at 295, we also explored the question of whether an order of a three-judge court 'denies' an injunction, for purposes of § 1253, where there is no adverse resolution of the constitutional claims presented. Although noting that certain decisions of this Court and a literal reading of § 1253 might be taken to support the notion that a denial of injunctive relief on any basis by a three-judge court is within the purview of § 1253, we concluded that stare decisis is entitled to less than its usual weight in this area, and that 'the opaque terms and prolix syntax' of this statute were not capable of literal reading. 419 U.S., at 96—97, 95 S.Ct., at 293—294. In focusing on the question of whether direct review by this Court under § 1253 is available in the absence of a three-judge court decision resting on resolution of the constitutional merits of a complaint, we stated:

'Mercantile argues that § 1253 should be read to limit our direct review of three-judge-court orders denying injunctions to those that rest upon resolution of the constitutional merits of the case. There would be evident virtues to this rule. It would lend symmetry to the Court's jurisdiction since, in reviewing orders granting injunctions, the Court is necessarily dealing with a resolution of the merits. While issues short of the merits—such as justiciability, subject-matter jurisdiction, equitable jurisdiction, and abstention—are often of more than trivial consequence, that alone does not argue for our reviewing them on direct appeal. Discretionary review in any case would remain available, informed by the mediating wisdom of a court of appeals. Furthermore, the courts of appeals might in many instances give more detailed consideration to these issues than this Court, which disposes of most mandatory appeal in summary fashion.' 419 U.S., at 99, 95 S.Ct., at 295.

The conflicting decisions of this Court on the question of whether § 1253 jurisdiction attaches where a three-judge federal court fails to reach the merits of a constitutional claim for injunctive relief do not provide a consistent answer to this question. Compare Lynch v. Household Finance Corp., 405 U.S. 538, 92 S.Ct. 1113, 31 L.Ed.2d 424 (1972), with Mengelkoch v. Industrial Welfare Comm'n, 393 U.S. 83, 89 S.Ct. 60, 21 L.Ed.2d 215 (1968); Rosado v. Wyman, 395 U.S. 826, 89 S.Ct. 2134, 23 L.Ed.2d 739 (1969); Mitchell v. Donovan, 398 U.S. 427, 90 S.Ct. 1763, 26 L.Ed.2d 378 (1970). See Gonzalez v Employees Credit Union supra, 419 U.S., at 95 n. 11, 95 S.Ct., at 293; 9 J. Moore, Federal Practice 110.03(3), pp. 76—79 (2d ed. 1973). It is certain that the congressional policy behind the three-judge court and direct-review apparatus—the saving of state and federal statutes from improvident doom at the hands of a single judge—will not be impaired by a narrow construction of § 1253. A broad construction of the statute, on the other hand, would be at odds with the historic congressional policy of minimizing the mandatory docket of this Court in the interest of sound judicial administration. Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 250—251, 61 S.Ct. 480, 483, 85 L.Ed. 800 (1941); Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union, supra, 419 U.S., at 98, 95 S.Ct., at 294.

In light of these factors, we conclude that a direct appeal will lie to this Court under § 1253 from the order of a three-judge federal court denying interlocutory or permanent injunctive relief only where such order rests upon resolution of the merits of the constitutional claim presented below.

In the instant case, the three-judge court below did not reach the merits of appellant's constitutional attack on the Alabama statute and instead based its order on the impropriety of federal intervention under our decision in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971). In such circumstances, we are without jurisdiction to consider this appeal. The correctness of the application of Younger on these facts by the District Court is for the Court of Appeals to determine. Accordingly, we vacate the order before us and remand this case to the District Court so that a fresh order may be entered and a timely appeal prosecuted to the Court of Appeals.8

It is so ordered.

Order vacated and case remanded.

Mr. Justice WHITE, concurring in the result.

The Court holds that dismissing a suit on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), grounds is not an order denying an injunction for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1253 and is therefore not appealable directly to this Court, even assuming that the order could be issued only by a three-judge court. I agree with the result but not with this mode of achieving it.

If only a three-judge court may order such a dismissal, I have great difficulty in excluding such an order from the reach of the plain terms of § 1253. The sole justification for so manhandling the language of the section is to aboid our hearing a direct appeal on a nonconstitutional issue of federal law that has little if any connection with the reasons for requiring either three-judge courts or direct review of their decisions. That procedure was adopted to protect state statutes from improvident injunctions issued by a single federal judge on federal constitutional grounds. The more straightforward approach to this case would be to hold that decisions on issues other than requests for injunctive relief challenging the constitutionality of state statutes need not be made by three judges but rather are to be made or deemed to be made by single-judge courts whose decisions are appealable only to the courts of appeals. Proceeding in this manner would require no more than construing 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284(3) and (4), in the light of their original purpose, as applying only to orders granting or denying interlocutory or permanent injunctions where the constitutionality of state statutes is involved.

This approach may appear to be at odds with Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713, 82 S.Ct. 1294, 8 L.Ed.2d 794 (1962). There the Court held that a three-judge court is required where a statute was challenged on...

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  • Wilson v. Edelman, s. 75-2005
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
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    ...from improvident doom, on constitutional grounds, at the hands of a single federal district court judge. MTM, Inc. v. Baxley, 420 U.S. 799, 804, 95 S.Ct. 1278, 43 L.Ed.2d 583 (1975); Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union, 419 U.S. 90, 97, 95 S.Ct. 289, 42 L.Ed.2d 249 (1974); Goldstein v. Cox, ......
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