580 F.2d 521 (D.C. Cir. 1978), 75-1350, Campbell v. McGruder

Docket Nº:75-1350 and 75-2273.
Citation:580 F.2d 521
Party Name:Leonard CAMPBELL et al. v. Anderson McGRUDER, Superintendent, Detention Services, et al., Appellants (two cases).
Case Date:March 30, 1978
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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580 F.2d 521 (D.C. Cir. 1978)

Leonard CAMPBELL et al.


Anderson McGRUDER, Superintendent, Detention Services, et

al., Appellants (two cases).

Nos. 75-1350 and 75-2273.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 30, 1978

Argued May 26, 1976.

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Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.Civil 1462-71).

David P. Sutton, Asst. Corp. Counsel for the District of Columbia, Washington, D. C., with whom John R. Risher, Jr., Corp. Counsel, Louis P. Robbins, Principal Asst. Corp. Counsel and Richard W. Barton, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for appellants. Thomas R. Nedrich, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Washington, D. C., also argued for appellants.

J. Patrick Hickey, Washington, D. C., for appellees.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and LEVENTHAL and MACKINNON, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by BAZELON, Chief Judge.

Opinion filed by MACKINNON, Circuit Judge, dissenting in part and concurring in part.

BAZELON, Chief Judge:

Plaintiffs, a class consisting of pretrial detainees incarcerated at the District of Columbia Jail, 1 brought this action in 1971 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against allegedly unconstitutional conditions at that facility. Following trial, the District Court entered an interim order on March 21, 1975, requiring the defendant city officials, Inter alia, to cease housing pretrial detainees in any space smaller than 48 square feet per inmate within 15 days. On November 5, 1975, the District Court issued an order setting requirements for seven additional facets of the Jail's administration. 2 A second order concerning overcrowding was issued on May 24, 1976. 3 It sets limits on the total number of inmates that could be housed at the Jail and established a procedure for reducing the inmate population should those limits be exceeded. The defendants appeal from these orders on a variety of grounds.


At the outset, appellants claim that "the doctrines of comity and abstention preclude the federal courts of the District of Columbia from making class-based rulings concerned with the asserted rights of prisoners at the D.C. Jail . . . against whom criminal prosecutions are pending in the District of Columbia Superior Court." Brief for appellants at 1. More specifically, appellants argue that abstention is appropriate here because (1) federal courts generally should refrain from using their injunctive powers to interfere with the administration of local government, especially with prisons; (2) the local Superior Court should be given an initial opportunity to hear appellees' claims; and (3) the District Court's

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order requiring defendants to reduce the prison population when overcrowding occurs might interfere with subsequent criminal proceedings in the Superior Court.

As we have stated before, "(i)t may well be that the abstention doctrine is rooted in federalism interests which with all their historic underpinnings, the tension between federal powers and state sovereignty, and the concern for local political autonomy make the abstention doctrine inapposite in the unique District." 4 But even assuming that this doctrine applies fully to the federal courts' relations with the D.C. Superior Court, the present case falls into none of the three traditional categories of abstention.

First, this is not a case "in which the federal constitutional issue might be mooted or 'presented in a different posture' by a state court determination of pertinent state law." Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 256, 88 S.Ct. 391, 400, 19 L.Ed.2d 444 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). Here, there is no inadequately defined local law whose further interpretation might obviate consideration of the federal constitutional issue. 5

Nor is this a case "where there have been presented difficult questions of state law bearing on policy problems of substantial public import whose importance transcends the result in the case . . . at bar." Colorado River Water Cons. Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 814, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 1244, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976). The prime example of this category of abstention is Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943), where the exercise of federal jurisdiction threatened systematic disruption of complex state policies developed via the review of state Railroad Commission orders by state courts experienced in that particular area of local regulation. Here, the local courts have been assigned no special review function over the administration of the D.C. Jail, nor is any widespread disruption of a unified scheme of local regulation threatened by the exercise of federal jurisdiction. Although prudence and comity may recommend the involvement of the local judiciary in correcting unconstitutional conditions at the Jail after plaintiffs' claims have been adjudicated, there is no basis neither in the nature of the legal issues presented here nor in the expertise of the local courts in local law for insisting that only local courts decide the questions of federal constitutional law involved in this case. The mere fact that a federal claim brought in federal court might instead have been brought in state court does not justify abstention. Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 98 S.Ct. 673, 677 n.5, 54 L.Ed.2d 618 (1978); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 462, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d 505 (1974); Alabama Pub. Serv. Comm'n v. Southern R. Co., 341 U.S. 341, 361, 71 S.Ct. 762, 95 L.Ed. 1002 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).

Finally, this case does not fall into the third category of abstention, which "is appropriate where, absent bad faith, harassment, or a patently invalid state statute, federal jurisdiction has been invoked for the purpose of restraining state criminal proceedings, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971); Douglas v. City of Jeanette, 319 U.S. 157, 63 S.Ct. 877, 87 L.Ed. 1324 (1943), state nuisance proceedings antecedent to a criminal prosecution, which are directed at obtaining the closure of places exhibiting obscene films, Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975); or collection

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of state taxes, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Huffman, 319 U.S. 293, 63 S.Ct. 1070, 87 L.Ed. 1407 (1943)." Colorado River Water Cons. Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. at 816, 96 S.Ct. at 1246 (footnotes omitted). The District Court has enjoined no proceeding in the Superior Court, nor is there any pending litigation there in which appellees could raise their claims. 6 It is not enough that the remedy ordered by the federal court might have some effect on proceedings in the Superior Court. 7

Appellants rely heavily on Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 96 S.Ct. 598, 46 L.Ed.2d 561 (1976), for the proposition that federal courts should refrain from issuing injunctions "against those in charge of an executive branch of an agency of state or local governments . . . ." Id. at 380, 96 S.Ct. at 608. But the teaching of Rizzo is not so broad. That case actually holds that a federal court should refrain from assuming a comprehensive supervisory role via its injunctive powers over broad areas of local government for the purpose of preventing speculative and probably only sporadic future misconduct by local officials toward an imprecise class of potential victims, especially when that misconduct is not part of a pattern of persistent and deliberate official policy. The case at bar stands in clear contrast to the situation in Rizzo. Here, the constitutional violations are alleged to have actually affected the entire, clearly defined plaintiff class and to have stemmed from continuing policies of the Department of Corrections, so that only injunctive relief classwide in scope can effectively end the multiple and continuing wrongs. 8

Although we do not read Rizzo as requiring total abstention, we are not insensitive to its more general admonition against excessive intervention in local government. A federal court must practice special restraint in the exercise of its injunctive powers in this area, presuming that local officials will comply with the law in good faith and leaving them as much room as possible to devise their own methods of compliance. However, a federal court may not shave the requirements of the Constitution to fit the desires of local officials, nor should it continue to accord these defendants special deference in the fashioning of relief when the presumption of good faith has proved misplaced.

In short, although we are bound to respect the prerogatives of the local government, both judicial and executive, we conclude that abstention is inappropriate in this case. As Justice Powell stated in Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 405-06, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 1807, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974):

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(C)ourts are ill equipped to deal with the increasingly urgent problems of prison administration and reform. Judicial recognition of that fact reflects no more than a healthy sense of realism. Moreover, where state penal institutions are involved, federal courts have a further reason for deference to the appropriate prison authorities.

But a policy of judicial restraint cannot encompass any failure to take cognizance of valid constitutional claims whether arising in a federal or state institution. When a prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental constitutional guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty to protect constitutional rights. 9

Confronted with constitutional violations, other circuits have upheld federal injunctions aimed at state and local correctional systems, thereby expressly or...

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