Aristocrat Health Club of Hartford v. Chaucer

Decision Date08 May 1978
Docket NumberCiv. No. H-77-553.
Citation451 F. Supp. 210
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesARISTOCRAT HEALTH CLUB OF HARTFORD, INC., et al. v. Norton CHAUCER, M.D., Director of Health of the City of Hartford, et al.


Joseph E. Fazzano, Albert J. McGrail, Hartford, Conn., for plaintiffs.

Mary R. Hennessey, Corp. Counsel, Richard Shettle, Anthony M. Tapogna, Michael J. Belzer, Asst. Corp. Counsels, Hartford, Conn., for defendants.


BLUMENFELD, District Judge.

This action is brought under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 2201, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, to prevent enforcement of regulations governing massagists and massage establishments adopted by the Public Health Council of the City of Hartford, Connecticut, pursuant to an ordinance enacted by the city's Court of Common Council. The plaintiffs are three individuals and three corporations engaged in the business of operating massage establishments in Hartford, and Sharon Conklin, a massagist employed in one of those establishments. The defendants are the city, its Director of Health and its Director of Licenses and Inspection.

The ordinance adopted by the Court of Common Council defined the terms "massage" and "massage establishment," authorized the Director of Health to adopt regulations governing massage establishments after consultation with the Public Health Council, provided for the issuance of licenses for massagists and massage establishments, and provided that a violation of the regulations to be adopted would be a misdemeanor offense. The regulations, which establish comprehensive controls over massage establishments, were adopted on August 9, 1977, and required that existing establishments comply with their provisions within 60 days of their adoption. The complaint alleges that plaintiffs have complied with the ordinance and regulations since October 9, 1977, but will suffer irreparable injury if continued compliance is required. The plaintiffs seek temporary and permanent injunctions against enforcement of the regulations, a declaratory judgment of their invalidity under the United States and Connecticut Constitutions and state statutes,1 and damages.

Shortly after the adoption of these regulations, an action was brought in the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Hartford seeking to restrain their enforcement. The plaintiffs in this action, with the exception of Sharon Conklin, are plaintiffs in the state court. There they have raised identical objections to the regulations and have sought identical relief, except that no damages are claimed in the state court action. The state court granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a section of the regulations that prohibits doing business on Sundays, and denied their motion insofar as it applied to all other sections of the regulations. Aristocrat Health Club of Hartford, Inc. v. Chaucer, No. 142488 (Hartford County C.P., filed Oct. 7, 1977). While the merits of that action were still pending before the Court of Common Pleas, the plaintiffs filed the present action in the federal court. They have taken no appeal from the state court's ruling on their motion for a preliminary injunction, and the time allowed for such an appeal has now expired. Conn.Practice Book § 553.

Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction asks that the defendants be enjoined from enforcing the ordinance and regulations and from "further prosecuting sic Civil Action No. 142488" in the state court. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the ground that the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. As an affirmative defense, they have pleaded that "entertainment of this matter falls within the doctrines of abstention and res judicata, and would result in a multitude sic of litigation." At the hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, it was noted that the briefs of the parties dealt with the "Pullman abstention" doctrine, Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), but did not discuss the doctrine of equitable restraint enunciated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), and subsequent cases. The parties were invited to submit, and did submit, further briefs on the question of Younger's application.


Before discussing the problem of equitable restraint, it will be helpful to establish two preliminary points. The first is that the complaint does not state a claim for which damages can be awarded. The defendant city is not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 512-13, 93 S.Ct. 2222, 37 L.Ed.2d 109 (1973); Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 187-92, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961). Defendants Chaucer and McSheffery, who are respectively Director of Health and Director of Licenses and Inspection, are sued in their official capacities only. As such, they are subject to jurisdiction in an action for injunctive and declaratory relief under § 1983, Arthur v. Nyquist, 573 F.2d 134, 138-39 (2d Cir. 1978); but only if sued in their individual capacities can they be held to respond in damages, Monell v. Department of Social Services, 532 F.2d 259, 264-67 (2d Cir. 1976), cert. granted, 429 U.S. 1071, 97 S.Ct. 807, 50 L.Ed.2d 789 (1977); Wynne v. Codd, 435 F.Supp. 431, 433 (S.D.N.Y.1976). Furthermore, the complaint alleges only that injuries are likely to be sustained in the future by plaintiffs. It does not aver that plaintiffs had suffered any harm at the time the complaint was filed, such as would be compensable in damages.

Even if the complaint were amended to name the officials in their individual capacities and to allege past injuries, it would still fail to state a claim for damages. As public officials they enjoy a qualified immunity to actions for damages under § 1983. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 238-49, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974); Laverne v. Corning, 522 F.2d 1144, 1147-50 (2d Cir. 1975); Reilly v. Doyle, 483 F.2d 123, 128-29 (2d Cir. 1973). Plaintiffs have not alleged that defendants Chaucer and McSheffery have acted with malice, with an intent to deprive them of their constitutional rights, or with a reckless disregard for their rights. The regulations under which the defendants are acting are legislative enactments governing business activities. While I do not pass on the ultimate constitutionality of the regulations, any defect they might have is not so obvious or blatant as to give notice to laymen of their invalidity. Thus, public officials acting to enforce such regulations with a good-faith belief in their validity cannot be held to answer in damages for those official acts. See Laverne v. Corning, supra, 522 F.2d at 1147; cf. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 557, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967). It is therefore appropriate to view this action as if it were brought solely for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The second preliminary point is that the doctrine of res judicata has no application here. For their claim of res judicata, the defendants rely on the decision of the Court of Common Pleas denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction as to all sections of the regulations save one. The defense of res judicata requires the existence of a prior judgment. Lusas v. St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 125 Conn. 206, 4 A.2d 333 (1939). An interlocutory decree which does not decide with finality the relevant issues of law and fact cannot support the defense. Sterling Drug, Inc. v. Weinberger, 509 F.2d 1236, 1240 (2d Cir. 1975); McDonnell v. United States, 455 F.2d 91, 96 (8th Cir. 1972). Under Connecticut law a decision regarding a preliminary injunction is not a judgment and is not binding on the court in further proceedings in the same case. See Bridgeport Herald Corp. v. Lower Fairfield County Newsdealers Association, Inc., 22 Conn.Sup. 111, 163 A.2d 658 (Fairfield County Super.Ct.1960). Having determined that the res judicata defense does not apply, I will proceed to consider whether equitable restraint is warranted.


Actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are not subject to the federal anti-injunction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2283. Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 92 S.Ct. 2151, 32 L.Ed.2d 705 (1972). Nor is there any requirement that a plaintiff under § 1983 exhaust his judicial remedies in the state courts before bringing an action in federal court. Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 472-73, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d 505 (1974); Monroe v. Pape, supra, 365 U.S. at 183, 81 S.Ct. 473; Cicero v. Olgiati, 410 F.Supp. 1080, 1086 (S.D.N.Y.1976). Yet when a plaintiff who seeks declaratory or injunctive relief under § 1983 is also party to proceedings in a state court, and where the issues raised by his § 1983 claim are or could be presented for decision in the state court, the doctrine of equitable restraint may require the federal court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction.

The leading modern case in this area is Younger v. Harris, supra, in which a § 1983 plaintiff, asserting federal constitutional claims, sought to enjoin a prosecution pending against him in a California court. The Supreme Court held that a federal court must not enjoin a pending state criminal prosecution on the basis of constitutional objections, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, because the defendant can raise his federal claims as defenses in the state court.

The Younger decision was grounded in part on traditional principles of equity. One of these is the reluctance of courts of equity to restrain a criminal prosecution. 401 U.S. at 43-44, 91 S.Ct. 746. Another is the fundamental requirement that in order to seek equitable relief, a party must have no remedy available at law. In Younger, the federal plaintiff had an adequate remedy in the prosecution pending against him, for his constitutional defenses could be preserved for an...

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