Brown v. Pitchess

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCLARK; WRIGHT
Citation13 Cal.3d 518,119 Cal.Rptr. 204,531 P.2d 772
Parties, 531 P.2d 772 Edward BROWN et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. Peter J. PITCHESS, as Sheriff, etc., et al., Defendants and Appellants. L.A. 30313. In Bank
Decision Date19 February 1975

Page 204

119 Cal.Rptr. 204
13 Cal.3d 518, 531 P.2d 772
Edward BROWN et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
v.
Peter J. PITCHESS, as Sheriff, etc., et al., Defendants and Appellants.
L.A. 30313.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Feb. 19, 1975.

[13 Cal.3d 520]

Page 205

[531 P.2d 773] John H. Larson, County Counsel, and Michael H. Dougherty, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for defendants and appellants.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Jack R. Winkler, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien, Asst. Atty. Gen., Derald E. Granberg and Charles R. B. Kirk, Deputy Attys. Gen., as amici curiae on behalf of defendants and appellants.

Terry Smerling, Richard A. Weisz and Ronald L. Sievers, Long Beach, for plaintiffs and respondents.

Daniel M. Luevano, Rosalyn M. Chapman and Philip L. Goar, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondent.

CLARK, Justice.

This action for declaratory and injunctive relief under the federal Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983) was filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County on behalf of the individual plaintiffs and all other unsentenced Los Angeles County Jail inmates representing themselves against criminal charges. Plaintiff 'pro. pers.' complained of a variety of alleged conditions of their confinement, including the inadequacy of the jail law library and the prohibition against their giving legal assistance to Sentenced inmates.

Denying relief in all other respects, the court granted preliminary injunctions ordering

Page 206

[531 P.2d 774] defendants to: (1) add the Los Angeles Daily Journal and United States Law Week to the collection of the jail law library; and (2) employ an attorney full time to assist Sentenced inmates in preparing petitions challenging the legality of their confinement. Defendants contend the second injunctive order was an abuse or discretion. 1 Before reaching the merits, we must consider the threshold question whether California courts have jurisdiction over federal civil rights suits.

[13 Cal.3d 521] Section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code provides: 'Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . .' deprives another of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the federal Constitution or laws, 'shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceedings for redress.' Defendants contend that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over section 1983 actions.

Unless Congress confers exclusive jurisdiction on federal courts, state courts competent to exercise it have concurrent jurisdiction to enforce federal law in civil actions. (Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney (1962) 368 U.S. 502, 508, 82 S.Ct. 519, 7 L.Ed.2d 483; Grubb v. Public Utilities Comm. (1930) 281 U.S. 470, 476, 50 S.Ct. 374, 74 L.Ed. 972; Claflin v. Houseman (1876) 93 U.S. 130, 136--137, 23 L.Ed. 833; Cox v. Superior Court (1959) 52 Cal.2d 855, 861, 346 P.2d 15; McCarroll v. L.A. County etc. Carpenters (1957) 49 Cal.2d 45, 59, 315 P.2d 322.)

Section 1983 does not itself address the question of jurisdiction. The jurisdictional provision governing section 1983--28 United States Code section 1343(3) 2--confers 'original jurisdiction' on the federal district courts. The phrase 'original jurisdiction' means the power to entertain cases in the first instance, as distinguished from appellate jurisdiction; it does not mean exclusive jurisdiction. (Bors v. Preston (1884) 111 U.S. 252, 4 S.Ct. 407, 28 L.Ed. 419; People of the Territory of Guam v. Rosario (D.Guam 1969) 296 F.Supp. 140, 142.) When intending to confer exclusive, as well as original, jurisdiction on the federal district courts, Congress is quite capable of making itself understood. For example, section 1338(a) of title 28 of the United States Code provides: 'The district courts shall have Original jurisdiction of any civil action arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents, plant variety protection, copyrights and trademarks. Such jurisdiction shall be exclusive of the courts of the states in patent, plant variety protection and copyright cases.' (Italics added.)

The amicus brief of the Attorney General points out that section 1983 as originally enacted provided that proceedings under it were to be [13 Cal.3d 522] prosecuted 'in the several district or circuit courts of the United States.' (Civil Rights Act of 1871, Act of 20 April 1871, § 1, 17 Stat. 13.) However, the language expresses an intent to confer Original, not exclusive, jurisdiction on the federal courts, there being no general federal-question jurisdiction in the lower federal courts at that time. (District of Columbia v. Carter (1973) 409 U.S. 418, 427--428, fns. 20--22, 93 S.Ct. 602, 34 L.Ed.2d 613.) Congress was as capable then as it is now of making its purpose unmistakable when it intended to confer exclusive jurisdiction on the federal courts. For example,

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[531 P.2d 775] the Civil Rights Act of 1866 provided: 'That the district courts of the United States . . . shall have, exclusively of the courts of the several States, cognizance of all crimes and offenses committed against the provisions of this act . . ..' (Act of 9 April 1866, § 3, 14 Stat. 27.) The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was similarly explicit. (Act of 1 March 1875, § 3, 18 Stat. 335, 336.)

The Attorney General argues against concurrent jurisdiction on the ground that section 1983 creates a 'remedy,' not a 'right.' The significance of the purported distinction is never made clear. However, persuasive authority holds that section 1983 does create a substantive 'right.' In determining the limitations period applicable to an action under section 1983, the Court of Appeals in Smith v. Cremins (9th Cir. 1962) 308 F.2d 187, considered whether such an action is based 'upon a liability created by statute,' within the meaning of section 338, subdivision 1, of the California Code of Civil Procedure. The court concluded: 'Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act clearly creates rights and imposes obligations different from any which would exist at common law in the absence of statute. A given state of facts may of course give rise to a cause of action in common-law tort as well as to a cause of action under Section 1983, but the elements of the two are not the same. The elements of an action under Section 1983 are (1) the denial under color of state law (2) of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Neither of these elements would be required to make out a cause of action in common-law tort; both might be present without creating common-law tort liability.' (308 F.2d at p. 190; see Franklin v. City of Marks (5th Cir. 1971) 439 F.2d 665, 669; Glasscoe v. Howell (8th Cir. 1970) 431 F.2d 863, 865.)

The Attorney General's remaining contribution to the discussion is catastrophic metaphor, characterizing the finding of concurrent jurisdiction in this case as having 'loosed a Johnstown flood of litigation which unless checked promises to inundate the judicial system of this State.' This dire prophecy is beside the point, implying as it does that exercise [13 Cal.3d 523] of jurisdiction is discretionary here. To the contrary, 'the existence of (concurrent) jurisdiction creates the duty to exercise it.' (Gerry of...

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51 practice notes
  • Payne v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 3 September 1976
    ...intelligence is limited.' (Johnson v. Avery (1969) supra, 393 U.S. 483, 487, 89 S.Ct. 747, 750, 21 L.Ed.2d 718; Brown v. Pitchess (1975) 13 Cal.3d 518, 524, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 531 P.2d 772.) The quality of the documents this petitioner has filed to date demonstrate it is unlikely that his c......
  • Shoemaker v. Harris, B237986
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 12 June 2013
    ...brought pursuant to section 1983. ( Haywood v. Drown (2009) 556 U.S. 729, 731, 129 S.Ct. 2108, 173 L.Ed.2d 920; Brown v. Pitchess (1975) 13 Cal.3d 518, 521–522, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 531 P.2d 772.) The trial court ruled that Shoemaker's action could not proceed as a civil action under section ......
  • Kristensen v. Strinden, No. 10422
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • 21 December 1983
    ...Board of Regents, 20 Ariz.App. 422, 513 P.2d 960 (1973), vacated on other grounds, 110 Ariz. 367, 519 P.2d 169 (1974); Brown v. Pitchess, 13 Cal.3d 518, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 531 P.2d 772 (1975); Bohacs v. Reid, 63 Ill.App.3d 477, 20 Ill.Dec. 304, 379 N.E.2d 1372 (1978); Alberty v. Daniel, 25 ......
  • Brody v. Leamy
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • 28 February 1977
    ...held that the original language was indicative of an intent to confer nonexclusive jurisdiction on the federal courts (Brown v. Pitchess, 13 Cal.3d 518, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 206, 531 P.2d 772 (Calif. In Bank), discussed Infra). However, our Court of Appeals in the landmark case of Dudley v. M......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
51 cases
  • Payne v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 3 September 1976
    ...intelligence is limited.' (Johnson v. Avery (1969) supra, 393 U.S. 483, 487, 89 S.Ct. 747, 750, 21 L.Ed.2d 718; Brown v. Pitchess (1975) 13 Cal.3d 518, 524, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 531 P.2d 772.) The quality of the documents this petitioner has filed to date demonstrate it is unlikely that his c......
  • Shoemaker v. Harris, B237986
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 12 June 2013
    ...brought pursuant to section 1983. ( Haywood v. Drown (2009) 556 U.S. 729, 731, 129 S.Ct. 2108, 173 L.Ed.2d 920; Brown v. Pitchess (1975) 13 Cal.3d 518, 521–522, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 531 P.2d 772.) The trial court ruled that Shoemaker's action could not proceed as a civil action under section ......
  • Kristensen v. Strinden, No. 10422
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • 21 December 1983
    ...Board of Regents, 20 Ariz.App. 422, 513 P.2d 960 (1973), vacated on other grounds, 110 Ariz. 367, 519 P.2d 169 (1974); Brown v. Pitchess, 13 Cal.3d 518, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 531 P.2d 772 (1975); Bohacs v. Reid, 63 Ill.App.3d 477, 20 Ill.Dec. 304, 379 N.E.2d 1372 (1978); Alberty v. Daniel, 25 ......
  • Brody v. Leamy
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • 28 February 1977
    ...held that the original language was indicative of an intent to confer nonexclusive jurisdiction on the federal courts (Brown v. Pitchess, 13 Cal.3d 518, 119 Cal.Rptr. 204, 206, 531 P.2d 772 (Calif. In Bank), discussed Infra). However, our Court of Appeals in the landmark case of Dudley v. M......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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