Goldie's Bookstore, Inc. v. Superior Court of State of Cal.

Decision Date03 August 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-2564,83-2564
Citation739 F.2d 466
PartiesGOLDIE'S BOOKSTORE, INC., a California Corporation, Foreign Auto-Body Specialists, Inc., Jesse Walker, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF the STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Robbie Waters, Sheriff of Sacramento County, Joyce Russell Smith, Clerk of the Sacramento Superior Court, Lee J. Ghilarducci, Marshal of Sacramento County, Defendants, and Richard Levin and Emily Levin, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Jay-Allen Eisen, Sacramento, Cal., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Michael A. Duncheon, Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Stromberg, San Francisco, Cal., for defendants-appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court For the Eastern District of California.

Before WRIGHT, HUG and NELSON, Circuit Judges.

NELSON, Circuit Judge:

Richard and Emily Levin obtained a state unlawful detainer judgment against Goldie's Bookstore. After the state court denied its request for a stay of the judgment pending appeal, Goldie's brought a section 1983 action in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the California statute making stays discretionary, and to seek a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the state court judgment. The Levins appeal from the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction, 589 F.Supp. 382, claiming that: 1) the district court should have abstained pursuant to the Younger doctrine, and 2) the district court abused its discretion by granting the preliminary injunction. We reverse.


Goldie's Bookstore ("Goldie's") is the sublessee of commercial property in Sacramento owned by Richard and Emily Levin ("the Levins"). In 1983, the Levins prevailed in an unlawful detainer action against Goldie's in California Superior Court, on the ground that the operative lease had expired. Goldie's sought a Superior Court order staying execution of the judgment pending appeal so that it would not have to vacate the premises. Under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1176 ("section 1176"), a tenant in possession appealing from an adverse unlawful detainer judgment is only entitled to a stay A week later, Goldie's filed a section 1983 action in federal court challenging the constitutionality of section 1176 and seeking a preliminary injunction against the execution of the judgment. The defendants in that action were the Superior Court of the State of California; Robbie Waters, Sheriff of Sacramento County; Joyce Russell Smith, Clerk of the Sacramento Superior Court; Lee J. Ghilarducci, Marshal of Sacramento County; and Richard and Emily Levin. The state court judgment was stayed by stipulation pending the hearing on the preliminary injunction.

if the trial court, in its discretion, grants one. The Superior Court denied the stay.

Goldie's' constitutional claim was that section 1176 violates the equal protection clause because it treats parties appealing adverse unlawful detainer judgments differently from all other parties in possession. While Section 917.4 of the California Code of Civil Procedure grants to all non-tenant occupants of real property an automatic stay of an adverse judgment pending appeal, section 1176 places the grant of a stay to a tenant within the discretion of the trial court.

The district court determined that Younger abstention was not warranted. Finding that the constitutional challenge to section 1176 presented a serious question and that the balance of hardships tipped sharply in Goldie's favor, the court granted a preliminary injunction preventing all defendants from enforcing the Levins' state court judgment. 1 The Levins alone appeal from that grant. 2

A. The district court properly decided not to abstain.

The Levins first argue that the district court should have dismissed Goldie's' claim pursuant to the principles of federalism enunciated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971) ("Younger "), and its progeny. The decision whether to abstain under Younger is reviewable de novo. See Champion International Corp. v. Brown, 731 F.2d 1406 (9th Cir.1984) (implicitly applying de novo standard of review).

The Federal Anti-Injunction Act provides that a federal court "may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a state court ...." 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2283 (1978). However, civil rights action under section 1983 are among the exceptions to the Act that have been "expressly authorized by Act of Congress." Id.; see Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 243, 92 S.Ct. 2151, 2162, 32 L.Ed.2d 705 (1972). As the Supreme Court said in Mitchum, "[t]he very purpose of Sec. 1983 was to interpose the federal courts between the States and the people, ... to protect the people from unconstitutional action under color of state law." Id. at 242, 92 S.Ct. at 2162.

Even in section 1983 cases, however, the Younger doctrine may require a federal court to abstain from exercising its jurisdiction in certain actions when proceedings are pending in state court. In Younger, the Supreme Court first articulated the principle that a federal court should not interfere with an ongoing state criminal prosecution. The Court based its holding on two grounds: first, the general reluctance of equity courts to disrupt criminal proceedings, and second, notions of federal-state comity expressed as "Our Federalism." 401 U.S. at 43-44, 91 S.Ct. at 750-751.

The Court has not limited the application of the Younger doctrine to state criminal proceedings; on the other hand, it has refused to make any pronouncement that Younger applies to all civil cases. Most recently, in Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982) ("Middlesex "), the Court applied Younger to state bar disciplinary procedures. It articulated three requirements for the proper invocation of Younger: (1) there are ongoing state judicial proceedings, (2) the proceedings implicate important state interests, and (3) there is an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise federal questions. Id. at 432, 102 S.Ct. at 2521. In this case, the first and third elements are satisfied. The only issue, therefore, is whether the state unlawful detainer proceedings implicate important state interests.

The Middlesex Court enumerated various civil proceedings in which a state might have a vital interest. The first illustration was a proceeding bearing a close relationship to a criminal proceeding, such as a nuisance abatement. The second illustration was a proceeding necessary for the vindication of important state policies, such as a civil proceeding for the recovery of welfare payments fraudulently received. The third illustration was a proceeding necessary for the functioning of the state judicial system, such as a civil contempt proceeding. Id.

In Miofsky v. Superior Court, 703 F.2d 332 (9th Cir.1983) ("Miofsky "), we were faced with the question whether Younger should be extended to civil litigation in general. There the defendant in a state tort action brought a section 1983 suit contending that the state court's denial of his motion for a protective order violated his constitutional rights. In determining that abstention was not appropriate, we initially analyzed the extent to which the Court has applied Younger to noncriminal cases. We stated:

In each of these cases, the state or an agent of the state was a party to the proceeding deemed insulated from federal court intervention. In addition, each of these civil suits bore similarities to criminal proceedings or otherwise implicated state interests vital to the operation of state government. In short, none of these cases authorizes our departure from the traditional distinction between civil and criminal proceedings as originally set forth in Younger. Indeed, in Middlesex, the Court carefully avoided the implication that the Younger doctrine applied indiscriminately to civil proceedings.

703 F.2d at 337 (footnote omitted). Thus, the Court has extended Younger beyond its application to criminal cases in only a limited area.

We concluded that Miofsky's state proceeding was "private tort litigation" not brought to "vindicate a vital state interest," id. at 338, and that Younger abstention was therefore not required. We emphasized that the federal courts have an obligation to exercise their jurisdiction, that the obligation is particularly weighty when the relief is sought under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, and that the doctrine of abstention is an extraordinary and narrow exception to that obligation. Id. at 338. See also Champion International Corp. v. Brown, 731 F.2d 1406 (9th Cir.1984) (where federal court jurisdiction based on preemption).

Here, as in Miofsky, we simply have litigation between two private parties. The Levins concede that the state dispute over

                possession is a private one, but argue that Goldie's' federal constitutional attack on section 1176 clearly implicates the interests of the State of California.  The Younger inquiry, however, focuses not on the potential federal proceedings, but on the ongoingstate proceedings.   See Middlesex, 457 U.S. at 432, 102 S.Ct. at 2521.  The issues in the state proceedings are whether Goldie's' lease has expired and whether Goldie's should obtain a stay of an adverse unlawful detainer judgment pending appeal.  These proceedings do not implicate important state interests of the type illustrated in Middlesex.    The district court therefore properly refused to abstain from adjudicating Goldie's' claim
B. The district court improperly granted a preliminary injunction.

The Levins' second argument is that the district court improperly granted Goldie's' request for a preliminary injunction. The grant of a preliminary injunction is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Wilson v. Watt, 703 F.2d 395, 398 (9th Cir.1983). A court may abuse its discretion by applying an incorrect...

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