J. P. v. DeSanti

Decision Date15 July 1981
Docket Number79-3479,Nos. 79-3478,s. 79-3478
Citation653 F.2d 1080
PartiesJ. P., et al., Plaintiffs, M. R., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees, v. Andrew J. DeSANTI, et al., Defendants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants. . Decided and Filed
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Kenneth D. Petrey, Margaret L. Terry, Cleveland, Ohio, for plaintiffs-appellants, cross-appellees.

John T. Corrigan, Prosecuting Atty., Thomas P. Gill, Cleveland, Ohio, for defendants-appellees, cross-appellants.

Before MERRITT, BROWN and KENNEDY, Circuit Judges.


This case requires us to decide whether under the principles first articulated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), the District Court was obliged to abstain from deciding a class action challenge to certain aspects of state juvenile court procedures, and further, whether there exists a constitutional right of privacy which is violated by disclosure of juvenile court records. The District Court ruled that abstention was inappropriate. It reached the merits of all of the issues raised by appellant class, in the process finding a constitutional right to nondisclosure. We reverse.

This action was brought by appellants, the class of juveniles who have appeared in the past or may appear in the future before the Juvenile Court of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on complaints of delinquency, unruliness, neglect, dependency and abuse. Appellees/cross-appellants (appellees) are those employees of the juvenile court responsible for compiling social histories of juveniles, submitting them to the judges, and maintaining custody of the social histories after disposition of a juvenile's case.

When a young person is brought before the Juvenile Court of Cuyahoga County Ohio, it is the practice of the court's probation officers to compile a social history of the juvenile. Social histories contain information from a number of sources, including the complaining parties, the juveniles themselves, their parents, school records, and their past records in the juvenile court. They also include any information on record pertaining to other members of the family, and any other information that the probation officer thinks is relevant to the disposition of a case before the juvenile court. Receipt of written consent from juveniles or their families is not a prerequisite to compilation of social histories, and although access to social histories is available to juveniles' lawyers, access is not available to juveniles or their families.

Ohio R.Juv.P. 32 authorizes submission of a social history to the juvenile court judge for certain limited purposes prior to adjudication of a juvenile's case on the merits. The District Court found that the practice in Cuyahoga County is to make the social history available to the court before the adjudicatory hearing as a matter of course, although the juvenile court judges did not consult the social history prior to adjudication or an admission by the juvenile. The District Court also found that juvenile court referees frequently discuss a juvenile's case ex parte with probation officers before an adjudicatory hearing. At the conclusion of a case the social history is kept on file at the juvenile court, where, upon request, it is available to 55 different government, social and religious agencies that belong to a "social services clearinghouse."

Appellants brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enjoin the juvenile court's use of social histories as unconstitutional. Appellants further asserted that insofar as Ohio R.Juv.P. 32 authorizes the pre-adjudication use of social histories, it, too, is unconstitutional. In addition, two named members of appellant class demanded $25,000 damages for violation of their constitutional right to privacy.

Appellees moved the District Court to abstain on the basis of Younger v. Harris. The District Court denied the motion and proceeded to enjoin all ex parte communications between juvenile court judges and probation officers before a juvenile's adjudicatory hearing. It made receipt of written consent from juveniles or their parents a prerequisite to compilation of the social history, but did not require that juveniles receive an exhaustive list of the consequences of consenting. It ruled that juveniles and their families must be afforded pre-adjudication access to the social histories. The District Court held that Rule 32 is constitutional insofar as it provides for limited pre-adjudication use of social histories, but it enjoined the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court from any pre-adjudication use not specified in Rule 32. The District Judge denied the claim for damages, but found that the post-adjudication dissemination of social histories violated appellants' constitutional right to privacy. He limited post-adjudication dissemination of social histories to employees of the juvenile court, and established detailed procedures under which those employees could obtain access.


In Younger v. Harris the Supreme Court held that absent extraordinary circumstances a federal court should not enjoin a pending state criminal proceeding. Subsequent decisions have made clear that the policy of equitable restraint expressed in Younger was not based on factors unique to a criminal trial:

(Younger ) reflects a strong policy against federal intervention in state judicial processes in the absence of great and irreparable injury to the federal plaintiff .... The basic concern that threat to our federal system posed by displacement of state courts by those of the National Government is also fully applicable to civil proceedings in which important state interests are involved.

Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 423, 99 S.Ct. 2371, 2377, 60 L.Ed.2d 994 (1979). See also, Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434, 444, 97 S.Ct. 1911, 1918, 52 L.Ed.2d 486 (1977).

Appellants' suit challenges the methods by which an Ohio juvenile court administers complaints involving Ohio youth. This is a matter in which the State of Ohio unquestionably has important interests. Thus, Younger principles of abstention are called into play if there existed a pending or ongoing juvenile proceeding.

The District Court's first ground for denying appellees' motion to abstain was that "(t)he principles of Younger are inapplicable to the instant action, inasmuch as the Juvenile Court proceeding against (a named class member) has been resolved." In reaching this conclusion the District Judge did not have the benefit of our decision in Parker v. Turner, 626 F.2d 1 (6th Cir. 1980). In that case a class of plaintiffs consisting of indigent fathers who were under a state court order to pay child support sought to guarantee that the juvenile court would observe due process of law when citing them for contempt for nonpayment. We held that Younger barred the federal suit, although there was no showing that any member of the class was currently the subject of a state contempt proceeding. Judge Merritt, concurring, noted that the "pending state proceeding" hurdle had been cleared because the relief sought on behalf of the class would affect all pending state contempt proceedings for nonpayment. 626 F.2d at 10.

The same reasoning applies with even more force here. Appellant class consists of

those juveniles appearing before the juvenile court on complaints of delinquency, unruliness, neglect, dependency, and abuse who are adversely affected by the preparation and use of "social histories" prior to an adjudicatory hearing of the outstanding charges and retention and dissemination of those "social histories" or information therefrom subsequent to the final disposition of the pending charges.

In its order certifying the class the District Court relied on the fact that the proposed class consisted of approximately 11,000 juveniles per year who appear before the juvenile court and are subject to the complained of practices. It is a certainty that there are always juvenile court proceedings pending with respect to some class members. Thus, Younger required the District Court to abstain unless some exception to the doctrine applied.

The District Court's alternative ground for declining to abstain was that the use of social histories by juvenile court referees and judges "is merely collateral to the adjudicatory proceedings conducted by the Juvenile Court, and the declaratory and injunctive relief demanded by the plaintiff will therefore not substantially interfere with the administration of the Juvenile Court." (Emphasis added) Hence, the court concluded, the rationale for abstention did not apply. In so holding, the District Judge relied on Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 95 S.Ct. 854, 43 L.Ed.2d 54 (1975), and Conover v. Montemuro, 477 F.2d 1073 (3d Cir. 1973). 1

The Supreme Court held in Gerstein v. Pugh that Younger did not bar a federal suit by a state defendant in pretrial custody who sought a probable cause hearing before he could be further detained. The Court reasoned that since the federal issue could not be raised as a defense to the criminal prosecution, and federal resolution of the pretrial detention issue "could not prejudice the conduct of the trial on the merits," the federal court could grant relief. 420 U.S. at 108 n.9, 95 S.Ct. at 860 n.9. The Supreme Court reviewed Gerstein as follows in Moore v. Sims, supra: "(Gerstein ) held that the District Court properly found that the action was not barred by Younger because the injunction was not addressed to a state proceeding and therefore would not interfere with the criminal prosecutions themselves." 442 U.S. at 431, 99 S.Ct. at 2381. Because the relief granted in Gerstein caused some interference with Florida's handling of its criminal prosecution, the Court's statements in Gerstein and Moore can be read to imply that abstention is not called for where the interference with state proceedings is of a magnitude less than or equal to that at issue...

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