Jehovah's Witnesses in State of Wash. v. King County Hosp.

Decision Date08 June 1967
Docket NumberCiv. No. 6595.
Citation278 F. Supp. 488
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Washington



Kenneth A. MacDonald, Frederic C. Tausend, Seattle, Wash., W. Glen How, Q. C., Toronto, Canada, Daniel Brink, Seattle, Wash., for plaintiffs.

John J. O'Connell, State Atty. Gen., James B. Wilson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Seattle, Wash., Robert E. Schillberg, Snohomish County Pros. Atty., Donald E. Priest, Deputy Snohomish County Pros. Atty., Everett, Wash., Charles O. Carroll, King County Pros. Atty., John M. Watson, James E. Kennedy, Deputy Pros. Attys. for King County, Seattle, Wash., Anderson & Hunter, Everett, Wash., Little & Jones, Charles T. Sharp, Clarkston, Wash., Williams, Lanza, Kastner & Gibbs, Holman, Marion, Perkins, Coie & Stone, Seattle, Wash., for defendants.

Before HAMLEY, Circuit Judge, and LINDBERG and BEEKS, District Judges.



The Jehovah's Witnesses, a minority religious group; the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, legal governing agency for the Jehovah's Witnesses; and individually-named Jehovah's Witnesses, including minors as well as adults; have brought the above-entitled action on their own behalf and as a class action on behalf of all Jehovah's Witnesses in the State of Washington. The prayer of the complaint asks that a special three-judge district court be convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284 for the purposes of declaring the legal rights of the plaintiffs and permanently enjoining all defendants, individually and as a class, from administering blood transfusions to plaintiffs in the future, as defendants allegedly have done in the past, in violation of certain constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.

The parties defendant are individually-named Superior Court judges, Juvenile Court employees, hospitals and hospital personnel, and physicians; also physicians named as representatives of a class which includes all medical doctors in the State of Washington who are employed in and paid by public institutions operating directly with funds raised entirely or in part from the taxpayers of the State of Washington, or operating under funds granted to said hospitals by the United States government; physicians named as representatives of a class that includes all medical doctors licensed to practice medicine or surgery in the State of Washington; hospitals named as representatives of a class which includes all hospitals in the State of Washington operated by the state, a county, or by any public hospital district; and hospitals named as representatives of a class which includes all licensed hospitals in the State of Washington excepting the type of "public" hospitals immediately referred to.

The state statute challenged as unconstitutional and giving rise to the request for the special three-judge court is the Juvenile Court Act of the State of Washington, R.C.W. 13.04, and more particularly sections 13.04.010(12) and 13.04.095 of said act. Plaintiffs contend that these particular sections of the act on their face and as applied to the plaintiffs are unconstitutional and invalid. The gist of the plaintiffs' complaint is that the defendant Superior Court judges pursuant to their authority under the Juvenile Court Act and upon petitions by the defendant doctors or hospital personnel have taken the children of plaintiffs and removed them from the protection of their parents by having such children declared wards of the court simply because plaintiffs in the exercise of their judgment disagree with the opinions of the defendant physicians and decline to accept blood transfusions for their children.

All defendants have filed and argued motions to dismiss. At the hearing on said motions the court sua sponte raised the question of its jurisdiction to hear the case at bar, referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 61 S.Ct. 480, 85 L. Ed. 800 (1941), and requested briefs on the jurisdictional issue. After consideration of the briefs the court has concluded to reserve until a hearing on the merits its ruling on the jurisdictional issue as well as other issues raised by the motions to dismiss the Superior Court judges, the physicians, hospitals, and hospital personnel as to the eight cases set forth in the pretrial order No. 11 and the two cases in the supplemental complaint2 wherein court orders were obtained pursuant to R.C.W. 13.04.010(12), declaring the children of Jehovah's Witnesses wards of the court and permitting blood transfusions to be given to such children.

Before the court for further decision at this time are the motions to dismiss the suit as to the remaining defendants, contentions and issues. The initial issue with respect to these motions is the jurisdiction of a three-judge district court to hear and decide issues related to but in no way directly bearing upon the action challenging on constitutional grounds the application of a state statute.

In pretrial order No. 1 and in the affidavit of Kenneth MacDonald filed for consideration with motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction (document 87) plaintiffs delineate four cases3 wherein the constitutional rights of adult Jehovah's Witnesses are alleged to have been violated, but the contested action was not taken pursuant to the constitutionally-challenged state statute. In the supplemental complaint plaintiffs depict another situation4 involving an adult Jehovah's Witness for whom a guardian was appointed to consent to a blood transfusion which the patient had refused on religious grounds. This alleged violation of constitutional rights likewise did not occur from an act based on the challenged state statute. These additional acts plaintiffs claim are actionable constitutional violations under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S. C. § 1983. The question is whether the three-judge district court may properly hear questions based on violation of the Civil Rights Act.

The three-judge district court is a statutory creature with a limited sphere of operation. It is an extraordinary court and technical requirements relating to its jurisdiction are to be strictly construed. Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 82 S.Ct. 549, 7 L.Ed.2d 512 (1962); Gate Film Club v. Pesce, 236 F.Supp. 828 (S.D.N.Y.1964). Section 2281 of title 28 of the United States Code sets out the jurisdictional limitations binding on a three-judge court: 1) an interlocutory or permanent injunction must be sought; 2) the injunction sought must be one to restrain the action of a state officer or administrative agency; 3) the action sought to be enjoined must consist of the enforcement or execution of a state statute; 4) the injunction must be sought on the ground that the state statute is unconstitutional. Moreover, generally a disputed substantial federal question must be presented. See Bartlett & Co., Grain v. State Corp. Comm. of Kansas, 223 F.Supp. 975 (Kan.1963). The statutory requirements for three-judge court jurisdiction are requirements of substance, not of form. See Wilentz v. Sovereign Camp, 306 U.S. 573, 59 S.Ct. 709, 83 L.Ed. 994 (1939).5 Thus, it is specifically stated that the questionable action must be taken in the enforcement or execution of a state statute; the acts of the state which are attacked must be based on the constitutionally-challenged statute.

The policy behind the convening of a three-judge court is that a single judge ought not to be empowered to invalidate a state statute under a federal claim. It is significant that in Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111, 86 S.Ct. 258, 15 L.Ed.2d 194 (1965), although in another context, the Supreme Court has recently emphasized the restrictive interpretation to be given to section 2281 cases, overruling the court's more liberal holding in Kesler v. Dept. of Public Safety, 369 U.S. 153, 82 S.Ct. 807, 7 L.Ed.2d 641 (1962) as to the cases encompassed by the three-judge procedure. In Wickham the court notes that "Section 2281 was designed to provide a more responsible forum for the litigation of suits which, if successful, would render void state statutes embodying important state policies." (382 U.S. 111, 119, 86 S.Ct. 258, 263, emphasis added). Such policy and the limitations of section 2281 must be considered in appraising the additional issues plaintiffs request the three-judge court to determine.

The issue of whether or not conduct of judges, physicians, hospitals, and hospital personnel is actionable under the Civil Rights Act is not germane in determining the jurisdiction of a three-judge court. The fact that a single district court judge would have jurisdiction to hear questions arising under the Civil Rights Act is not determinative of the jurisdiction of a three-judge district court. The claim that constitutional rights have been violated by state action not based upon or taken pursuant to a specific statute is not, under the wording or a reasonable interpretation of the federal statute, sufficient to vest a three-judge court with the authority to consider the claim. As stated previously, the issues properly posed for determination by a three-judge court arise from the enforcement or execution of a state statute, which is claimed to violate constitutional rights. The questions involving the adult Jehovah's Witnesses were not and are not predicated on R.C.W. 13.04, or on any other constitutionally-challenged state statute. Nor is it answer enough to say that because a three-judge court is considering constitutional questions arising from actions taken pursuant to the enforcement or execution of a challenged state statute, such court has "pendant" jurisdiction to hear closely-related matters. This court does not intend to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
68 cases
  • Parker v. Ohio
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • May 23, 2003 have controlling authority. At least one statutory three-judge district court agrees. See Jehovah's Witnesses in Washington v. King County Hosp., 278 F.Supp. 488, 502-3 (W.D. Wash. 1967) ("In this special three-judge court case we are not bound by any judicial decisions other than those ......
  • Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • October 5, 1989
    ...and parental rights. Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 64 S.Ct. 438, 88 L.Ed. 645 (1944); Jehovah's Witnesses v. King County Hospital, 278 F.Supp. 488, 504 (W.D.N.D.Wash.1967), aff'd, 390 U.S. 598, 88 S.Ct. 1260, 20 L.Ed.2d 158 The evidence at trial established that exposure to the rit......
  • Eric B., In re
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • February 25, 1987
    ...(1962) 16 A.D.2d 755, 227 N.Y.S.2d 450; In re Clark (Ohio Com.Pl.1962) 185 N.E.2d 128, see also Jehovah's Witnesses in State of Wash. v. King County Hosp. (W.D.Wash.1967) 278 F.Supp. 488, affd. per curiam (1968) 390 U.S. 598, 88 S.Ct. 1260, 20 L.Ed.2d 158.) Transfusions and operations have ......
  • In re Green
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • June 28, 1972
    ...transfusions for children of Jehovah's Witnesses where the blood transfusion 'was or would be vital to save the life of the patient.' Jehovah's Witnesses in State Washington v. King County Hospital, 278 F.Supp. 488, 503 n. 10 (W.D.Wash.1967). Relying on Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 books & journal articles
  • The Legal Status of Conversion Therapy
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law No. XXII-1, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...parental freedom and authority in things affecting the child’s welfare.” Id. at 167.121. Jehovah’s Witnesses v. King Cnty. Hosp., 278 F. Supp. 488, 504 (W.D. Wash. 1967), aff’d percuriam, 390 U.S. 598.122. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66 (2000).123. Id. at 87–89.124. Doe v. Christie, 3......
  • Is 'substituted judgment' a valid legal concept?
    • United States
    • Issues in Law & Medicine Vol. 5 No. 2, September 1989
    • September 22, 1989
    ...can make that choice for themselves." Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 170 (1944). See Jehovah's Witnesses v. King County Hosp., 278 F. Supp. 488, 504 (W.D. Wash. 1967), aff'd, 390 U.S. 598 (1968); Morrison v. State, 252 S.W.2d 97, 100 (Mo. Ct. App. 1952); see In re Ivey, 319 So. 2d 5......
  • Article I, Section 11: a Poor "plan B" for Washington's Religious Pharmacists
    • United States
    • University of Whashington School of Law University of Washington Law Review No. 85-4, June 2016
    • Invalid date
    ...11 (1905)); blood transfusions for a child over the parents' religious objections, id. (citing Jehovah's Witnesses v. King Cnty. Hosp., 278 F. Supp. 488 (W.D. Wash 1967)); and requiring a child to undergo cancer treatment over parents' objections, id. (citing In re Hamilton, 657 S.W.2d 425 ......
  • Medical discrimination against children with disabilities: a report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
    • United States
    • Issues in Law & Medicine Vol. 6 No. 3, December 1990
    • December 22, 1990
    ...service agencies anonymously, so that whistle blowers are not placed at any risk. (44)Jehovah's Witnesses v. King's County Hospital, 278 F. Supp. 488 (1968) (per curiam), aff'd per curiam, 390 U.S. 598 (1968). (45)Custody of a Minor, 393 N.E.2d 836 (1979). (46)Maine Medical Center v. Houle,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT