Lamb Enterprises, Inc. v. Kiroff

Decision Date31 January 1977
Docket NumberNos. 75-2450-54,s. 75-2450-54
Citation549 F.2d 1052
PartiesLAMB ENTERPRISES, INC., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Judge George N. KIROFF et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

T. Scott Johnston, Hayward, Cooper, Straub, Walinski, Cramer & Co., L.P.A., Richard S. Walinski, Toledo, Ohio, for defendants-appellants.

Robert Gosline, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, Toledo, Ohio, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before PHILLIPS, Chief Judge, and McCREE and ENGEL, Circuit Judges.

PHILLIPS, Chief Judge.

The Court of Common Pleas of Lucas County, Ohio, dismissed a suit filed by Russell Morton Brown to recover attorney's fees from Lamb Enterprises, Inc. (Lamb). In Brown v. Lamb, 36 Ohio St.2d 8, 302 N.E.2d 578 (1973), the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed and remanded the case to the State trial court for further proceedings. In its opinion in the present case, reported at 399 F.Supp. 409 (N.D.Ohio 1975), the District Court enjoined the State trial judge from proceeding with the disposition of the case as directed by the Supreme Court of Ohio. We reverse on the ground of unwarranted interference by the United States District Court in litigation over which State courts have jurisdiction. We hold that the District Court should have exercised equitable restraint and left this litigation for resolution in the State Courts of Ohio. Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975); Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971); Louisville Area Interfaith Committee v. Nottingham Liquors, 542 F.2d 652 (6th Cir. 1976).


The suit was filed in the State court in 1959 to recover compensation claimed by Brown for legal services rendered in connection with proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission for the renewal of a license to operate a television station in Erie, Pennsylvania.

While the Ohio action was pending in the Court of Common Pleas, Brown filed a second action for the same attorney's fees and against the same defendants in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia action was filed after it ostensibly was barred by the three-year statute of limitations established by District of Columbia Code § 12-301(7), but Brown pleaded facts that he claimed avoided the operation of the statute. Jurisdiction was established in the District of Columbia and on November 1, 1967, a jury returned a verdict for Brown for $400,000. On December 22, 1967, District Judge Matthews of the federal district court granted a defense motion for judgment n. o. v. on the ground that the District of Columbia action was commenced after the expiration of the District of Columbia's statute of limitations, and Brown had not produced evidence of "a new or continuing contract (for attorney's fees) . . . " to take the case out of the statute of limitations. Brown appealed the District Court judgment n. o. v. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed. Brown v. Lamb, 134 U.S.App.D.C. 314, 414 F.2d 1210 (1969). The Supreme Court denied certiorari. 397 U.S. 907, 90 S.Ct. 904, 25 L.Ed.2d 88 (1970).

While the District of Columbia action was proceeding through the federal courts, the Ohio Common Pleas Court, sua sponte, kept the Ohio action in an inactive status. Apparently through inadvertence, however, the Ohio case was dismissed for want of prosecution on March 24, 1969. Brown, already unsuccessful in the District of Columbia litigation, acted to have the erroneous dismissal remedied, and on October 5, 1970, the case was reinstated. Lamb then moved the Common Pleas Court for reconsideration of the reinstatement. On March 6, 1972, a visiting judge ruled that the case should not have been reinstated and vacated the order of reinstatement, stating as grounds both want of prosecution and that the District of Columbia judgment n. o. v. barred the Ohio action on principles of res judicata. Brown appealed this last order of dismissal. The Ohio Court of Appeals, without ruling on the res judicata question, affirmed the trial court's judgment of dismissal. The Supreme Court of Ohio, in a per curiam opinion reported at 36 Ohio St.2d 8, 302 N.E.2d 578 (1973), reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the Common Pleas Court for further proceedings.

On remand, Lamb filed an "Amended Motion to Dismiss," again insisting that the Ohio Common Pleas action had been abandoned and that the defendants faced "double vexation" in the Ohio courts. This motion was denied by Judge George N. Kiroff of the Common Pleas Court of Lucas County, Ohio. 1 Judge Kiroff thereafter granted leave for Brown to amend his complaint, to add new parties and to proceed with discovery. Judge Kiroff indicated that the Ohio action would be readied for trial.

On September 13, 1974, Lamb and other defendants in the state court initiated in the District Court the action from which this appeal arises. Invoking federal court jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), and alleging a cause of action for deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Lamb asked the District Court to enjoin the reinstated proceedings in the Ohio state court on the ground that any further prosecution of the state court action would violate the full faith and credit due the District of Columbia judgment.

The District Court, citing Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Hunt, 320 U.S. 430, 64 S.Ct. 208, 88 L.Ed. 149 (1943), determined that the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution and its implementing statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, 2 created rights which may be asserted via a civil rights action under § 1983. The Court found that Lamb had presented an appropriate case for federal court injunction of purely civil state court proceedings, and enjoined further proceedings in the Ohio suit so as to give Lamb the protection of the full faith and credit clause. Judge Kiroff, Brown and three other defendants appeal the order of the District Court permanently enjoining them from continuing with the reinstated action for attorney's fees in the Ohio Court of Common Pleas.


Appellants' principal contention on this appeal is that under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), and cases since which purport to extend the analysis of Younger into the context of federal court injunction of state civil proceedings, the District Court injunction was an unwarranted exercise of federal supervision over the state courts of Ohio. Specifically, appellants say that the District Court correctly determined to apply Younger analysis to the case at hand, but incorrectly stated the test set down by the Supreme Court in Younger and thus failed to consider whether the state court action had been initiated in bad faith or with intent to harass as it must be, according to appellants, before a federal court injunction would be appropriate.

Appellees argue in the alternative that Younger-Huffman 3 analysis should not apply, but that "extraordinary circumstances, bad faith and harassment" are present sufficient to satisfy Younger-Huffman and to make this a proper case for federal court injunction. The District Court undertook to apply Younger-Huffman but reached the alternative conclusion urged by appellees that this is the exceptional situation wherein federal intervention is appropriate. We agree, in line with Inter-Faith Committee v. Nottingham, supra, 542 F.2d 652 (6th Cir. 1976), and the decisions of this and other circuits cited therein, that Younger-Huffman analysis is the correct approach to determining whether the injunction should have issued in this case. We hold that the District Court erred, however, in its characterization and application of the Younger-Huffman test.


This circuit has joined the growing number of circuits that have looked to Younger as a guide for determining when a federal court may properly enjoin state civil proceedings. See Inter-Faith Committee v. Nottingham, supra, 542 F.2d 652 (6th Cir. 1976), and Sixth Circuit cases cited therein. To date, the Supreme Court has sanctioned this development in the context of a "quasi-criminal" civil nuisance proceeding, but the court has made ". . . no general pronouncements upon the applicability of Younger to all civil litigation." Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 607, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 1209, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975). In support of the decision to apply Younger to appraise the propriety of federal court injunction of state civil proceedings, this court stated in Inter-Faith, supra :

Although the Supreme Court has left open the applicability of Younger-Huffman doctrine to general civil litigation, Huffman, supra, 95 S.Ct. at 1208, 1209, bolstering us in our application of Younger-Huffman doctrine to bar federal court interference with pending state court civil proceedings are this court's oft-expressed reluctance to interfere in state court proceedings, see, e. g., Littleton v. Fisher, 530 F.2d 691, 693 (6th Cir. 1976), King v. Jones, 450 F.2d 478 (6th Cir. 1971), vacated as moot, 405 U.S. 911, 92 S.Ct. 956, 30 L.Ed.2d 780 (1972), Appalachian Volunteers, Inc. v. Clark, 432 F.2d 530 (6th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. 939, 91 S.Ct. 936, 28 L.Ed.2d 219 (1971), and other courts' application of Younger-Huffman doctrine to bar interference in state court civil proceedings.

542 F.2d 654 (6th Cir. 1976).

Inter-Faith, decided by this court after the filing of briefs in the instant case, is dispositive of the question of whether the strict Younger-Huffman requirements for federal court injunctive relief should be applied to the facts here presented. In Inter-Faith, the state proceeding against which a federal court injunction was sought was a purely civil action for an order restraining mass picketing and marching in a labor dispute. This court, speaking through Judge Peck, stated that federal courts are reluctant to interfere with state proceedings and will...

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