Mandel v. Hutchinson

Decision Date21 December 1971
Docket NumberCiv. No. 71-2327.
Citation336 F. Supp. 772
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California
PartiesLeonard Howard MANDEL individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. Donald J. HUTCHINSON, etc., et al., Defendants.

Irachmil B. Taus, II, Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff.

John D. Maharg, County Counsel of the County of Los Angeles, Dewitt W. Clinton, and Douglas V. Hart, Deputy County Counsels, Los Angeles, Cal., for defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER DENYING REQUEST FOR THREE-JUDGE COURT AND DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH PREJUDICE

HAUK, District Judge.

This matter arises upon the Complaint of Plaintiff on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated against the Assessors and Tax Collectors of each of the fifty-eight counties of the State of California. Plaintiff alleges that the residency requirements of Article XIII, Section 1¼ of the California Constitution violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that it interferes with interstate commerce, and that it has a "chilling effect" on the right of veterans of other States to move to California.

Plaintiff alleges that he has fulfilled all conditions precedent to the exemption, except the residency requirements, and that he was denied the exemption solely because of this failure. Plaintiff seeks the convening of a three-judge court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284 to hear and determine the question of whether Article XIII, Section 1¼1 of the California Constitution taken in conjunction with California Rev. and Tax. Code, Section 205 (West 1970)2 (which defines and describes who is a veteran) is unconstitutional as applied.

Plaintiff claims Federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), (Civil Rights) and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 (Declaratory Judgment).

Plaintiff seeks to permanently enjoin the enforcement of the residency requirement by restraining the Assessors from denying the exemption to any veteran, and by enjoining the Tax Collectors from collecting the taxes due from that Class of veterans held non-exempt because of failure to meet the residency requirement. Plaintiff further seeks a tax refund for the Class equal to the dollar amount of the exemptions which have been denied veterans for non-residency since 1965.

Article XIII, Section 1¼ of the California Constitution exempts from taxation property up to the amount of $1,000 of veterans who own property valued at less than $5,000 and who were residents of California either at the time of entry into military service or on November 3, 1964, the date on which the residency requirement was added to the Constitution.

The Court originally heard the motion to convene the three-judge court and the request for interlocutory injunction on November 1, 1971. At that hearing the Court denied the motion for temporary restraining order and for an interlocutory injunction pendente lite and ordered the motion for a three-judge court continued to December 6, 1971, in order to enable the Los Angeles County Counsel to obtain authorization to represent the Assessors and Tax Collectors of the fifty-eight counties of California. Said authorization having been obtained and the Defendants having filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint and the Court having heard, considered and analyzed the arguments and having reviewed and considered all the pleadings filed herein, including the Complaint, the Application for Convening a Statutory Three-Judge Court And For An Interlocutory Injunction, the Defendants' Statement and Supplemental Statement In Opposition thereto and also the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Plaintiff's Memorandum of Opposition to said motion and the Defendants' Reply thereto, along with the respective points and authorities submitted by all parties, the Court now renders its Decision and Order denying the request for a three-judge court, and dismissing the Complaint with prejudice.

Initially, this Court must determine what criteria are to be used in deciding the question of whether or not a three-judge court should be convened. Recently we were presented with the identical query in a complaint requesting the convening of a three-judge court to determine the constitutionality of a Federal statute.3 In that case we stated our intention of following the First Circuit's view of the District Judge's function when presented with a request for the convening of a three-judge court. That circuit, speaking through Chief Judge Aldrich in the case of Merced Rosa v. Herrero, 423 F.2d 591, 593 (1st Cir. 1970), held that "in determining whether a complaint alleges a case appropriate for a three-judge court the district judge performs a judicial, as distinguished from a ministerial function" and accordingly, he must ascertain whether the "request possesses a reasonable degree of legal merit." In determining whether the instant Complaint "possesses a reasonable degree of legal merit" we must be mindful of the "serious drain upon the federal judicial system" which the needless convening of a three-judge court can produce. Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 250, 61 S.Ct. 480, 483, 85 L.Ed. 800 (1941).4 Of course, the convocation of a three-judge court, in a situation where the Federal court typically abstains from exercising jurisdiction is a most inexcusable depletion of judicial energy and it would be foolhardy to advocate that the District Judge should, when confronted with this type of situation, still request the convening of this tri-partite bench. A fortiori, to request the convening of a three-judge court in a case lacking a basis for Federal jurisdiction is even more imprudent.

Consequently, the instant request for the convening of a three-judge court must be denied, as it is deficient for both of the aforestated reasons.

1. FEDERAL ABSTENTION

Recently the Supreme Court reiterated and reemphasized the import of certain fundamental tenets underlying our Federal system relative to Federal-State judicial independence.5 Mr. Justice Black speaking for the Court in the case of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971) chronicles the Federal Court's long standing aversion to interference with the rightful independence of the States. Comparing a Congressional Act of 1793 which unconditionally provided "Nor shall a writ of injunction be granted to stay proceedings in any court of a state" 1 Stat. 335, c. 22, § 5 with 28 U.S.C. § 2283, its present day successor, Mr. Justice Black graphically illustrates how few and minor have been the exceptions granted from the flat prohibitory language of the old Act. While admitting that the precise reasons for the long-standing public policy against Federal interference with State functions have never been specifically identified, Justice Black remarks that:

"What the concept does represent is a system in which there is sensitivity to the legitimate interests of both State and National Governments and in which the National Government, anxious though it may be to vindicate and protect federal rights and federal interests, always endeavors to do so in ways that will not unduly interfere with the legitimate activities of the States." Younger v. Harris, supra, at 44, 91 S.Ct. at 750.

Thus we see that Federal abstention is based on principles of comity. These principles require restraint when judicial interference with State taxation is sought. The leading case on Federal abstention from suits seeking to enjoin the collection of State taxes is Matthews v. Rodgers, 284 U.S. 521, 52 S.Ct. 217, 76 L.Ed. 447 (1932). In Matthews the Supreme Court reversed a judgment of a three-judge court enjoining the collection of a State tax on the privilege of buying and selling cotton. Abstention was based on 28 U.S.C. § 384, Jud.Code § 2676 which declared that suits in equity could not be brought in Federal Courts in any case where a plain, adequate and complete remedy is afforded by State law. Mr. Justice Stone prescribed the policy for abstention in State tax cases when he said:

"The scrupulous regard for the rightful independence of state governments which should at all times actuate the federal courts, and a proper reluctance to interfere by injunction with their fiscal operations, require that such relief should be denied in every case where the asserted federal right may be preserved without it." Matthews v. Rodgers, supra, at 525, 52 S. Ct. at 219.

This withholding of relief is not a denial of jurisdiction but is, rather, a recognition by the Federal Court that they should stay their hand in the public interest when it reasonably appears that private interests will not suffer. As was reiterated by Mr. Justice Stone in deciding a case seeking declaratory relief against a State tax law alleged to be unconstitutional,

"It is in the public interest that federal courts . . . exercise their discretionary power to grant or withhold relief so as to avoid needless obstruction of the domestic policy of the states . . .. Interference with state internal economy and administration is inseparable from assaults in the federal courts on the validity of state taxation, and necessarily attends injunctions, interlocutory or final, restraining collection of state taxes." Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. et al., v. Huffman, 319 U.S. 293, 298, 63 S.Ct. 1070, 1073, 87 L.Ed. 1407 (1943).

Far be it from this Court to waiver from this fundamental policy of the Federal judiciary, especially, as in this case, where the State has effectuated an adequate procedure for securing to the taxpayer the recovery of an illegally enacted tax. (See point 3 infra)

2. LACK OF JURISDICTION

The practice of Federal Courts in refraining from issuing injunctions against the collection of State taxes was recognized and mandated by Congress over three decades ago. By an Act of August 21, 1937,7 Congress enacted the substance of what now provides that.

"The district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or
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