Miofsky v. Superior Court of State of Cal., In and For Sacramento County

Decision Date03 January 1983
Docket NumberNo. 80-4589,80-4589
Citation703 F.2d 332
PartiesWilliam Eugene MIOFSKY, Appellant, v. SUPERIOR COURT OF the STATE OF CALIFORNIA, In and For the COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO; Elmer Galioni, M.D.; Bruce Kaldor, M.D.; and Alfred French, M.D., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

James R. Kirby, II, Sacramento, Cal., argued, for appellant; John F. Mounier, Jr. and Denise Jarman Fischer, Hansen, Boyd, Culhane & Mounier, Sacramento, Cal., on the brief.

Robert B. Fien, Sacramento, Cal., argued, for appellee; Dennis Westerberg, Mills & Westerberg, Sacramento, Cal., on the brief.

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

Before WISDOM, * MERRILL and NORRIS, Circuit Judges.

NORRIS, Circuit Judge:

Appellant, William Eugene Miofsky, brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against the Superior Court of the State of California and three medical doctors who had conducted a psychiatric examination of Miofsky pursuant to court order. Miofsky sought a federal court injunction restraining discovery proceedings in state tort litigation that he claims would violate rights protected by the United States Constitution. The district court denied relief and dismissed the action on the grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and, alternatively, that the action was barred under principles of res judicata. Our jurisdiction to hear Miofsky's appeal rests on 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291.


The facts as alleged in Miofsky's complaint may be summarized as follows: 1 Miofsky is a medical doctor who practiced the specialty of anesthesiology from 1962 until his withdrawal from practice in 1979. In that year he pleaded nolo contendere in Sacramento Superior Court to criminal charges that he had committed acts in violation of Section 288 of the California Penal Code. 2 Upon recommendation of the Probation Department, the Superior Court appointed three doctors, appellees Galioni, French, and Kaldor, to conduct a psychiatric examination of Miofsky to determine whether he was a Mentally Disordered Sex Offender (MDSO), defined by California Welfare & Institutions Code Sec. 6300 as any person who, by reason of mental defect, disease, or disorder, is predisposed to the commission of sexual offenses to such a degree that he is dangerous to the health and safety of others. A second purpose of Subsequently, Miofsky was named as defendant in numerous civil damage actions filed by 163 surgical patients, each alleging that Miofsky placed his penis in her mouth during surgery. The patients used fictitious names in their civil actions "to secrete the true identity of the plaintiffs from the general community in which they live in order to avoid extreme humiliation, embarrassment, degradation and ridicule...." When plaintiffs scheduled the depositions of the three court-appointed psychiatrists to discover information obtained from Miofsky during the MDSO proceeding, Miofsky moved for a protective order prohibiting the psychiatrists from disclosing any such information on deposition. Upon the denial of this motion by the Superior Court, Miofsky sought appellate review by petitioning for a writ of mandate in the California Court of Appeal and thereafter in the California Supreme Court. After both state appellate courts denied relief, Miofsky filed this Sec. 1983 action in the United States District Court, alleging unconstitutional infringements of privacy interests, the right against compelled self-incrimination, and a right to medical treatment. In his complaint, he prayed for an injunction prohibiting disclosure of the information by deposition testimony or otherwise and "such further relief as the court deems just."

the psychiatric examination was to determine whether Miofsky would benefit from care and treatment in a state hospital, which is a statutory alternative to a sentence in state prison. On the basis of reports prepared by the psychiatrists, the Superior Court determined that Miofsky was an MDSO who could benefit from treatment in a state hospital and ordered him committed for a fixed term of years to Atascadero State Hospital, where Miofsky has remained in custody.

Acting sua sponte, the district court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, reasoning that although Miofsky characterized his federal court suit as a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, he was in reality asking a federal district court to review the Superior Court's denial of his motion for a protective order:

As a general rule, it is not the province of lower federal courts to review the appropriateness of civil decisions of a state's highest court. Proceedings in state courts should normally be allowed to continue unimpaired by intervention of the lower federal courts, with relief from error, if any, through the state appellate courts and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court by writ of certiorari. Atlantic Coastline R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Loc. Eng., 398 U.S. 281, 90 S.Ct. 1739 (1970), Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149 (1923), Buckley Towers, etc., v. Buchwald, 595 F.2d 253, 254 (5th Cir.1979), Olivares v. Martin, 555 F.2d 1192 (5th Cir.1977), P.I. Enterprises, Inc. v. Cataldo, 457 F.2d 1012 (1st Cir.1972) ....

In light of the cases cited herein, it is apparent that the only avenue available to plaintiff in the present case for vindication of his federal constitutional rights is a petition for writ of certiorari addressed to the United States Supreme Court. Accordingly, plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed with prejudice. 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1257(3).

In the alternative, the district court based its dismissal on principles of res judicata.


The threshold question presented by Miofsky's appeal is whether a federal district court has jurisdiction to entertain an action brought under Sec. 1983 to restrain a state court from conducting litigation in a manner that would allegedly deprive a party of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The question whether subject matter jurisdiction exists is, of course, different from the question whether a federal district court should, in deference to principles of comity and federalism, abstain from exercising its jurisdiction in order to avoid interfering with ongoing state judicial proceedings. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 Viewed in terms of its practical effect on the litigation in state court, the relief Miofsky seeks may fairly be characterized as federal court review of state court action denying him a protective order. As the district court observed, it is not the province of lower federal courts, as a general rule, to review state court discovery orders; however, the jurisdictional inquiry cannot end there. Miofsky claims that the United States Constitution protects the confidentiality of the information he imparted to the court-appointed psychiatrists and that the Superior Court and the psychiatrists, acting under color of state law, threaten to disclose the information to plaintiffs in civil litigation. If, as Miofsky claims, the Constitution does protect the confidentiality of the information, we know of no ground for exempting from the broad reach of Sec. 1983 actions taken by persons acting under color of state law in judicial proceedings, whether those persons are judges or others appointed by judges to act on behalf of the court.

(1971). With that distinction in mind, we address the question whether the district court erred in dismissing, sua sponte, Miofsky's Sec. 1983 action for lack of jurisdiction.

We recognize that, as a general proposition, "state courts shall remain free from interference by federal courts." Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 282, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 1741, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970). That has been Congress's mandate since it first enacted the Anti-Injunction Act in 1793, providing that in federal courts "a writ of injunction [shall not] be granted to stay proceedings in any court of a state." Act of March 2, 1793 Sec. 5, 1 Stat. 335 (current version at 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2283 (1976)). However, civil rights actions under Sec. 1983 are among the exceptions to the Anti-Injunction Act that have been "expressly authorized by Act of Congress," id. See Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 92 S.Ct. 2151, 32 L.Ed.2d 705 (1972). Thus, as Mitchum makes clear, Congress has not rendered federal courts impotent in the face of an infringement of constitutional rights by the judicial arm of state government. As the Court said in Mitchum, "[t]he very purpose of Sec. 1983 was to interpose the federal courts between the States and the people, as guardians of the people's federal rights--to protect the people from unconstitutional action under color of state law, 'whether that action be executive, legislative, or judicial.' " 407 U.S. at 242, 92 S.Ct. at 2162 (quoting Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, 346, 25 L.Ed. 676 (1879) (emphasis added)).

In light of Mitchum, we conclude that district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over suits brought under Sec. 1983 even when the state action allegedly violating plaintiff's federally protected rights takes the form of state court proceedings. 3 Accordingly, we hold that the district court erred in dismissing Miofsky's claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. 4


As an alternative ground for dismissal, the district court found that Miofsky's Miofsky first raised his claims in a hearing on a contested discovery motion for a protective order. After the Superior Court denied his motion by minute order, Miofsky sought immediate relief from the California Court of Appeal and then from the California Supreme Court by petitioning for a writ of mandate. Both courts denied his petitions without a hearing or explanation. Under California practice, such summary denials of writs of...

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