Samuels v. Mackell Fernandez v. Mackell

Decision Date23 February 1971
Docket NumberNos. 7,9,s. 7
PartiesGeorge SAMUELS et al., Appellants, v. Thomas J. MACKELL, District Attorney, et al. Fred FERNANDEZ, Appellant, v. Thomas J. MACKELL, District Attorney, et al. Re
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Victor Rabinowitz, New York City, for appellants, George Samuels, and others.

Eleanor Jackson Piel, New York City, for appellant Fred Fernandez.

Frederick J. Ludwig, Kew Gardens, N.Y., for appellee Thomas J. Mackell, Dist. Atty.

Maria L. Marcus, New York City, for appellee Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen. of the State of N.Y.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellants in these two cases were all indicted in a New York state court on charges of criminal anarchy, in violation of §§ 160, 161, 163, and 508(1) of the New York Penal Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 40.1 They later filed these actions in federal district court,2 alleging (1) that the anarchy statute was void for vagueness in violation of due process, and an abridgment of free speech, press, and assembly, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) that the anarchy statute had been pre-empted by federal law; and (3) that the New York laws under which the grand jury had been drawn violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because they disqualified from jury service any member of the community who did not own real or personal property of the value of at least $250, and be- cause the laws furnished no definite standards for determining how jurors were to be selected. Appellants charged that trial of these indictments in state courts would harass them, and cause them to suffer irreparable damages, and they therefore prayed that the state courts should be enjoined from further proceedings. In the alternative, appellants asked the District Court to enter a declaratory judgment to the effect that the challenged state laws were unconstitutional and void on the same grounds. The three-judge court, convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284, held that the New York criminal anarchy law was constitutional as it had been construed by the New York courts and held that the complaints should therefore be dismissed. 288 F.Supp. 348 (SDNY 1968).3

In No. 2, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669, we today decided on facts very similar to the facts in these cases that a United States District Court could not issue an injunction to stay proceedings pending in a state criminal court at the time the federal suit was begun. This was because it did not appear from the record that the plaintiffs would suffer immediate irreparable injury in accord with the rule set out in Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 63 S.Ct. 877, 87 L.Ed. 1324 (1943), and many other cases. Since in the present case there is likewise no sufficient showing in the record that the plaintiffs have suffered or would suffer irreparable injury, our decision in the Younger case is dispositive of the prayers for injunctions here. The plaintiffs in the present cases also included in their complaints an alternative prayer for a declaratory judgment, but for the reasons indicated below, we hold that this alternative prayer does not require a different result, and that under the circumstances of these cases, the plaintiffs were not entitled to federal relief, declaratory or injunctive. Accordingly we affirm the judgment of the District Court, although not for the reasons given in that court's opinion.

In our opinion in the Yougner case, we set out in detail the historical and practical basis for the settled doctrine of equity that a federal court should not enjoin a state criminal prosecution begun prior to the institution of the federal suit except in very unusual situations, where necessary to prevent immediate irreparable injury. The question presented here is whether under ordinary circumstances the same considerations that require the withholding of injunctive relief will make declaratory relief equally inappropriate. The question is not, however, a novel one. It was presented and fully considered by this Court in Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Huffman, 319 U.S. 293, 63 S.Ct. 1070, 87 L.Ed. 1407 (1943). We find the reasoning of this Court in the Great Lakes case fully persuasive and think that its holding is controlling here.

In the Great Lakes case several employers had brought suit against a Louisiana state official, seeking a declaratory judgment that the State's unemployment compensation law, which required the employers to make contributions to a state compensation fund, was unconstitutional. The lower courts had dismissed the complaint on the ground that the challenged law was constitutional. This Court affirmed the dismissal, 'but solely on the ground that, in the appropriate exercise of the court's discretion, relief by way of a declaratory judgment should have been denied without consideration of the merits.' Id., at 301—302, 63 S.Ct., at 1074. The Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Mr. Chief Justice Stone, noted first that under long-settled principles of equity, the federal courts could not have enjoined the Louisiana official from collecting the state tax at issue there unless, as was not true in that case, there was no adequate remedy available in the courts of the State. This judicial doctrine had been approved by Congress in the thenrecent Tax Injunction Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 738, now 28 U.S.C. § 1341. Although the declaratory judgment sought by the plaintiffs was a statutory remedy rather than a traditional form of equitable relief, the Court made clear that a suit for declaratory judgment was nevertheless 'essentially an equitable cause of action,' and was 'analogous to the equity jurisdiction in suits quia timet or for a decree quieting title.' 319 U.S., at 300, 63 S.Ct., at 1074. In addition, the legislative history of the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 955, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, showed that Congress had explicitly contemplated that the courts would decide to grant or withhold declaratory relief on the basis of traditional equitable principles. Accordingly, the Court held that in an action for a declaratory judgment, 'the district court was as free as in any other suit in equity to grant or withhold the relief prayed, upon equitable grounds.' 319 U.S., at 300, 63 S.Ct., at 1074. The Court's application of these principles to the specific problem of declaratory judgments relating to the collection of state taxes is worth quoting in full, because it bears so directly on the problem before us in the present case:

'The earlier refusal of federal courts of equity to interfere with the collection of state taxes unless the threatened injury to the taxpayer is one for which the state courts afford no adequate remedy, and the confirmation of that practice by Congress have an important bearing upon the appropriate use of the declaratory judgment procedure by the federal courts as a means of adjudicating the validity of state taxes.

'It is true that the Act of Congress speaks only of suits 'to enjoin, suspend, or restrain the assessment, levy, or collection of any tax' imposed by state law, and that the declaratory judgment procedure may be, and in this case was, used only to procure a determination of the rights of the parties, without an injunction or other coercive relief. It is also true that that procedure may in every practical sense operate to suspend collection of the state taxes until the litigation is ended. But we find it unnecessary to inquire whether the words of the statute may be so construed as to prohibit a declaration by federal courts concerning the invalidity of a state tax. For we are of the opinion that those considerations which have led federal courts of equity to refuse to enjoin the collection of state taxes, save in exceptional cases, require a like restraint in the use of the declaratory judgment procedure.' 319 U.S., at 299, 63 S.Ct., at 1073.

The continuing validity of the Court's holding in the Great lakes case has been repeatedly recognized and reaffirmed by this Court. See, e.g., Macauley v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 327 U.S. 540, 545 n. 4, 66 S.Ct. 712, 714, 90 L.Ed. 839 (1946); Ott v. Mississippi Valley Barge Line, 336 U.S. 169, 175, 69 S.Ct. 432, 435, 93 L.Ed. 585 (1949); Public Serv. Comm'n of Utah v. Wycoff Co., 344 U.S. 237, 253, 73 S.Ct. 236, 245, 97 L.Ed. 291 (1952) (Douglas, J., dissenting); Allegheny County v. Frank Mashuda Co., 360 U.S. 185, 189, 79 S.Ct. 1060, 1063, 3 L.Ed.2d 1163 (1959); Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navigation Co., 370 U.S. 1, 8, 82 S.Ct. 1125, 1129, 8 L.Ed.2d 292 (1962). Although we have found no case in this Court dealing with the application of this doctrine to cases in which the relief sought affects state criminal prosecutions rather than state tax collections, we can perceive no relevant difference between the two situations with respect to the limited question whether, in cases where the criminal proceeding was begun prior to the federal civil suit, the propriety of declaratory and injunctive relief should be judged by essentially the same standards. In both situations deeply rooted and long-settled principles of equity have narrowly restricted the scope for federal intervention, and ordinarily a declaratory judgment will result in precisely the same interference with and disruption of state proceedings that the longstanding policy limiting injunctions was designed to avoid. This is true for at least two reasons. In the first place, the Declaratory Judgment Act provides that after a declaratory judgment is issued the district court may enforce it by granting '(f)urther necessary or proper relief,' 28 U.S.C. § 2202, and therefore a declaratory judgment issued while...

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