MTM, Inc. v. Baxley
420 U.S. 799 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MTM, Inc. v. Baxley, 420 U.S. 799 (1975)

MTM, Inc. v. Baxley

No. 73-1119

Argued December 10, 1974

Decided March 25, 1975

420 U.S. 799




This Court has no jurisdiction over an appeal under 2 U.S.C. § 1253 from a three-judge District Court's order denying injunctive relief against enforcement of a state court temporary injunction under the Alabama nuisance statute closing appellant's theater, where the three-judge court did not reach the merits of appellant's constitutional attack on the nuisance statute, but instead based its order on the impropriety of federal intervention in the state proceedings.

365 F.Supp. 1182, vacated and remanded.


The State of Alabama brought suit against appellant MTM in state court under the Alabama nuisance law, Ala.Code, Tit. 7, §§ 1081-1108 (1958), [Footnote 1] seeking to enjoin the continued operation of a nuisance by MTM. It alleged that, because of convictions for violations of

Page 420 U. S. 800

local obscenity laws by the Pussycat Adult Theater, an enterprise owned by MTM in Birmingham, Ala., the theater constituted a nuisance under this statute. [Footnote 2] After a hearing on the complaint, the state court issued a temporary injunction under the nuisance law, closing the theater. [Footnote 3]

After issuance of the temporary injunction, and while action on the request for a permanent injunction was pending in state court, appellant filed this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It asked the federal court to enjoin enforcement of the state court temporary injunction and to declare the Alabama nuisance law unconstitutional. Appellant claimed that the challenged statutory provisions and the state court temporary injunction infringed its First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

A three-judge federal court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 to consider appellant's complaint. Without resolving the constitutional merits of the complaint, the three-judge court dismissed the complaint without prejudice. [Footnote 4] In view of the pendency of the state proceedings, the three-judge District Court applied

Page 420 U. S. 801

the test enunciated in Younger v. Harris,401 U. S. 37 (1971), [Footnote 5] and concluded that federal intervention as requested by appellant would be improper.

Appellant has brought the case directly to this Court, asserting that jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1253, and arguing that the requirements of Younger v. Harris, supra, did not preclude relief on these facts. We noted probable jurisdiction over this appeal and set this case for argument in tandem with Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., ante, p. 420 U. S. 592. 415 U.S. 974 (1974).

Unless jurisdiction over this direct appeal from the tree-judge court decision below is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1253, we are without authority to entertain it. [Footnote 6] Section 1253 provides:

"Except as otherwise provided by law, any party may appeal to the Supreme Court from an order granting or denying, after notice and hearing, an interlocutory or permanent injunction in any civil

Page 420 U. S. 802

action, suit or proceeding required by any Act of Congress to be heard and determined by a district court of three judges."

Appellant argues that its complaint presented a "suit . . . required . . . to be heard" by a three-judge court, [Footnote 7] and that the dismissal of its complaint seeking injunctive relief constituted "an order . . . denying . . . an interlocutory or permanent injunction" within the meaning of § 1253.

In Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union,419 U. S. 90 (1974), we recently discussed in some detail the question of what constitutes an order "denying" injunctive relief for purposes of § 1253. There we held that direct appeal to this Court under § 1253 did not lie from the order of a three-judge court dismissing a complaint because of an absence of standing where the three-judge court did not reach the merits of the constitutional claim presented. Although our decision rested at least partially on the ground that a three-judge court was not "required" where the ground for decision below was an absence of standing, 419 U.S. at 419 U. S. 100, we also explored the question of whether an order of a three-judge court "denies" an injunction, for purposes of § 1253, where there is no adverse resolution of the constitutional claims presented. Although noting that certain decisions of this Court and a literal reading of § 1253 might be taken to support the notion that a denial of injunctive relief on any basis by a three-judge court is within the purview of § 1253, we concluded that stare decisis is entitled to

Page 420 U. S. 803

less than its usual weight in this area, and that "the opaque terms and prolix syntax" of this statute were not capable of literal reading. 419 U.S. at 419 U. S. 96-97. In focusing on the question of whether direct review by this Court under § 1253 is available in the absence of a three-judge court decision resting on resolution of the constitutional merits of a complaint, we stated:

"Mercantile argues that § 1253 should be read to limit our direct review of three-judge court orders denying injunctions to those that rest upon resolution of the constitutional merits of the case. There would be evident virtues to this rule. It would lend symmetry to the Court's jurisdiction since, in reviewing orders granting injunctions, the Court is necessarily dealing with a resolution of the merits. While issues short of the merits -- such as justiciability, subject matter jurisdiction, equitable jurisdiction, and abstention -- are often of more than trivial consequence, that alone does not argue for our reviewing them on direct appeal. Discretionary review in any case would remain available, informed by the mediating wisdom of a court of appeals. Furthermore, the courts of appeals might in many instances give more detailed consideration to these issues than this Court, which disposes of most mandatory appeals in summary fashion."

419 U.S. at 419 U. S. 99. The conflicting decisions of this Court on the question of whether § 1253 jurisdiction attaches where a three-judge federal court fails to reach the merits of a constitutional claim for injunctive relief do not provide a consistent answer to this question. Compare Lynch v. Household Finance Corp.,405 U. S. 538 (1972), with Mengelkoch v. Industrial Welfare Comm'n,393 U. S. 83 (1968); Rosado v. Wyman,395 U. S. 826 (1969); Mitchell v. Donovan,398 U. S. 427 (1970). See Gonzalez v.

Page 420 U. S. 804

Employees Credit Union, supra, at 419 U. S. 95 n. 11; 9 J. Moore, Federal Practice

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