Public Service Comm'n v. Wycoff Co., Inc.,
344 U.S. 237 (1952)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Public Service Comm'n v. Wycoff Co., Inc., 344 U.S. 237 (1952)

Public Service Commission of Utah v. Wycoff Company, Inc.

No. 44

Argued November 13, 1952

Decided December 22, 1952

344 U.S. 237


Respondent commenceed in a Federal District Court a suit in equity seeking two kinds of specific relief: (1) a declaratory judgment that its carriage of motion picture film and newsreels between points in Utah constitutes interstate commerce, and (2) an injunction against the State Commission's interfering with such transportation over routes authorized by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Respondent offered no evidence of any past, pending, or threatened action by the State Commission touching its business in any respect. The District Court, in dismissing the complaint after trial, made a general finding that no such interference had been made or threatened, and this finding was not reversed or mentioned by the Court of Appeals.

Held: the suit cannot be entertained as one for injunction, and should not be continued as one for a declaratory judgment . Pp. 344 U. S. 239-249.

1. There can be no injunction on constitutional grounds in this case. It is wanting in equity, because there is no proof of any threatened or probable act of the defendants which might cause the irreparable injury essential to equitable relief by injunction. Pp. 344 U. S. 240-241.

2. Declaratory relief is not appropriate under the circumstances of this case. Pp. 344 U. S. 241-249.

(a) The Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, is an enabling Act which confers a discretion on the courts, rather than an absolute right upon the litigant. P. 344 U. S. 241.

(b) The remedy afforded by the Act is available only in cases of actual controversy which admit of an immediate and definite determination of the legal rights of the parties. Pp. 344 U. S. 242-243.

(c) The propriety of declaratory relief in a particular case depends upon a circumspect sense of its fitness, informed by the teachings and experience concerning the functions and extent of federal judicial power. Pp. 344 U. S. 243-244.

(d) Discretionary use of the Declaratory Judgment Act does not permit the grant of declaratory relief to respondent merely to

Page 344 U. S. 238

hold it in readiness for use should the State Commission at any future time attempt to apply to respondent any part of a complicated regulatory statute. P. 344 U. S. 245.

(e) The declaratory judgment procedure will not be used to preempt and prejudge issues that are committed for initial decision to an administrative body or special tribunal, any more than it will be used as a substitute for statutory methods of review. P. 344 U. S. 246-247.

(f) As here invoked, the declaratory judgment proceeding is inappropriate because, in addition to foreclosing an administrative body, it is incompatible with a proper federal-state relationship. P. 344 U. S. 247.

(g) Where the complaint in an action for declaratory judgment seeks, in essence, to assert a defense to an impending or threatened state court action, it is the character of the threatened action, and not of the defense, which determines whether there is federal question jurisdiction in the District Court. P. 344 U. S. 248.

(h) Federal courts will not seize litigations from state courts merely because one, normally a defendant, goes to federal court to begin his federal law defense before the state court begins the case under state law. P. 344 U. S. 248.

195 F.2d 252, reversed.

Respondent's suit in equity for a declaratory judgment and injunction against petitioners was dismissed by the District Court. The Court of Appeals reversed. 195 F.2d 252. This Court granted certiorari. 343 U.S. 975. Reversed with directions that the action be dismissed, p. 344 U. S. 249.

Page 344 U. S. 239

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