Mitchum v. Foster
407 U.S. 225 (1972)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225 (1972)

Mitchum v. Foster

No. 70-27

Argued December 13, 1971

Decided June 19, 1972

407 U.S. 225

Syllabus

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which authorizes a suit in equity to redress the deprivation under color of state law "of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . ," is within that exception of the federal anti-injunction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, that provides that a federal court may not enjoin state court proceedings "except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress." And in this § 1983 action, though the principles of equity, comity, and federalism that must restrain a federal court when asked to enjoin a state court proceeding (cf. Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37, and companion cases) are not questioned, the District Court is held to have erred in holding that the anti-injunction statute absolutely barred its enjoining a pending state court proceeding under any circumstances whatsoever. Pp. 407 U. S. 228-243.

315 F.Supp. 1387, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all members joined except POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, in which WHITE and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 407 U. S. 243.

Page 407 U. S. 226

Primary Holding
A federal court can enjoin proceedings that are pending in a state court when 42 U.S.C. 1983 is involved, since this law falls within the expressly authorized exception of the Anti-Injunction Statute (28 U.S.C. Section 2283).
Facts
A Florida prosecutor determined that Mitchum's bookstore was a public nuisance, and he brought an action to close it under state law. He received a preliminary injunction against the operation of the bookstore, but Mitchum sued in federal court for alleged violations of the First Amendment. He also requested an injunction from the federal court against the state court proceedings, based on 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Mitchum received a temporary injunction to this effect, but it was dissolved on appeal.

Opinions

Majority

  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • William Orville Douglas
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

The "expressly authorized" exception of the Anti-Injunction Statute takes effect when an Act of Congress clearly creates a federal right or remedy that is enforceable in a federal court of equity, and staying a state court proceeding would be necessary to fulfill the law's intended purpose. Section 1983 was meant to task the federal courts with protecting the federal rights of the people against the states when they acted in unconstitutional ways under color of state law, whether this related to the executive, legislative, or judicial functions. Section 1983 expressly authorizes a suit in equity, which means that federal courts may issue injunctions in actions under this law.

Concurrence

  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

The lower court should determine whether the availability of an injunction against pending state proceedings should be limited by the principles of equity, comity, and federalism, as provided by Younger v. Harris (1971). Only after resolving that issue should it consider the merits of the case.

Recused

  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Case Commentary

The Court has applied various degrees of flexibility in its view of the Anti-Injunction Statute. This case marks one of the lenient interpretations, which did not rely as rigorously on the language of the statute as others but rather on the principles of comity that it represents.

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