458 U.S. 1112 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

ETLIN v. ROBB , 458 U.S. 1112 (1982)

458 U.S. 1112

Vladimir N. ETLIN, petitioner,
Charles ROBB, Governor of Virginia, et al
No. 81-6629

Supreme Court of the United States

June 28, 1982

On petition for writ of

certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice WHITE, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.

This case arises from a child custody dispute between private parties . A Virginia trial court awarded petitioner's ex-wife custody of their 3- year old son and ordered petitioner to pay child support. Petitioner then brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the trial judge, the state governor, and the state attorney general. His complaint sought monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief, premised on allegations that the custody and support award violated the First, Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court dismissed the suit without prejudice because

Page 458 U.S. 1112 , 1113

the constitutional questions could be addressed in the state court custody action.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. 673 F.2d 1309 ( 1981). In a brief per curiam opinion, the court explained:

    "Under Virginia law, child custody determinations and support orders may be subject to modification at any time. See Va.Code Ann. 16.1- 242 (1981 Cum.Supp.); 20-108 (1975 Repl.Vol.); 31-17 (1979 Repl. Vol.). Because custody proceedings are considered ongoing proceedings in Virginia, they afford a disappointed litigant, such as [ petitioner], an adequate opportunity to present his constitutional claims. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 49 [, 753, 27 L. Ed.2d 669] (1971). See Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 337 [, 1218] (1977). Therefore, it is clear that the doctrine of abstention applies in this instance. See Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415 [] (1979).

Petitioner now seeks a writ of certiorari, and presents, as his fourth question, the question of whether the Court of Appeals has properly applied the Younger doctrine. [Footnote 1]

This question is not easily answered because the Fourth Circuit has, in at least two respects, gone beyond our cases in dismissing the action under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). First, this Court has never applied the Younger doctrine to a case where the State was not a party to the pending state proceedings. Younger and its early progeny were criminal proceedings, in which, of course, the State is always a party. In Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 95 S. Ct. 1200 (1975), the initial application of Younger to a civil proceeding, the Court relied heavily on the State's direct participation.

    "Younger, however, also rests upon the traditional reluctance of courts of equity, even within a unitary system, [458 U.S. 1112 , 1114]

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