Section 1983 Litigation/Abstention Doctrines

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Section 1983 Litigation
Table of Contents
Introduction to § 1983 Litigation
The Statute
Historical Background
Nature of § 1983 Litigation
Right to Trial by Jury
Jury Instructions
Constitutional Claims Against Federal Officials: The Bivens Doctrine
Section 1983 Does Not Encompass Claims Against Federal Officials
The Bivens Claim for Relief
Law Governing Bivens Claims
Elements of Claim, Functional Role, Pleading, and Jurisdiction
Elements of the § 1983 Claim
Functional Role of § 1983
Pleading § 1983 Claims
Federal Court Jurisdiction
State Court Jurisdiction
Section 1983 Plaintiffs
Persons Entitled to Bring Suit Under § 1983
Constitutional Rights Enforceable Under § 1983
Due Process Rights: In General
Procedural Due Process
Substantive Due Process Claims
Use of Force by Government Officials: Sources of Constitutional Protection
Arrests and Searches
Malicious Prosecution Claims Under Fourth Amendment
Conditions-of-Confinement Claims Under Eighth Amendment
First Amendment Claims
Equal Protection “Class-of-One” Claims
Enforcement of Federal Statutes Under § 1983
Enforcement of Federal “Rights”
Specific Comprehensive Scheme Demonstrating Congressional Intent to Foreclose § 1983 Remedy
Current Supreme Court Approach
Enforcement of Federal Regulations Under § 1983
Color of State Law and State Action
State and Local Officials
State Action Tests
Section 1983 Defendants
State Defendants
Interplay of “Person” and Eleventh Amendment Issues
Municipal Defendants
State Versus Municipal Policy Maker
Departments, Offices, and Commissions
Capacity of Claim: Individual Versus Official Capacity
Municipal Liability
Fundamental Principles of § 1983 Municipal Liability
Officially Promulgated Policy
Municipal Policy Makers
Custom or Practice
Inadequate Training
Inadequate Hiring
Pleading Municipal Liability Claims
Liability of Supervisors
Relationship Between Individual and Municipal Liability
Los Angeles v. Heller
If Plaintiff Prevails on Personal-Capacity Claim
“Cost Allocation Scheme”
State Liability: The Eleventh Amendment
Relationship Between Suable § 1983 “Person” and Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Eleventh Amendment Protects State Even When Sued by Citizen of Defendant State
State Liability in § 1983 Actions
Personal-Capacity Claims
Municipal Liability; the Hybrid Entity Problem
Eleventh Amendment Waivers
Eleventh Amendment Appeals
Personal-Capacity Claims: Absolute Immunities
Absolute Versus Qualified Immunity: The Functional Approach
Judicial Immunity
Prosecutorial Immunity
Witness Immunity
Legislative Immunity
Personal Liability: Qualified Immunity
Who May Assert Qualified Immunity? Private Party State Actors
Clearly Established Federal Law
Procedural Aspects of Qualified Immunity
Exhaustion of State Remedies
State Judicial Remedies: Parratt-Hudson Doctrine
Preiser, Heck, and Beyond
State Administrative Remedies; PLRA
Notice of Claim
Preclusion Defenses
State Court Judgments
Administrative Res Judicata
Arbitration Decisions
Statute of Limitations
Limitations Period
Relation Back
Survivorship and Wrongful Death
Wrongful Death
Abstention Doctrines
Pullman Abstention; State Certification Procedure
Younger Abstention
Colorado River Abstention
Burford Abstention
Domestic Relations Doctrine
Tax Injunction Act
Monetary Relief
Nominal and Compensatory Damages
Punitive Damages
Release-Dismissal Agreements
Prison Litigation Reform Act
Attorneys’ Fees
Section 1988 Fee Litigation
Prevailing Parties
Computation of Fee Award: Lodestar Adjustment Method
Other Fee Issues
Model Instructions
Model Instruction 1: Section 1983—Elements of Claim—Action Under Color of State Law
Model Instruction 2: Fourth Amendment Excessive Force Claim
Model Instruction 3: Eighth Amendment Prisoner Excessive Force Claim
Model Instruction 4: Fourth Amendment False Arrest Claim
Model Instruction 5: Municipal Liability—General Instruction
Model Instruction 6: Municipal Liability—Inadequate Training or Supervision
Model Instruction 7: Compensatory Damages
Model Instruction 8: Punitive Damages

Even though a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction over a § 1983 action, it may decline to exercise that jurisdiction if the case falls within one or more of the abstention doctrines. These abstention doctrines are intended to apply in relatively narrow circumstances. The Supreme Court has described a federal court’s obligation to adjudicate claims properly within its jurisdiction as “virtually unflagging.”[1] Accordingly, “[a]bstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule,”[2] and the Court has limited the circumstances appropriate for abstention.

The major abstention doctrines in § 1983 actions are Pullman,[3] Younger,[4] Colorado River,[5] and Burford.[6] The domestic relations doctrine has been raised in some § 1983 actions, but much less frequently than the other abstention doctrines. The Tax Injunction Act normally bars federal § 1983 actions contesting state and local tax policies.[7]

Pullman Abstention; State Certification Procedure[edit | edit source]

Under Pullman abstention, named after Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co.,[8] a federal court may abstain when the contested state law is ambiguous and susceptible of a state court interpretation that may avoid or modify the federal constitutional issue. The Supreme Court said that “when a federal constitutional claim is premised on an unsettled question of state law, the federal court should stay its hand in order to provide the state courts an opportunity to settle the underlying state-law question and thus avoid the possibility of unnecessarily deciding a constitutional question.”[9] Pullman abstention is applicable only when the issue of state law is unsettled, and is “sufficiently likely” to be subject to an interpretation that will avoid or modify the federal constitutional question.[10] When a federal court invokes Pullman abstention, the § 1983 claimant must seek a state court interpretation of the state law from the highest court in the state. In some cases this may be accomplished expeditiously pursuant to a state certification procedure.

In Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona,[11] the Supreme Court suggested that, where available, a state certification procedure should be used instead of Pullman abstention. State certification procedures allow federal courts to directly certify unsettled, dispositive questions of state law to the highest court of the state for authoritative construction. The Court explained:

Certification today covers territory once dominated by a deferral device called “Pullman abstention”. . . . Designed to avoid federal-court error in deciding state-law questions antecedent to federal constitutional issues, the Pullman mechanism remitted parties to the state courts for adjudication of the unsettled state-law issues. If settlement of the statelaw question did not prove dispositive of the case, the parties could return to the federal court for decision of the federal issues. Attractive in theory because it placed state-law questions in courts equipped to rule authoritatively on them, Pullman abstention proved protracted and expensive in practice, for it entailed a full round of litigation in the state court system before any resumption of proceedings in federal court … Certification procedure, in contrast, allows a federal court faced with a novel state-law question to put the question directly to the State’s highest court, reducing the delay, cutting the cost, and increasing the assurance of gaining an authoritative response.[12]

After completion of state court proceedings, the § 1983 claimant may return to federal court unless she has voluntarily litigated her federal claims fully in state court.[13] The plaintiff may make an “England reservation” on the state court record of her right to litigate the federal claim in federal court.[14]

In England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners,[15] the Court set out the procedures litigants must follow when Pullman abstention is invoked. A party has the right to return to the federal district court for a final determination of its federal claim once the party has obtained the authoritative state court construction of the state law in question.[16] A party can, but need not, expressly reserve this right, and in no event will the right be denied, “unless it clearly appears that he voluntarily . . . fully litigated his federal claim in the state courts.”[17] A party may elect to forgo the right to return to federal court by choosing to litigate the federal constitutional claim in state court.[18]

Under Pullman abstention, a district court generally retains jurisdiction over the case, but stays its proceedings while the state court adjudicates the issue of state law. Thus, Pullman abstention does not “involve the abdication of jurisdiction, but only the postponement of its exercise.”[19]

Younger Abstention[edit | edit source]

The most frequently invoked abstention doctrine in § 1983 actions is Younger abstention, named after the leading case of Younger v. Harris.[20] Younger abstention generally prohibits federal courts from granting relief that interferes with pending state criminal prosecutions, or with pending state civil proceedings that implicate important state interests.[21] The Younger doctrine “espouse[s] a strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings.”[22] It is based primarily on principles of federalism that require federal court non-interference with state judicial proceedings.

In Younger, the Supreme Court held that a federal district court generally should not enjoin a pending state criminal prosecution. In Samuels v. Mackell,[23] the Court broadened Younger’s reach, holding that the doctrine encompasses claims for declaratory relief. In federal cases in which a state criminal prosecution had begun prior to the federal suit, “where an injunction would be impermissible under [Younger] principles, declaratory relief should ordinarily be denied as well.”[24] The Court has not directly addressed whether Younger applies when a federal plaintiff is seeking only monetary relief with respect to matters that are the subject of a pending state criminal proceeding. In Deakins v. Monaghan,[25] the Court held that a district court “has no discretion to dismiss rather than to stay claims for monetary relief that cannot be redressed in the state proceeding.”[26] The Court, however, has implied, that Colorado River abstention might be appropriate in such situations.[27]

In a series of decisions beginning with Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd.,[28] the Supreme Court extended the application of Younger to bar federal interference with various state civil proceedings implicating important state interests. In Huffman, the Court noted that the state court civil nuisance proceeding at issue was in important respects “more akin to a criminal prosecution than are most civil cases,” because the state was a party to the proceeding, and the proceeding itself was in aid of and closely related to criminal statutes.[29] Thus, while refusing to make any general pronouncements as to Younger’s applicability to all civil litigation, the Court held that the district court should have applied Younger principles in deciding whether to enjoin the state civil nuisance proceeding.[30]

In Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass’n,[31] the Court was faced with the question of whether pending state bar disciplinary hearings were subject to the principles of Younger. In holding Younger applicable, the Court said that three inquiries are relevant to Younger abstention:

  1. is there an “ongoing” state judicial proceeding;
  2. does the state proceeding “implicate important state interests”; and
  3. “is there an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.”[32]

In Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc.,[33] the Court held that Younger abstention applies to state-instituted, coercive, quasi-judicial administrative proceedings implicating important state interests, so long as there is an adequate opportunity to litigate the federal claims in the administrative proceeding or in a state court judicial review proceeding.[34] This aspect of the Younger doctrine is sometimes referred to as Younger-Dayton abstention.

In Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs,[35] the Supreme Court clarified and narrowed the reach of Younger abstention. The Court ruled that Younger abstention applies only in three “exceptional categories”:

  1. ongoing state criminal prosecutions;
  2. state-instituted civil enforcement proceedings; and
  3. state court orders issued in state civil cases in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions.[36]

The Court said that the three conditions articulated in Middlesex were not meant to be “dispositive; they were, instead, additional factors appropriately considered by the federal court before invoking Younger.”[37] The three Middlesex factors should be understood in the context of the state-instituted, quasi-criminal attorney disciplinary proceeding in that case. In other words, Younger abstention should not be invoked simply because the federal defendant is able to “identify a plausibly important state interest” in the state court proceeding.[38]

The Court in Sprint Communications held that Younger abstention should not be invoked because of a pending state court civil proceeding to resolve a dispute between purely private parties involving the same subject-matter as the federal suit.[39] Whether a federal court should abstain in these circumstances should be determined under the doctrine of Colorado River abstention, discussed in the next subsection.

There are narrow exceptions to the Younger doctrine. One exception requires a showing that the state prosecution was undertaken in bad faith, meaning not to secure a valid conviction, but to retaliate against or “chill” the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.[40] There is also an exception when the pending state proceedings fail to afford a full and fair opportunity to litigate the federal claim, but this is rarely found to be the case, especially because the Supreme Court presumes state procedures afford a full and fair opportunity to litigate federal claims.[41]

Colorado River Abstention[edit | edit source]

Under Colorado River abstention, named after Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States,[42] a federal court may abstain when there is a “parallel” concurrent proceeding pending in state court. However, even when a “parallel” state court proceeding is pending, a federal court should invoke Colorado River abstention only in “exceptional circumstances.” The federal court’s task “is not to find some substantial reason for the exercise of federal jurisdiction,”[43] but to determine whether exceptional circumstances “justify the surrender of that jurisdiction.”[44]

In Colorado River, the federal government brought suit in federal court seeking an adjudication of certain water rights. Soon thereafter, a defendant in the federal suit moved to join the United States in a state court proceeding adjudicating the same water rights. The federal district court subsequently dismissed the suit, abstaining in deference to the state court proceedings.[45] Although the Supreme Court found that Pullman, Burford, and Younger abstentions did not apply to the facts of this case,[46] because the federal suit did not involve federal-state comity or avoidance of constitutional issues, it held that dismissal was proper on another ground, namely, “on considerations of ‘wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.’”[47]

The Court in Colorado River set forth the general rule that “the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal court having jurisdiction.”[48] It recognized, however, that exceptional circumstances might permit dismissal of a federal suit because of concurrent state court proceedings.[49] The Court identified four factors to be considered in determining whether such exceptional circumstances exist: (1) the problems created by two courts exercising concurrent jurisdiction over a res; (2) the relative inconvenience of the federal forum; (3) the goal of avoiding piecemeal litigation; and (4) the order in which the state and federal forums obtained jurisdiction.[50] In Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp.,[51] the Court underscored the need for exceptional circumstances before a federal court surrenders its jurisdiction over a case on the ground that there is a duplicative proceeding pending in state court.[52] In addition, the Court ruled that the presence of a question of federal law weighs heavily in favor of retention of federal court jurisdiction.[53]

The Supreme Court has left open whether the proper course when employing Colorado River abstention is a stay or a dismissal without prejudice. It is clear, though, that “resort to the federal forum should remain available if warranted by a significant change of circumstances.”[54] The Court has noted that

where the basis for declining to proceed is the pendency of a state proceeding, a stay will often be the preferable course, because it assures that the federal action can proceed without risk of a time bar if the state case, for any reason, fails to resolve the matter in controversy.[55]

A dismissal or stay of a federal action is improper unless the concurrent state court action has jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims at issue in the federal suit.[56]

In Wilton v. Seven Falls Co.,[57] the Supreme Court resolved a conflict among the circuits regarding the standard to be applied by a federal district court in deciding whether to stay a federal court declaratory judgment action in deference to parallel state proceedings. The Court held that

[d]istinct features of the [federal] Declaratory Judgment Act . . . justify a standard vesting district courts with greater discretion in declaratory judgment actions than that permitted under the “exceptional circumstances” test of Colorado River and Moses H. Cone. . . . In the declaratory judgment context, the normal principle that federal courts should adjudicate claims within their jurisdiction yields to considerations of practicality and wise judicial administration.[58]

A stay order granted under Colorado River abstention is final and immediately appealable.[59] However, an order refusing abstention under Colorado River is “inherently tentative” and is not immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine.[60]

Burford Abstention[edit | edit source]

Under Burford abstention, named after Burford v. Sun Oil Co.,[61] a federal court may abstain when federal relief would disrupt a complex state regulatory scheme and the state’s effort to centralize judicial review in a unified state court of special competence.[62] In Burford, the plaintiff sought to enjoin the enforcement of a Texas Railroad Commission order permitting the drilling of some wells on a particular Texas oil field. The order was challenged as a violation of both state law and federal constitutional grounds.[63] The Texas legislature had established a complex, thorough system of administrative and judicial review of the commission’s orders, concentrating all direct review of such orders in the state court of one county.[64] The state scheme evidenced an effort to establish a uniform policy with respect to the regulation of a matter of substantial local concern. The Court found that “[t]hese questions of regulation of the industry by the state administrative agency … so clearly involve basic problems of Texas policy that equitable discretion should be exercised to give the Texas courts the first opportunity to consider them.”[65]

Thus, where complex administrative procedures have been developed in an effort to formulate uniform state policy, “a sound respect for the independence of state action requires the federal equity court to stay its hand.”[66] Unlike Pullman abstention, Burford abstention does not anticipate a return to the federal district court. The federal court invoking Burford dismisses the action in favor of state administrative and judicial review of the issues, with “ultimate review of the federal questions … fully preserved” in the Supreme Court.[67]

In New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of New Orleans (NOPSI),[68] the Court clarified that “[w]hile Burford is concerned with protecting complex state administrative processes from undue federal interference, it does not require abstention whenever there exists such a process, or even in all cases where there is a ‘potential for conflict’ with state regulatory law or policy.”[69] It emphasized that the primary concern underlying Burford abstention is the avoidance of federal court disruption of “the State’s attempt to ensure uniformity in the treatment of an ‘essentially local problem.’”[70]

The Court in NOPSI stated that under the Burford doctrine,

[w]here timely and adequate state-court review is available, a federal court sitting in equity must decline to interfere with the proceedings or orders of state administrative agencies: (1) when there are “difficult questions of state law bearing on policy problems of substantial public import whose importance transcends the result in the case then at bar”; or (2) where the “exercise of federal review of the question in a case and in similar cases would be disruptive of state efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a matter of substantial public concern.”[71]

The Supreme Court has held that the federal court’s power to dismiss or remand based on Burford abstention exists only where the relief sought is equitable or otherwise discretionary in nature.[72] When Burford is invoked in an action for damages, the district may only stay, not dismiss, the federal suit.[73]

Domestic Relations Doctrine[edit | edit source]

The “domestic relations” doctrine generally prohibits federal court adjudication of a domestic relations matter, such as child custody, child support, or alimony.[74] Whether this doctrine applies to § 1983 constitutional claims is unclear. In fact, federal courts have routinely adjudicated the constitutionality of state policies pertaining to family law matters.[75]

Tax Injunction Act[edit | edit source]

The Tax Injunction Act prohibits federal courts from interfering with state and local tax collection, so long as the state provides a “plain, speedy, and efficient remedy.”[76] The Tax Injunction Act “is a jurisdictional bar that is not subject to waiver, and the federal courts are duty-bound to investigate the application of the Tax Injunction Act regardless of whether the parties raise it as an issue.”[77]

In Hibbs v. Winn,[78] the Supreme Court held that the Tax Injunction Act does not apply to a constitutional challenge to a state tax credit policy because such a claim does not interfere with the collection of state taxes. In Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc.,[79] however, the Supreme Court read Hibbs narrowly, and held that comity precludes a federal court action by one business entity contesting allegedly discriminatory state policies granting tax credits to competitive businesses. The plaintiff, a local natural gas distribution company (LDC) which owns and operates networks of distribution pipelines to transport and deliver gas to consumers, alleged in its federal court complaint that Ohio’s discriminatory granting of tax exemptions to competitor companies (independent marketers that do not own or operate their own distribution pipelines, and use LDC company pipelines) was unconstitutional. The LDC sought injunctive and declaratory relief invalidating these tax exemptions.

Even though the plaintiff’s claims sought to increase state taxation, the suit was barred by the comity doctrine applicable in state taxation cases. The Court found that the broader principle of comity—which predated the enactment of the Tax Injunction Act in 1937, survived its enactment, and has been applied by the Supreme Court after its enactment—“has particular force when lower federal courts are asked to pass on the constitutionality of state taxation on commercial activity.”[80] Because the suit was barred by comity, the Court did not have to decide whether the suit was barred by the Tax Injunction Act. The Court distinguished Hibbs:

First, [the Levin plaintiffs] seek federal court review of commercial matters over which Ohio enjoys wide regulatory latitude; their suit does not involve any fundamental right or classification that attracts heightened judicial scrutiny. Second, while [plaintiffs] portray themselves as third-party challengers to an allegedly unconstitutional tax scheme, they are in fact seeking federal-court aid in an endeavor to improve their competitive position. Third, the Ohio courts are better positioned than their federal counterparts to correct any violation because they are more familiar with state legislative preferences and because the [Tax Injunction Act] does not constrain their remedial options. Individually, these considerations may not compel forbearance on the part of federal district courts; in combination, however, they demand deference to the state adjudicative process.[81]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. See, e.g., Sprint Commc’ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S. Ct. 584, 591 (2013); Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976).
  2. Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 813.
  3. R.R. Comm’n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941).
  4. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).
  5. Colorado River, 424 U.S. 800.
  6. Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943).
  7. 28 U.S.C. § 1341 (2006).
  8. 312 U.S. 496 (1941).
  9. Harris Cnty. Comm’rs Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 83 (1975) (interpreting Pullman). See, e.g., Casiano-Montanez v. State Ins. Fund Corp., 707 F.3d 124 (1st Cir. 2013).
  10. Lake Carriers’ Ass’n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 512 (1972).
  11. 520 U.S. 43 (1997).
  12. Id. at 75–76.
  13. England v. La. State Bd. of Med. Exam’rs, 375 U.S. 411, 415–16 (1964).
  14. Id. at 421–22.
  15. 375 U.S. 411 (1964).
  16. Id. at 417.
  17. Id. at 421–22.
  18. Id. at 419. If a party elects to forgo the right to return to federal court, the Supreme Court has held that, even in § 1983 cases, the sole fact that the state court’s decision may have been erroneous will not be sufficient to lift the preclusion bar to relitigation of federal issues decided after a full and fair hearing in state court. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 101 (1980).
  19. Harrison v. NAACP, 360 U.S. 167, 177 (1959).
  20. 401 U.S. 37 (1971).
  21. Id. See also Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1 (1987) (federal court may not interfere with enforcement of state civil judgment); Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415 (1979) (child abuse proceedings); Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434 (1977) (attachment of welfare benefits allegedly obtained by fraud); Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327 (1977) (civil contempt proceeding); Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592 (1975) (quasi-criminal nuisance proceeding to enjoin allegedly obscene movie). Removed Actions: The mere fact that a state suit was removed to federal court does not justify Younger abstention. Vill. of DePue v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 537 F.3d 775, 783 (7th Cir. 2008).
  22. Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982).
  23. 401 U.S. 66 (1971).
  24. Id. at 73. In Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452 (1974), the Court addressed the issue of the availability of declaratory relief when no state criminal prosecution is pending. Noting that the relevant principles of equity, comity, and federalism carry little force in the absence of a pending state proceeding, the Court held that “federal declaratory relief is not precluded when no state prosecution is pending and a federal plaintiff demonstrates a genuine threat of enforcement of a disputed state criminal statute.” Steffel, 415 U.S. at 475. The genuine threat of enforcement would give the plaintiff standing to seek prospective relief. See supra Chapter 2. The Court’s decision in Steffel, however, must be read in conjunction with its subsequent decision in Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332 (1975), holding that where state criminal proceedings are commenced against a federal plaintiff after the federal complaint has been filed, but “before any proceedings of substance on the merits have taken place in the federal court,” the Younger doctrine applies “in full force.” Hicks, 422 U.S. at 349. The Court has held that the granting of preliminary injunctive relief (see Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 927–28 (1975)) or permanent injunctive relief (see Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 709–10 (1977)) is not necessarily barred by Younger principles when no criminal proceeding is pending.
  25. 484 U.S. 193 (1988).
  26. Id. at 202. Accord Gakuba v. O’Brien, 711 F.3d 751, 753 (7th Cir. 2013).
  27. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 393–94 (2007). See also Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). “[I]f a state criminal defendant brings a federal civil-rights lawsuit during the pendency of his criminal trial, appeal, or state habeas action, abstention may be an appropriate response to the parallel state-court proceedings” (citing Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976)). Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.8. Heck held that when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. Id. at 486–87. See supra Chapter 17. The Heck doctrine does not pertain to pending criminal prosecutions, but to criminal prosecutions that culminated in a conviction.
  28. 420 U.S. 592 (1975).
  29. Id. at 604. In Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 423 (1979), the Court treated the case as governed by Huffman because the state was a party to the state proceedings in question, and the temporary removal of a child in a child abuse context was in aid of and closely related to enforcement of criminal statutes.
  30. Huffman, 420 U.S. at 607. In Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434, 444 (1977), the Court held that the principles of Younger and Huffman were broad enough to apply to interference by a federal court with ongoing civil proceedings to attach welfare benefits allegedly obtained by fraud “brought by the State in its sovereign capacity” to vindicate important state interest in preventing welfare fraud. Id. at 444. See also Moore, 442 U.S. 415 (state has important state interest in child abuse proceedings); Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 335 (1977) (holding principles of “comity” and “federalism” applied to case where state was not party, but where state’s judicial contempt process was involved, and its interest in contempt process is of “sufficiently great import to require application of the principles of Younger”); Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 5–10, 13–14 & n.12 (1987) (reversing lower court’s granting of federal court injunction against state court requirement that Texaco post bond in excess of $13 billion to prevent execution of judgment against it while appeal was pursued; holding Younger rationale applied to this civil proceeding, observing state’s interest in protecting “the authority of the judicial system, so that its orders and judgments are not rendered nugatory”). Cf. New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 368 (1989) (holding Younger abstention does not apply to state judicial proceedings “reviewing legislative or executive action”).
  31. 457 U.S. 423 (1982). In Sprint Commc’ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S. Ct. 584, 591 (2013), the Supreme Court stated that Younger abstention is limited to (1) ongoing criminal prosecutions, (2) civil enforcement proceedings, and (3) civil proceedings in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions. The Court held that Younger did not apply to administrative proceedings invoked by a private party to settle a dispute with another private party.
  32. Middlesex Cnty., 457 U.S. at 432.
  33. 477 U.S. 619 (1986).
  34. In Ohio Civil Rights, the Court emphasized that the application of Younger to pending administrative proceedings is fully consistent with the rule that litigants need not exhaust administrative remedies before they can bring a § 1983 suit in federal court (see Patsy v. Bd. of Regents, 457 U.S. 496 (1982)), because “the administrative proceedings here are coercive rather than remedial[;] began before any substantial advancement in the federal action took place[;] and involve an important state interest.” Ohio Civil Rights, 477 U.S. at 627–28 n.2. See also Guillemard-Ginorio v. Contreras-Gomez, 585 F.3d 508, 518–23 (1st Cir. 2009) (Younger-Dayton abstention inapplicable because, inter alia, administrative proceedings were remedial proceedings initiated by federal plaintiffs, not coercive proceedings initiated by state); Brown v. Day, 555 F.3d 882, 890–93 (10th Cir. 2009) (same); Kercado-Melendez v. Aponte-Roque, 829 F.2d 255, 260 (1st Cir. 1987) (Younger-Dayton abstention inapplicable because administrative proceeding initiated by federal court plaintiff was remedial rather than coercive).
  35. 134 S. Ct. 584 (2013).
  36. Id. at 588, 591.
  37. Id. at 593.
  38. The Court, in Sprint Communications, said that while in Dayton Christian Schools it referenced a distinction between “coercive” and “remedial” state proceedings, it did not find this “inquiry necessary or inevitably helpful, given the susceptibility of the designations to manipulation.” Sprint Commc’ns, 134 S. Ct. at 593 n.6.
  39. Id. at 588. See also ACRA Turf Club, LLC v. Zanzuccki, 748 F.3d 127 (3d Cir. 2014) (applying Sprint Commc’ns).
  40. See, e.g., Kugler v. Helfant, 421 U.S. 117, 126 n.6 (1975); Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 85 (1971).
  41. “A federal court should assume that state procedures will afford an adequate remedy, in the absence of unambiguous authority to the contrary.” Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 14–15 (1987). Therefore, the federal plaintiff bears the burden of showing that state procedural law barred presentation of her constitutional claim. Id. at 14; Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 432 (1979) (plaintiffs failed to show that state procedural law barred presentation of their claims); Nivens v. Gilchrist, 444 F.3d 237, 243 (4th Cir. 2006) (critical issue is whether state law allows federal court plaintiff to raise her federal claim in state court, not whether state court agrees with claim); 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1279 (11th Cir. 2003). See, e.g., Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 578–79 (1973) (Younger abstention inapplicable because state board was incompetent by reason of bias to adjudicate issues before it). Another exception recognized by the Supreme Court, but very rarely invoked, is a case in which the contested state statute is “flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional provisions in every clause, sentence and paragraph, and in whatever manner and against whomever an effort was made to apply it.” Younger, 401 U.S. at 53–54 (quoting Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 389, 402 (1941)).
  42. 424 U.S. 800 (1976).
  43. Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 25 (1983).
  44. Id. at 26.
  45. Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 806.
  46. Id. at 813–17.
  47. Id. at 817 (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183 (1952)).
  48. Id. (citing McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282 (1910)). “Claim Splitting”: The Second Circuit held that the district court erred in invoking the doctrine against “claim splitting” to dismiss the § 1983 suit because of the pendency of state court proceedings raising state law claims arising out of the same transactions as the federal suit. Whether dismissal is proper in these circumstances depends on the application of Colorado River abstention. Kanciper v. Suffolk Cnty. SPCA, 722 F.3d 88, 93 (2d Cir. 2013).
  49. Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818.
  50. Id. (noting that no one factor is determinative and “only the clearest of justifications will warrant dismissal”).
  51. 460 U.S. 1 (1983). The case involved parallel state and federal proceedings addressing the issue of whether a contract between the parties was subject to arbitration.
  52. Id. at 25–26.
  53. Id. at 23.
  54. Arizona v. San Carlos Apache Tribe, 463 U.S. 545, 570 n.21 (1983). To safeguard against the running of the statute of limitations should the state litigation leave some issues unresolved, the preferable course would be to stay, rather than dismiss, the federal action.
  55. Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 288 n.2 (1995).
  56. San Carlos Apache Tribe, 463 U.S. at 560.
  57. 515 U.S. 277 (1995).
  58. Id. at 281. The Court in Wilton found that the discretionary standard announced in Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of America, 316 U.S. 491 (1942), was not supplanted by the “exceptional circumstances” test of Colorado River and Moses H. Cone. Wilton, 515 U.S. at 282–87. Brillhart, like Wilton, involved an insurer seeking a federal declaratory judgment of nonliability in the face of a state court coercive suit seeking coverage under the policy. Wilton, 515 U.S. at 282.
  59. Moses H. Cone, 460 U.S. at 10.
  60. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. v. Mayacamas Corp., 485 U.S. 271, 278 (1988).
  61. 319 U.S. 315 (1943).
  62. New Orleans Pub. Serv. Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 361 (1989).
  63. Burford, 319 U.S. at 316–17.
  64. Id. at 324–26.
  65. Id. at 332.
  66. Id. at 334. The Sixth Circuit held that Burford abstention applies only when the case implicated state policies, not local policies. Saginaw Hous. Comm’n v. Bannum, Inc., 576 F.3d 620, 628 (6th Cir. 2009) (disagreeing with Pomponio v. Fauquier Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 21 F.3d 1319 (4th Cir. 1992)).
  67. Burford, 319 U.S. at 333–34.
  68. 491 U.S. 350 (1989). NOPSI involved a refusal by the New Orleans City Council to allow NOPSI to get a rate increase to cover additional costs that had been allocated to it, along with other utility companies, by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Grand Gulf nuclear reactor.
  69. Id. at 362.
  70. Id.
  71. Id. at 361 (quoting Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 814 (1976)). First Amendment Claims: A federal district court observed a “developing consensus among federal courts that Burford abstention is unwarranted where . . . plaintiffs bring First Amendment challenges to state laws or actions.” NAGE v. Mulligan, 849 F. Supp. 2d 167, 175 (D. Mass. 2012) (citing courts of appeals cases).
  72. Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 731 (1996).
  73. Id. at 730. Given the facts of the case before it, the Court in Quackenbush found it unnecessary to decide “whether a more limited abstention-based stay order would have been” appropriate. Id. at 731.
  74. See generally Akenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992).
  75. See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000); Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456 (1988); Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248 (1983); Pickett v. Brown, 462 U.S. 1 (1983); Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91 (1982); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982); Lassiter v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 452 U.S. 18 (1981); Little v. Streater, 452 U.S. 1 (1981); Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380 (1979); Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268 (1979); Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246 (1978); Smith v. Org. of Foster Families for Equal. & Reform, 431 U.S. 816 (1977); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972). Given these decisions, it is hard to conclude that the domestic relations doctrine extends to all federal questions arising in the family law area. See Flood v. Braaten, 727 F.2d 303 (3d Cir. 1984). The Supreme Court’s decision in Lehman v. Lycoming County Children’s Services Agency, 458 U.S. 502 (1982), that federal habeas corpus is not available to contest the involuntary termination of parental rights, is based on the fact that Congress did not intend that the federal habeas corpus statutes encompass child custody cases.
  76. 28 U.S.C. § 1341 (1996). See California v. Grace Brethren Church, 457 U.S. 393, 408 (1982) (Tax Injunction Act applies to federal court suit for declaratory judgment that state tax policy is unconstitutional); Fair Assessment in Real Estate v. McNary, 454 U.S. 100 (1981) (policies of § 1341 pertain to § 1983 claims for damages); Rosewell v. La Salle Nat’l Bank, 450 U.S. 503 (1981). See also Nat’l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Okla. Tax Comm’n, 515 U.S. 582 (1995) (policies of Tax Injunction Act pertain to state court § 1983 actions against state tax, and require state courts to refrain from granting prospective relief under § 1983 when there is adequate state legal remedy).
  77. Folio v. City of Clarksburg, 134 F.3d 1211, 1214 (4th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).
  78. 542 U.S. 88 (2004).
  79. 130 S. Ct. 2323 (2010).
  80. Id. at 2330.
  81. Id. at 2336.