GIBSON V. BERRYHILL, 411 U. S. 564 (1973)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564 (1973)

Gibson v. Berryhill

No. 71-653

Argued January 9-10, 1973

Decided May 7, 1973

411 U.S. 564


Appellees, licensed optometrists employed by Lee Optical Co., who were not members of the Alabama Optometric Association (Association), were charged by the Association with unprofessional conduct within the meaning of the state optometry statute because of their employment with the company. The complaint was filed with the Alabama Board of Optometry (Board), all members of which were Association members. The Board deferred proceedings while a suit it had brought against Lee Optical and optometrists employed by it to enjoin the company from practicing optometry was litigated in the state trial court. The charges against the individual defendants were dismissed but the court enjoined Lee Optical from engaging in the practice of optometry. The company appealed. When the Board revived the Association's charges against appellees, they sought an injunction in the Federal District Court under the Civil Rights Act claiming that the Board was biased. The court concluded that it was not barred from acting by the federal anti-injunction statute, since only administrative proceedings were involved, and that exhaustion of administrative remedies was not mandated where the administrative process was biased in that the Board, by its litigation in the state courts, had prejudged the case against appellees, and the Board members had an indirect pecuniary interest in the outcome. The District Court enjoined the Board proceedings, but, thereafter and before this appeal was taken, the State's highest court reversed the judgment against Lee Optical and held that the optometry law did not prohibit a licensed optometrist from working for a corporation.


1. The anti-injunction statute did not bar the District Court from issuing the injunction, since appellees brought suit under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pp. 411 U. S. 572-575.

2. Nor did the rule of Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37, or principles of comity require the District Court to dismiss appellees' suit in view of the pending Board proceeding, since the appellees

Page 411 U. S. 565

alleged and the District Court concluded that the Board's bias rendered it incompetent to adjudicate the issues. Pp. 411 U. S. 575-577.

3. Since the Board was composed solely of private practitioners and the corporate employees it sought to bar from practice constituted half the optometrists in the State, the District Court was warranted in concluding that the Board members' pecuniary interest disqualified them from passing on the issues. Pp. 411 U. S. 578-579.

4. Though the District Court did not abuse its discretion in not abstaining until the Lee Optical decision was rendered by the Alabama Supreme Court, the principles of equity, comity, and federalism warrant reconsideration of this case in the light of that decision. Pp. 411 U. S. 579-581.

331 F.Supp. 122, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BURGER, C.J.,filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 411 U. S. 581. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 411 U. S. 581.

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