O'SHEA V. LITTLETON, 414 U. S. 488 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488 (1974)

O'Shea v. Littleton

No. 72-953

Argued October 17, 1973

Decided January 15, 1974

414 U.S. 488


Respondents, 17 black and two white residents of Cairo, Illinois, brought a civil rights class action against petitioners, a magistrate and a circuit court judge, who allegedly engaged under color of state law, in a continuing pattern and practice of conduct consisting of illegal bond-setting, sentencing, and jury fee practices in criminal cases, which assertedly deprived respondents and members of their class of their rights under the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981-1983, 1985. The District Court dismissed the action for want of jurisdiction to issue the injunctive relief sought and on the ground of judicial immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that issuance of injunctions against judicial officers was not forbidden if their conduct was intentionally racially discriminatory against a cognizable class of persons. Absent sufficient remedy at law, it was held that, if respondents proved their allegations, the District Court should fashion appropriate relief to enjoin petitioners from depriving others of their constitutional rights while carrying out their judicial duties in the future.


1. The complaint fails to satisfy the threshold requirement of Art. III of the Constitution that those who seek to invoke the power of federal courts must allege an actual case or controversy where none of the named plaintiffs is identified as himself having suffered any injury in the manner specified, the claim alleging injury is in only the most general terms, and there are no allegations that any relevant state criminal statute is unconstitutional on its face or as applied or that plaintiffs have been or will be improperly charged with violating criminal law. Pp. 414 U. S. 493-499.

(a) If none of the named plaintiffs purporting to represent a class meets the case or controversy requirement, none may seek relief on behalf of himself or any other member of the class. Pp. 414 U. S. 494-495.

Page 414 U. S. 489

(b) That requirement is not satisfied by general assertions or inferences that, in the course of their activities, respondents will be prosecuted for violating valid criminal laws. P. 414 U. S. 497.

(c) Where it can only be speculated whether respondents will be arrested for violating an ordinance or state statute, particularly in the absence of allegations that unconstitutional criminal statutes are being employed to deter constitutionally protected conduct, and respondents have not pointed to any imminent prosecutions contemplated against them so that they do not claim any constitutional right to engage in conduct proscribed by therefore presumably permissible state laws, or that it is otherwise their intention to so conduct themselves, the threat of injury from the alleged course of conduct they attack is too remote to satisfy the case or controversy requirement and permit adjudication by a federal court. Pp. 414 U. S. 497-498.

2. Even if the complaint were considered to present an existing case or controversy, no adequate basis for equitable relief has been stated. Pp. 414 U. S. 499-504.

(a) The injunctive relief sought by respondents would constitute a ma, or continuing intrusion of the equitable power of the federal courts into the daily conduct of state criminal proceedings, and would sharply conflict with recognized principles of equitable restraint, Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37. Pp. 414 U. S. 499-502.

(b) Respondents also failed to establish the basic requisites of the issuance of equitable relief -- the likelihood of substantial and immediate irreparable injury, and the inadequacy of remedies at law -- in view of the conjectural nature of the threatened injury to which respondents are allegedly subjected, and where there are available other procedures, both state and federal, which could provide relief. Pp. 414 U. S. 502-504.

468 F.2d 389, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment and in Part I of the Court's opinion, post, p. 414 U. S. 504. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 414 U. S. 505.

Page 414 U. S. 490

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