HUFFMAN V. PURSUE, LTD., 420 U. S. 592 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592 (1975)

Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd.

No. 73-296

Argued December 10, 1974

Decided March 18, 1975

420 U.S. 592


Ohio's public nuisance statute provides, inter alia, that a place exhibiting obscene films is a nuisance, requires up to a year's closure of any place determined to be a nuisance, and also provides for the sale of personalty used in conducting the nuisance. Appellant officials instituted a proceeding under the statute in state court against appellee's predecessor as operator of a theater displaying pornographic films. Concluding that the defendant had displayed obscene movies, the trial court rendered a judgment in appellants' favor and ordered the theater closed for a year and the seizure and sale of the personal property used in its operation. Appellee, which had taken over operation of the theater prior to the judgment, rather than appealing within the state system, immediately filed suit in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that appellants' use of the nuisance statute constituted a deprivation of constitutional rights under the color of state law, and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Without considering whether it should have stayed its hand in deference to the federalism principles set forth in Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37, the District Court declared the nuisance statute unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds and enjoined the execution of the state court's judgment insofar as it closed the theater to films that had not been adjudged obscene in prior adversary hearings.


Under the circumstances, the principles of Younger are applicable even though the state proceeding is civil in nature, and the District Court should have applied the tests laid down in Younger in determining whether to proceed to the merits, and should not have entertained the action unless appellee established that early intervention was justified under the exceptions recognized in Younger, where the state proceeding is conducted with an intent to harass or in bad faith, or the challenged statute is flagrantly and patently unconstitutional. Pp. 603-613.

(a) The component of Younger, which rests upon the threat to our federal system if federal judicial interference with state criminal

Page 420 U. S. 593

proceedings were permitted, applies equally to a civil proceeding such as this, which is more akin to a criminal prosecution than are most civil cases. Pp. 420 U. S. 603-605.

(b) Apart from any right which appellee might have had to appeal to this Court if it had remained in state court, it should not, in view of the comity and federalism interests that Younger seeks to protect, be permitted the luxury of federal litigation of issues presented by ongoing state proceedings. But even assuming, arguendo, that litigants are entitled to a federal forum for resolution of all federal issues, that entitlement is most appropriately asserted by a state litigant when he seeks to relitigate a federal issue adversely determined in completed state court proceedings. Pp. 420 U. S. 605-607.

(c) Regardless of when the state trial court's judgment became final, Younger standards must be met to justify federal intervention in a state judicial proceeding as to which a losing litigant has not exhausted his state appellate remedies before seeking relief in federal district court. The considerations of comity and federalism which underlie Younger permit no truncation of the exhaustion requirement merely because the losing party in the state court of general jurisdiction believes, as appellee did here, that his chances of prevailing on appeal are not auspicious. Pp. 420 U. S. 607-611.

(d) Since the District Court did not rule on the Younger issue, this case is appropriate for remand so that court may consider whether irreparable injury can be shown in light of an intervening Ohio Supreme Court decision, and, if so, whether that injury is of such a nature that the District Court may assume jurisdiction under an exception to the policy against federal judicial interference with state court proceedings of this kind. Pp. 420 U. S. 611-613.

Vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 420 U. S. 618. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 613.

Page 420 U. S. 594

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