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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Limiting Younger

Forgive the excessive posting today; there is a lot happening today.

SCOTUS today unanimously decided Spring Communications v. Jacobs, placing significant limits on the scope of Younger abstention. Scott Dodson has a good analysis at SCOTUSBlog. The Court held that Younger only applies in three categories of cases: 1) criminal cases; 2) certain civil cases, typically where the state has initiated enforcement efforts against a private person; and 3) certain civil proceedings, where the challenge touches on the state's ability to perform its judicial functions (implicitly, it seems to me, where the challenge is to the source of authority for that function, such as  the law imposing an appellate bond requirement). The decision eliminates the analytical distinction drawn in many circuits between coercive and remedial proceedings. And it makes clear that Younger does not reach simple parallel proceedings between private parties.

Other than rendering obsolete some of the Younger discussion in my book, this decision is good news in clarifying and narrowing Younger's particular application. It hopefully will stop what I regard as Younger Creep--where district court either used Younger to abstain inappropriately or cited it as the basis for abstaining instead of some more appropriate abstention doctrine.

But it might be interesting to consider two recent cases in which the federal court abstained on Younger grounds and how they should play out under the new analysis.

First is Tyler v. Commonwealth, where the district court abstained in deference to some potential future family-law proceeding between the girl and the convicted rapist. As a purely private proceeding, that would no longer should be subject to Younger. There also was the underlying state criminal case to which the girl was not a party, but she was not actually seeking to enjoin that proceeding.

Second is SKS Assocs. v. Dart, a 2010 case out of the Seventh Circuit that I use as a problem in the book and in class. The court affirmed abstention from a challenge to the constitutionality of a state court order issued in several pending eviction actions. This is not a criminal proceeding or a civil proceeding involving state enforcement efforts. And the challenge was not to the statutory source of the order, but to the order itself, so this should not fit within the third category. In class, I suggested that Rooker-Feldman was the proper basis here.

In both cases, I would argue that Rooker-Feldman is the appropriate basis for the court to decline to hear the case. Even if I am wrong about that, Sprint should make clear that Younger is not.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2013 at 04:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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True. And I agree that the case should have been dismissed, although I still believe Rooker-Feldman was the appropriate ground. My point is that the court's Younger analysis, which IMHO waswrong at the time, is now unquestionably wrong.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 11, 2013 11:52:25 AM

But Professor Wasserman, in the Tyler case Younger was only a secondary ground for abstention. The main ground was a combination of Burford and the federal domestic relations exception.

Posted by: Mark Regan | Dec 11, 2013 11:38:37 AM

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