Legal Memorandum: Stay of State Court Proceedings

Issue: Under the federal Anti-Injunction Act, when may a court enjoin state court proceedings under an exception expressly authorized by Act of Congress?

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: State court proceedings; Injunction; Stay
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 451 F. Supp. 210; 328 F. Supp. 574; 431 U.S. 434
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 18 U.S.C. § 2283
Date: 10/01/2014

The Anti-Injunction Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2283, provides that “[a] court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.”  There are a number of statutes that expressly allow for the entry of injunctions by federal courts (e.g., bankruptcy code’s automatic stay of other proceedings upon filing of bankruptcy; habeas corpus statute allows stay of state proceedings).  However, the exception is not so limited and has been found to apply to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims even though the statute does not actually expressly state that injunctions are authorized.  Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225 (1972); Trainor v Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434 (1977).      

In Mitchum, a Florida prosecutor obtained a state court order closing a bookstore as a public nuisance.  The bookstore owner filed a § 1983 claim in federal court claiming that the order violated his freedom of speech and requested an injunction against the state court order.  The court reasoned that § 1983 “expressly authorizes” an injunction because it permits “action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.”  Id.  Thus, it creates a “specific and uniquely federal right or remedy that is enforceable in federal court of equity.”  Such a right would be meaningless if the court could not issue injunctions.  Id. at 238.

Courts since Mitchum have consistently followed its holding and upheld § […]

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