MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellants are graduates of schools of chiropractic who seek to practice in Louisiana without complying with the educational requirements of the Louisiana Medical Practice Act, Title 37, La. Rev. Stat. §§ 1261-1290. They brought this action against respondent Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners in the Federal District Court
Appellants thereupon brought proceedings in the Louisiana courts. They did not restrict those proceedings to the question whether the Medical Practice Act applied to chiropractors. They unreservedly submitted for decision, and briefed and argued, their contention that the Act, if applicable to chiropractors, violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
Appellants then returned to the District Court,
There are fundamental objections to any conclusion that a litigant who has properly invoked the jurisdiction of a Federal District Court to consider federal constitutional claims can be compelled, without his consent and through no fault of his own, to accept instead a state court's determination of those claims.
It is true that, after a post-abstention determination and rejection of his federal claims by the state courts, a litigant could seek direct review in this Court. NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415; Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections, 360 U.S. 45. But such review, even when available by appeal rather than only by discretionary writ of certiorari, is an inadequate substitute for the initial District Court determination—often by three judges, 28 U. S. C. § 2281—to which the litigant is entitled in the federal courts. This is true as to issues of law; it is especially true as to issues of fact. Limiting the litigant to review here would deny him the benefit of a federal trial court's role in constructing a record and making fact findings. How the facts are found will often dictate the decision of federal claims. "It is the typical,
We also made clear in Button, however, that a party may elect to forgo that right. Our holding in that case was that a judgment of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upon federal issues submitted to the state tribunals by parties remitted there under the abstention doctrine was "final" for purposes of our review under 28 U. S. C. § 1257. In so determining, we held that the petitioner had elected "to seek a complete and final adjudication of [its] rights in the state courts" and thus not to return to the District Court, and that it had manifested this election "by seeking from the Richmond Circuit Court `a binding adjudication' of all its claims and a permanent
In Button, we had no need to determine what steps, if any, short of those taken by the petitioner there would suffice to manifest the election. The instant case, where appellants did not attempt to come directly to this Court but sought to return to the District Court, requires such a determination. The line drawn should be bright and clear, so that litigants shunted from federal to state courts by application of the abstention doctrine will not be exposed, not only to unusual expense and delay, but also to procedural traps operating to deprive them of their right to a District Court determination of their federal claims.
This rule requires clarification of our decision in Government Employees v. Windsor, 353 U.S. 364, the case referred to by the District Court. The plaintiffs in Windsor had submitted to the state courts only the question whether the state statute they challenged applied to them, and had not "advanced" or "presented" to those courts their contentions against the statute's constitutionality. We held that "the bare adjudication by the Alabama Supreme Court that the [appellant] union is subject to this Act does not suffice, since that court was not asked to interpret the statute in light of the constitutional objections presented to the District Court. If appellants'
We recognize that in the heat of litigation a party may find it difficult to avoid doing more than is required by Windsor. This would be particularly true in the typical case, such as the instant one, where the state courts are asked to construe a state statute against the backdrop of a federal constitutional challenge. The litigant denying the statute's applicability may be led not merely to state his federal constitutional claim but to argue it, for if he can persuade the state court that application of the statute to him would offend the Federal Constitution, he will ordinarily have persuaded it
Despite these uncertainties arising from application of Windsor—which decision, we repeat, does not require that federal claims be actually litigated in the state courts—a party may readily forestall any conclusion that he has elected not to return to the District Court. He may accomplish this by making on the state record the "reservation to the disposition of the entire case by the state courts" that we referred to in Button. That is, he may inform the state courts that he is exposing his federal claims there only for the purpose of complying with Windsor, and that he intends, should the state courts hold against him on the question of state law, to return to the District Court for disposition of his federal contentions. Such an explicit reservation is not indispensable; the litigant is in no event to be denied his right to return to the District Court unless it clearly appears that he voluntarily did more than Windsor required and fully litigated his federal claims in the state courts.
On the record in the instant case, the rule we announce today would call for affirmance of the District Court's judgment. But we are unwilling to apply the rule against these appellants. As we have noted, their primary reason for litigating their federal claims in the state courts was assertedly a view that Windsor required them to do so.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, concurring.
The judge-made rule we announce today promises to have such a serious impact on litigants who are properly in the federal courts that I think a reappraisal of Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, from which today's decision stems, is necessary. Although the propriety of the Pullman doctrine, either as originally decided or as it has evolved, has not been raised by the parties, I think it is time for the Court, sua sponte, to reevaluate it.
The Pullman case, decided a little over 20 years ago, launched an experiment in the management of federalstate relations that has inappropriately been called the "abstention doctrine." There are numerous occasions when a federal court abstains, dismissing an action or declining to entertain it because a state tribunal is a more appropriate one for resolving the controversy. A bankruptcy court commonly sends its trustee into state courts to have complex questions of local law adjudicated. Thompson v. Magnolia Co., 309 U.S. 478. A federal court refuses to exercise its equity powers by appointing receivers to take charge of a failing business, where state procedures afford adequate protection to all private rights. Pennsylvania v. Williams, 294 U.S. 176. A federal court will normally not entertain a suit to enjoin criminal prosecutions in state tribunal, with review of such convictions by this Court being restricted to constitutional issues. Beal v. Missouri Pac. R. Co., 312 U.S. 45. A federal court declines to entertain an action for declaratory relief against state taxes because of the federal policy against
Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., supra, is a different kind of case. There the federal court does not abstain; it does not dismiss the complaint; it retains jurisdiction while the parties go to a state tribunal to obtain a preliminary ruling—a declaratory judgment—on state law questions. The reason for requiring them to repair to the state tribunal for a preliminary ruling on a question of state law is because the state law is challenged on federal constitutional grounds; if the state law is construed one way, the constitutional issue may disappear; the federal constitutional question will survive only if one of two or more state-law constructions is adopted. The "last word" as to the meaning of local law "belongs neither to us nor to the district court but to the supreme court of Texas," we said in the Pullman case, 312 U. S., at 500. We concluded:
I was a member of the Court that launched Pullman and sent it on its way. But if I had realized the creature it was to become, my doubts would have been far deeper than they were.
Pullman from the start seemed to have some qualities of a legal research luxury. As I said in Clay v. Sun Ins. Office, 363 U.S. 207, 228 (dissenting opinion):
As recently stated by the late Judge Charles E. Clark of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, "As a result of this doctrine, individual litigants have been shuffled back and forth between state and federal courts, and cases have been dragged out over eight-and ten-year periods." Federal Procedural Reform and States' Rights, 40 Tex. L. Rev. 211, 221 (1961).
Professor Charles A. Wright described the results that occurred when this doctrine was applied to a suit to enjoin the enforcement of a state statute restricting the rights of state employees to join unions:
This case raises a question so simple that it at least verges on the insubstantial. The question is whether Louisiana's Medical Practice Act, La. Rev. Stat., § 37:1261 et seq. includes chiropractors as practitioners of medicine. The State Board of Medical Examiners, representing the State, says that they are included. The chiropractors say they are not and, if they are, that the Act is unconstitutional. The case was started in May 1957, and here we are nearly seven years later without a decision on the merits.
That seems like an unnecessary price to pay for our federalism. Referral to state courts for declaratory rulings on state law questions is said to encourage a smooth operation of our federalism, as it may avoid clashes between the two systems. But there always have been clashes and always will be; and the influence of the Pullman doctrine has, I think, been de minimis. Moreover, the complexity of local law to federal judges is inherent in the federal court system as designed by Congress. Resolution of local law questions is implicit in diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. Since Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, the federal courts under that head of jurisdiction daily have the task of determining what the state law is. The fact that those questions are complex and difficult is no excuse for a refusal by the District Court to entertain the suit. Meredith v. Winter Haven, 320 U.S. 228. We there said:
The question now presented is how and when one who asserts his "option" to sue in "the federal rather than in the state courts," but who is remitted to the state court for a preliminary ruling, loses his right to return to the federal court for a final adjudication on the constitutional issues.
In Propper v. Clark, 337 U.S. 472, 491, we said that if, on referral of a discrete issue to the state courts, the latter required "complete adjudication of the controversy, the District Court would perhaps be compelled to stay proceedings in the state court to protect its own jurisdiction." We went on to say, "Otherwise, in sending a fragment of the litigation to a state court, the federal court might find itself blocked by res judicata, with the result that the entire federal controversy would be ousted from the federal courts, where it was placed by Congress." Id., at 491-492.
Today we put federal jurisdiction in jeopardy. As the Court says there are many advantages in a federally constructed record. Moreover, federal judges appointed for life are more likely to enforce the constitutional rights of unpopular minorities than elected state judges. Madison stated the problem when the creation of lower federal courts was being mooted:
Federal judges have come in for a share of criticism in this regard, the charge at times being that on racial issues they have too often "suffered the federal law to be flouted." Lusky, Racial Discrimination and the Federal Law, 63 Col. L. Rev. 1163, 1179 (1963). That at times may be the case. But from this vantage point their devotion to the rule of law over-all seems outstanding. We stand to let federal courts lose their command over critical litigation by what we do today. The Court holds that, though the litigant goes to the state court involuntarily, he loses his right to return to the federal court if he submits the local law question and the constitutional questions to the state tribunal without reserving his right to return to the federal forum for a final adjudication. It will often be necessary to submit the local law question in light of the constitutional questions. Indeed it will be prudent to do so in light of Government Employees v. Windsor, supra, where we ruled, "The bare adjudication by the Alabama Supreme Court that the union is subject to this Act does not suffice, since that court was not asked to interpret the statute in light of the constitutional objections presented to the District Court." 353 U. S., at 366.
Yet we now hold that if a party, who is sent by the federal court to the state courts for a preliminary ruling, submits the whole problem to those courts—that is, the constitutional as well as the bare bones of the state law question—he is presumed to have elected to try his case there rather than in the federal courts, unless he expressly reserved the right to return to return to the federal tribunal.
What we do today makes the Pullman case something of a Frankenstein. Any presumption should work the other way—that he who is required to go to the state courts and does what we require him to do when he gets there, is not there voluntarily and does not forsake his federal suit, unless he does something in the state courts that he is not required to do and that evinces an election to litigate the matter finally and not preliminarily in the state courts.
As, if, and when he exhausts the state procedure and decides to come here, as was done in NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, he has elected to abandon the federal for the state forum. Id., at 428. But short of that, he seldom can be said to have made such an election. For when he pursues the matter through the hierarchy of the state courts, he is doing only what he is required to do. The only time when he goes beyond that requirement is when he takes the fork in the road leading here rather than the one to the District Court.
If the Pullman doctrine is to be preserved, we should lighten rather than make more ponderous the procedures which we have been imposing. We have made Pullman mandatory, not discretionary, with the District Courts. As stated in Louisiana P. & L. Co. v. Thibodaux, 360 U.S. 25, 28, ". . . we have required District Courts,
We have, moreover, extended the Pullman doctrine, contrary to our prior decision in Propper v. Clark, supra, at 491-492, to cases that involve no shadow of a substantial constitutional issue but only local law questions in the field of eminent domain.
Thus the Pullman doctrine reflects an antipathy to federal courts passing on state law questions.
There have been historic clashes between the federal courts and the States, some of them needless. See Warren, Federal and State Court Interference, 43 Harv. L. Rev. 345 (1930). The examples are numerous. Thus federal courts, free and easy with injunctions, interfered wholesale with public utility rate orders,
Those chapters have ended, sometimes as a result of judicial housekeeping,
If we are to retain the Pullman doctrine, I think with all deference, we should make it less of a mandatory and more a discretionary procedure and lighten its requirements, rather than make them stricter.
We should permit the District Court to refer the matter to the state court for a declaratory judgment only where the State offers such relief.
The Pullman doctrine, as it has evolved, is the least desirable alternative. It is better, I think, for the federal courts to decide local law questions, as they customarily do in the diversity cases, adding at the foot of the decree as Mr. Justice Cardozo, writing for a unanimous Court, did in Lee v. Bickell, 292 U.S. 415, 426:
Another alternative is for the District Court to follow the certificate route, when one is available. The Florida Supreme Court is authorized
After today's decision, application of the Pullman doctrine to the field of civil rights, particularly to controversies involving the rights of Negroes, will have, I think, serious effects. Harrison v. NAACP, 360 U.S. 167, and NAACP v. Button, supra, are harbingers of things to come. The complaint in those cases was filed November 28, 1956, and our decision on the merits was not announced until January 14, 1963. In other words, nearly seven years elapsed between the institution of the litigation and an adjudication on the merits. The end product could still be described as a sizable collision between Nation and State.
Cases where Negroes are prosecuted and convicted in state courts can find their way expeditiously to this Court, provided they present constitutional questions. Yet instances where Negroes assert their rights in judicial proceedings will continue to be numerous. Those suits will be civil ones and almost always instituted in the Federal
The Bar is now told that if one repairs to the state courts and submits the state law question along with the federal constitutional questions, he will be presumed to have elected to pursue the state remedy, unless he makes clear a purpose to return to the federal court when the state court has made its ruling. I gather that, without that reservation, the record will be taken to mean that "he voluntarily litigated his federal claims in the state courts." Or, if he forgets or fails to make such a reservation, he can still preserve his right to return to the federal court by doing what the Court now says is required of him by Windsor. For he is told today that instead of submitting his federal claims to be "litigated," he may submit his state law questions only for consideration "in light of" the federal questions. Those who read this opinion may have adequate warning. But this opinion, like most, will become an obscure one—little known to the Bar. Lawyers do not keep up with all the nuances of court opinions, especially those touching on as exotic a rule of federal procedure as the one which we evolve today. I fear therefore that the rule we announce today will be a veritable trap.
I mention the time element as one of the evils spun by the Pullman doctrine. Time has a particularly noxious effect on explosive civil rights questions, where the problem only festers as grievances pile high and the law takes its slow, expensive pace to decide in years what should be decided promptly.
The late Judge Charles E. Clark made an apt and pertinent observation on the impact of the Pullman doctrine. At times, he said, "the upshot inevitably seems to be a negative decision or, in plain language, a defendant's judgment."
MR. JUSTICE BLACK, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I join in the judgment and in the opinion insofar as the Court holds that the District Court erred in the reasons it gave for dismissing appellants' action. I am of the opinion, however, that the dismissal should be affirmed on the grounds relied upon by Judge J. Skelly Wright sitting alone in the District Court when the action first was brought: that the complaint failed to state a substantial federal question warranting exercise of jurisdiction. See Hitchcock v. Collenberg, 140 F.Supp. 894 (D. C. D. Md.), aff'd, 353 U.S. 919; cf. Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30. Compare Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners v. Fife, 162 La. 681, 111 So. 58, aff'd, 274 U.S. 720; Dent v. West Virginia, 129 U.S. 114. See also Judge Wisdom's opinions dissenting from reversal of Judge Wright's ruling, 259 F.2d 626, 627 (C. A. 5th Cir.), and 263 F.2d 661, 674 (C. A. 5th Cir.). Although a petition for certiorari to review the decision of the Fifth Circuit was denied, 359 U.S. 1012, issues raised at that stage of the litigation which remain dispositive of the case are properly before us. Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163.
In Meridian v. Southern Bell T. & T. Co., 358 U.S. 639, in which the District Court was ordered to stay its hand while the parties repaired to the state court, the State involved, Mississippi, lacked a declaratory judgment procedure. See IV Martindale-Hubbell (1963), p. 979. A state court determination was obtained only when the parties switched roles, with the city—a defendant in the federal court declaratory judgment action—suing the telephone company for noncompliance with the law originally challenged as unconstitutional. The state action was resolved in the telephone company's favor. Southern Bell T. & T. Co. v. Meridian, 241 Miss. 678, 131 So.2d 666.
"The supreme court of this state may, by rule of court, provide that, when it shall appear to the supreme court of the United States, to any circuit court of appeals of the United States, or to the court of appeals of the District of Columbia, that there are involved in any proceeding before it questions or propositions of the laws of this state, which are determinative of the said cause, and there are no clear controlling precedents in the decisions of the supreme court of this state, such federal appellate court may certify such questions or propositions of the laws of this state to the supreme court of this state for instructions concerning such questions or propositions of state law, which certificate the supreme court of this state, by written opinion, may answer."
See Kurland, Toward A Co-operative Judicial Federalism, 24 F. R. D. 481, 489-490 (1959); Note, 73 Harv. L. Rev. 1358, 1368 (1960).
"When it shall appear to the Supreme Court of the United States, or to any of the Courts of Appeal of the United States that there are involved in any proceeding before it questions or propositions of law of this state which are determinative of said cause and that there are no clear controlling precedents in the decisions of the Supreme Court of this state, such federal appellate court may certify such questions or propositions of law of this state to the Supreme Court of Florida for instructions concerning such questions or propositions of state law."
"These observations call for qualification in one instance: the rights of action specially conferred by Congress in the Civil Rights Laws. There Congress has declared the historic judgment that within this precious area, often calling for a trial by jury, there is to be no slightest risk of nullification by state process. The danger is unhappily not past. It would be moving in the wrong direction to reduce the jurisdiction in this field—not because the interest of the state is smaller in such cases, but because its interest is outweighed by other factors of the highest national concern. Needless to say, to formulate the scope of the exception is no drafting problem; its measure is the rights of action given by the Civil Rights Laws." Id., at 230.