The State of Alabama brought suit against appellant MTM in state court under the Alabama nuisance law, Ala. Code, Tit. 7, §§ 1081-1108 (1958),
After issuance of the temporary injunction and while action on the request for a permanent injunction was pending in state court, appellant filed this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U. S. C. § 1983. It asked the federal court to enjoin enforcement of the state-court temporary injunction and to declare the Alabama nuisance law unconstitutional. Appellant claimed that the challenged statutory provisions and the state-court temporary injunction infringed its First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
A three-judge federal court was convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2281 to consider appellant's complaint. Without resolving the constitutional merits of the complaint, the three-judge court dismissed the complaint without prejudice.
Appellant has brought the case directly to this Court, asserting that jurisdiction exists under 28 U. S. C. § 1253, and arguing that the requirements of Younger v. Harris, supra, did not preclude relief on these facts. We noted probable jurisdiction over this appeal and set this case for argument in tandem with Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., ante, p. 592. 415 U.S. 974 (1974).
Unless jurisdiction over this direct appeal from the three-judge court decision below is conferred by 28 U. S. C. § 1253, we are without authority to entertain it.
Appellant argues that its complaint presented a "suit . . . required . . . to be heard" by a three-judge court
In Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union, 419 U.S. 90 (1974), we recently discussed in some detail the question of what constitutes an order "denying" injunctive relief for purposes of § 1253. There we held that direct appeal to this Court under § 1253 did not lie from the order of a three-judge court dismissing a complaint because of an absence of standing where the three-judge court did not reach the merits of the constitutional claim presented. Although our decision rested at least partially on the ground that a three-judge court was not "required" where the ground for decision below was an absence of standing, 419 U. S., at 100, we also explored the question of whether an order of a three-judge court "denies" an injunction, for purposes of § 1253, where there is no adverse resolution of the constitutional claims presented. Although noting that certain decisions of this Court and a literal reading of § 1253 might be taken to support the notion that a denial of injunctive relief on any basis by a three-judge court is within the purview of § 1253, we concluded that stare decisis is entitled to
The conflicting decisions of this Court on the question of whether § 1253 jurisdiction attaches where a three-judge federal court fails to reach the merits of a constitutional claim for injunctive relief do not provide a consistent answer to this question. Compare Lynch v. Household Finance Corp., 405 U.S. 538 (1972), with Mengelkoch v. Industrial Welfare Comm'n, 393 U.S. 83 (1968); Rosado v. Wyman, 395 U.S. 826 (1969); Mitchell v. Donovan, 398 U.S. 427 (1970). See Gonzalez v.
In light of these factors, we conclude that a direct appeal will lie to this Court under § 1253 from the order of a three-judge federal court denying interlocutory or permanent injunctive relief only where such order rests upon resolution of the merits of the constitutional claim presented below.
In the instant case, the three-judge court below did not reach the merits of appellant's constitutional attack on the Alabama statute and instead based its order on the impropriety of federal intervention under our decision in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). In such circumstances, we are without jurisdiction to consider this appeal. The correctness of the application of Younger on these facts by the District Court is for the Court of Appeals to determine. Accordingly, we vacate the order before us and remand this case to the District Court so that a fresh order may be entered and a timely appeal prosecuted to the Court of Appeals.
It is so ordered.
The Court holds that dismissing a suit on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), grounds is not an order denying an injunction for the purposes of 28 U. S. C. § 1253 and is therefore not appealable directly to this Court, even assuming that the order could be issued only by a three-judge court. I agree with the result but not with this mode of achieving it.
If only a three-judge court may order such a dismissal, I have great difficulty in excluding such an order from the reach of the plain terms of § 1253. The sole justification for so manhandling the language of the section is to avoid our hearing a direct appeal on a nonconstitutional issue of federal law that has little if any connection with the reasons for requiring either three-judge courts or direct review of their decisions. That procedure was adopted to protect state statutes from improvident injunctions issued by a single federal judge on federal constitutional grounds. The more straightforward approach to this case would be to hold that decisions on issues other than requests for injunctive relief challenging the constitutionality of state statutes need not be made by three judges but rather are to be made or deemed to be made by single-judge courts whose decisions are appealable only to the courts of appeals. Proceeding in this manner would require no more than construing 28 U. S. C. §§ 2281 and 2284 (3) and (4), in the light of their original purpose, as applying only to orders granting or denying interlocutory or permanent injunctions where the constitutionality of state statutes is involved.
This approach may appear to be at odds with Idlewild Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713 (1962). There the Court held that a three-judge court is required where a statute was challenged on constitutional grounds but where a single judge ordered abstention pending presentation
Even if grounds for equitable relief are alleged in a complaint, a single judge should be able to rule on a motion to dismiss based on Younger v. Harris grounds. Much water has gone over the dam since Idlewild was decided. For one thing, in Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111 (1965), the Court made very plain that the three-judge-court requirement applied only to injunction suits depending entirely upon a substantive provision of the Constitution; injunctions by a single judge could be granted or denied where the claim of invalidity rested on a conflict with a federal statute. In Swift, the "statutory" claim was joined with the constitutional issue, but
The plain import of these cases is that three judges are not required merely because a complaint states a cause of action for an injunction based on a constitutional challenge to a state statute. All non-three-judge-court issues may be sorted out and tried by a single judge. Cases like Idlewild are derelicts and should be expressly cleared from the scene.
Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union, 419 U.S. 90 (1974), has shown the way and I would follow its lead. This is especially desirable in this case; for the result of the Court's holding is to require a three-judge court to pass on Younger v. Harris issues and to direct appeals from those orders to the court of appeals, where they would normally be heard again by three judges. This is an exorbitant expenditure of judicial manpower, and without reason in light of our cases.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
Like my Brother WHITE, I have great difficulty understanding how it is possible, within the plain terms of 28 U. S. C. § 1253, to avoid a direct appeal to this Court from a dismissal which is required to be made by a district court of three judges. The Court does not decide whether one or three judges would be required for the disposition made below. Rather, it concludes that direct appeal to this Court under § 1253 lies only from the denial of injunctive relief by a three-judge court which
I could at least concur in the result if I believed that a single judge had the power to dismiss based on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), grounds, but I have my doubts about that proposition as well. Recently the Court's hostility to three-judge courts has led it to restrict the need for such courts. See Gonzalez v. Employees Credit Union, 419 U.S. 90 (1974); Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528 (1974). I joined in those decisions, but I have come to the conclusion that the Court is going too far. I therefore must register my dissent.
Many have argued in recent years that the three-judge court is no longer needed, that it has outlived its original purposes and should therefore be eliminated as a needless waste of judicial resources.
I do not know how these various factors should be
To some extent the confusion surrounding three-judge courts is the fault of the statutory scheme, but I think that much of the blame must be placed on this Court. What is the status of Idlewild Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713 (1962), after today's decision? Perhaps Idlewild should be distinguished or overruled, as my Brother WHITE urges, but I remain unconvinced. I think we would do better to leave settled as many principles as we reasonably can in this troubled area, and I certainly do not think that we help matters by twisting
I would reverse the decision below for the reasons given in Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., ante, p. 613 (dissenting opinion), and I would remand the case for consideration of appellant's constitutional claims.