MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
Title 2 of the Texas Family Code was enacted in 1973 and first went into effect on January 1, 1974. It was amended substantially in the following year. The Title defines the contours of the parent-child relationship and the permissible areas and modes of state intervention. This suit presents the first broad constitutional challenge to interrelated parts of that statutory scheme. It raises novel constitutional questions of the correlative rights and duties of parents, children, and the State in suits affecting the parent-child relationship.
This litigation, involving suspected instances of child abuse, was initiated by state authorities in the Texas state courts in 1976. The state proceedings, however, were enjoined by the three-judge District Court below, which went on to find various parts of Title 2 unconstitutional on their face or as applied. We noted probable jurisdiction. 439 U.S. 925 (1978). This appeal first raises the question whether in light of the pending state proceedings, the Federal District Court should have exercised its jurisdiction. We conclude that it should not have done so and accordingly reverse and remand with instructions that the complaint be dismissed.
The appellees in this case, husband and wife and their three minor children, seek a declaration that parts of Title 2 of the
On the day that it took custody of the children, the Department decided to institute a suit for emergency protection of the children under § 17.02 of the Texas Family Code.
Five days later, the appellees appeared in court and moved to modify the ex parte order, the proper procedure for terminating the Department's temporary custody.
The appellees then had actual knowledge that the action had been moved to Montgomery County.
On April 20, a temporary restraining order was denied appellees by the District Court. A hearing on the application for a
On May 4, however, one day before the scheduled federal hearing, the Simses returned to the state-court system, moving to file an original petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Texas Court of Civil Appeals. The motion was denied for want of jurisdiction.
The next day, the Federal District Court held that the temporary orders issued by the state court had expired and that the children had to be returned to their parents, although the Department was not enjoined from pursuing a new action in state court. The court noted that it was requesting a three-judge court to consider appellees' constitutional challenge to Title 2. On May 14, the Department did file a new § 11.02 suit in Montgomery County, and the state court issued a show-cause order and writ of attachment ordering that Paul Sims be delivered to the temporary custody of his grandparents. The court set the show-cause hearing for May 21, but the Simses could not be found for purposes of service and the hearing was reset for June 21. The Simses countered by filing in the United States District Court a second application for a temporary restraining order addressed to the Montgomery County Juvenile Court, which was granted on May 21. The three-judge court on June 7 entered a preliminary injunction enjoining the Department and other defendants from filing or prosecuting any state suit under the challenged state statutes until a final determination by the three-judge court. That determination was made on October 12, 1977, and is the subject of this appeal.
After concluding that abstention under the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), was unwarranted because the litigation was "multifaceted," involved custody of children, and was the product of procedural confusion in the state courts, the District Court addressed the merits of the due process challenges. It surveyed virtually every aspect of
Appellants argue that the Federal District Court should have abstained in this case under the principles of Younger v. Harris, supra. The Younger doctrine, which counsels federal-court abstention when there is a pending state proceeding, reflects a strong policy against federal intervention in state judicial processes in the absence of great and immediate irreparable injury to the federal plaintiff. Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 69 (1971). That policy was first articulated with reference to state criminal proceedings, but as we recognized in Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592 (1975), the basic concern—that threat to our federal system posed by displacement of state courts by those of the National Government—is also fully applicable to civil proceedings in which important state interests are involved. As was the case in Huffman, the State here was a party to the state proceedings, and the temporary removal of a child in a child-abuse context is, like the public nuisance statute involved in Huffman, "in aid of and closely related to criminal statutes." Id., at 604. The existence of these conditions, or the presence of such other vital concerns as enforcement of contempt proceedings, Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327 (1977), or the vindication of "important state policies such as safeguarding the fiscal integrity of [public assistance] programs," Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434, 444 (1977), determines the applicability of Younger-Huffman principles as a bar to the institution of a later federal action.
The District Court, however, did not rely expressly on these established exceptions to the Younger doctrine in finding that abstention was inappropriate in this case. Rather, it concluded that Younger abstention was not warranted because the action taken by the State of Texas in this case is "multifaceted"; "there is no single state proceeding to which the plaintiffs may look for relief on constitutional or any other grounds." 438 F. Supp., at 1187.
The court specifically alluded to the allegations regarding the Child Abuse and Neglect Report and Inquiry System (CANRIS), id., at 1187 n. 5, that is, the appellees' challenge on constitutional grounds to the State's computerized collection and dissemination of child-abuse information where that information is not the product of a judicial determination of abuse or neglect.
The meaning of the District Court's reference to this litigation as "multifaceted" is unclear, but two possible interpretations
There are also intimations in the District Court's opinion that its decision to exert jurisdiction was influenced by a broader and novel consideration—the breadth of appellees' challenge to Title 2.
The earliest abstention cases were rooted in notions of equity. In Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 498 (1941), the Court observed that the dispute before it implicated "a sensitive area of social policy upon which the federal courts ought not to enter unless no alternative to its adjudication is open." The Court found the "resources of equity" sufficient to accommodate an adjustment which would avoid "the friction of a premature constitutional adjudication" and obviate the need for a federal court to interpret state law without the benefit of an authoritative interpretation by a state court. Id., at 500. Thus evolved the doctrine of Pullman abstention: that a federal action should be stayed pending determination in state court of state-law issues central to
There are three distinct considerations that counsel abstention when broad-based challenges are made to state statutes, and it is common to see each figure in an abstention decision; for the broader the challenge, the more evident each consideration becomes. There is first the Pullman concern: that a federal court will be forced to interpret state law without the benefit of state-court consideration and therefore under circumstances where a constitutional determination is predicated on a reading of the statute that is not binding on state courts and may be discredited at any time—thus essentially rendering the federal-court decision advisory and the litigation underlying it meaningless. Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 387, 401-402 (1941); and Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450, 459-461 (1945). These dangers increase with the breadth of the challenge.
The second consideration is the need for a concrete case or controversy—a concern also obviously enhanced by the scope of the challenge. That is demonstrated by the instant case.
The final concern prompted by broad facial attacks on state statutes is the threat to our federal system of government posed by "the needless obstruction to the domestic policy of the states by forestalling state action in construing and applying its own statutes." Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory, supra, at 471.
State courts are the principal expositors of state law. Almost every constitutional challenge—and particularly one as far ranging as that involved in this case—offers the opportunity for narrowing constructions that might obviate the constitutional
In sum, the only pertinent inquiry is whether the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise the constitutional claims, and Texas law appears to raise no procedural barriers.
The District Court framed this "second independent basis for the inapplicability of Younger principles" as follows:
The reliance on Gerstein is misplaced. That case involved a challenge to pretrial restraint on the basis of a prosecutor's information alone, without the benefit of a determination of probable cause by a judicial officer. This Court held that the District Court properly found that the action was not barred by Younger because the injunction was not addressed to a state proceeding and therefore would not interfere with the criminal prosecutions themselves. "The order to hold preliminary hearings could not prejudice the conduct of the trial on the merits." Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 108 n. 9 (1975). Here the injunction did address the state proceeding and it was not necessary to obtain the release of the children, for they had already been placed in the custody of their parents pursuant to a federal-court order. This Court has addressed the Younger doctrine on a number of occasions since
As for the argument that the delay in affording the parents a hearing in state court made Younger abstention inappropriate, we cannot distinguish this argument from conventional claims of bad faith and other sources of great, immediate, and irreparable harm if the federal court does not intervene—traditional circumstances where a federal court need not stay its hand. We simply cannot agree that the conduct of the state authorities in this case evinces bad faith; and we do not read the District Court as expressly so finding. That there was confusion is undeniable. It is evident in the uncertainty regarding the effective period of a temporary order under § 11.11 and regarding the propriety of entering that order when venue was in Montgomery County. But confusion is not bad faith, and in this case confusion was the predictable byproduct of a new statutory scheme. The question would be a much closer one had appellees diligently sought a hearing in Montgomery County after the Harris County action was transferred or had they pursued their appellate remedies.
Once it is determined that there is no bad faith, there remain only limited grounds for not applying Younger. The District Court did not find, nor could it have found, "harassment." Nor could it credibly be claimed that Title 2 is "flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every clause, sentence and paragraph, and in whatever manner and against whomever an effort might be made to apply it." Watson v. Buck, 313 U. S., at 402, quoted in Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S., at 53-54.
The District Court placed some reliance on the observation in Younger that there may be other "extraordinary circumstances
See Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U. S., at 442 n. 7.
To gauge whether such extraordinary circumstances exist in this case, we must view the situation at the time the state proceedings were enjoined. On May 21, when the District Court granted a temporary restraining order, and on June 7, when the three-judge court entered a preliminary injunction enjoining appellants from filing or prosecuting any state suit under the challenged state statutes until the District Court had finally determined the questions at issue, the two adult appellees had already successfully obtained possession of their minor children by means of the federal-court order of
It is in this posture that one must consider the propriety of the District Court's injunction barring further state proceedings. Paul Sims was within the custody of his parents, and a specific date had been set for the show-cause hearing regarding the writ of attachment, at which time the parents could press their objections. Unless we were to hold that every attachment issued to protect a child creates great, immediate, and irreparable harm warranting federal-court intervention, we are hard pressed to conclude that with the state proceedings in this posture federal intervention was warranted.
Perhaps anticipating this logic, the District Court in this case concluded that "[t]he denial of custody of the children pending any hearing regardless of the result of the hearing, is in itself sufficient to prevent the application of Younger," 438 F. Supp., at 1187. Presumably, this conclusion was prompted by the District Court's observation that "the constitutional issues raised by the plaintiffs reach the application of due process in an area of the greatest importance to our society, the family." Ibid. But the District Court again inverts
We reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand with instructions that the complaint be dismissed.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
Before asking whether any of the recognized exceptions to the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, make it appropriate for a federal court to exercise its jurisdiction to pass on the constitutionality of a state statute, the Court should first decide whether there is a legitimate basis for invoking the Younger doctrine at all. It has never been suggested that every pending proceeding between a State and a federal plaintiff justifies abstention unless one of the exceptions to Younger
The policy of equitable restraint expressed in Younger "is founded on the premise that ordinarily a pending state prosecution provides the accused a fair and sufficient opportunity for vindication of federal constitutional rights." Kugler v. Helfant, 421 U.S. 117, 124. Since "no citizen or member of the community is immune from prosecution, in good faith, for his alleged criminal acts," Younger v. Harris, supra, at 46, there is no justification for intervention by a court of equity to rule on claims which may be raised as a defense to the criminal prosecution and which, if meritorious, will result in adequate relief in that forum. Moreover, in our federal system, intervention by a federal court with respect to the questions at issue in state proceedings carries with it additional costs in terms of comity and federalism, for it "can readily be interpreted as reflecting negatively upon the state court's ability to enforce constitutional principles." Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 604.
The District Court's conclusion that abstention was inappropriate in this case was based squarely on its finding "that there is for these plaintiffs no `opportunity to fairly pursue their constitutional claims in an ongoing state proceeding.'"
In requiring abstention in this case, the Court, in my judgment, is departing from these well-established principles and extending Younger beyond its logical bounds. The Sims parents sought relief in federal court after 42 days of "diligent efforts" to secure a hearing in state court in order to regain custody of their children.
The only proceeding pending in state court at the time they brought this suit was a "Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship" initiated by the Harris County Welfare Unit on April 5 pursuant to ch. 11 of the Texas Family Code.
In the hearing to be afforded under ch. 11, the state court would be required to decide whether the children should be returned to the custody of their parents or whether their interests would be better served by alternative arrangements for their care. With limited exceptions,
As to these constitutional claims, the hearing to be afforded in state court on parental fitness and permanent custody was virtually as irrelevant as a hearing on a traffic violation. It is clearly the case, and the majority does not suggest otherwise, that the Simses could not avoid losing custody of their children at that point by successfully arguing that the State had acted unconstitutionally in its initial seizure of the children, or that a hearing should have been afforded earlier. These claims could not be raised "as a defense to the ongoing proceedings," Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 330;
It may well be, as the majority suggests, that the Simses could have raised their constitutional claims against the State, not in defense, but in the nature of permissive counterclaims. The findings of the District Court, however, suggest the contrary.
The Younger doctrine does not require a litigant to pursue such an unwise and impractical course of litigation. Younger does not bar federal-court consideration of "an issue that could not be raised in defense of the criminal prosecution." Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 108 n. 9.
While this factor alone is sufficient to render the Younger doctrine inapplicable, there is an even more basic objection to its application here. Younger abstention in these circumstances does not merely deprive the plaintiffs of their right to initiate new claims in the forum of their choice. Far more seriously, it deprives them of any relief at all. For this state forum could not and did not afford plaintiffs the sufficient opportunity
The three Sims children were taken into custody by the Harris County Child Welfare Unit on March 25, 1976, based on a telephone report that one of the children was possibly the victim of child abuse. After "diligent" but unsuccessful efforts by the parents to be heard in state court, they finally went to federal court where, 42 days after they lost custody of their children, the Simses were heard for the first time in a court of law and their children were returned to them.
"[T]he opportunity to raise and have timely decided by a competent state tribunal the federal issues involved,"
In my judgment, there could be no serious criticism of a holding that the Younger doctrine could properly be invoked in this case to bar consideration of the limited and easily divisible aspects of the Simses' challenge which were directed at the procedures to be followed in the ch. 11 adversary hearing.
"An authorized representative of the State Department of Public Welfare, a law-enforcement officer, or a juvenile probation officer may take possession of a child to protect him from an immediate danger to his health or physical safety and deliver him to any court having jurisdiction of suits under this subtitle, whether or not the court has continuing jurisdiction under Section 11.05 of this code. The child shall be delivered immediately to the court." Tex. Fam. Code Ann., Tit. 2, § 17.01 (Supp. 1978-1979).
These emergency seizures are to be followed by hearings provided for in § 17.02 (1975):
"Unless the child is taken into possession pursuant to a temporary order entered by a court under Section 11.11 of this code, the officer or representative shall file a petition in the court immediately on delivery of the child to the court, and a hearing shall be held to provide for the temporary care or protection of the child."
"On a showing that the child is apparently without support and is dependent on society for protection, or that the child is in immediate danger of physical or emotional injury, the court may make any appropriate order for the care and protection of the child and may appoint a temporary managing conservator for the child."
§ 17.05 (Supp. 1978-1979):
"(a) An order issued under Section 17.04 of this code expires at the end of the 10-day period following the date of the order, on the restoration of the child to the possession of its parent, guardian, or conservator, or on the issuance of ex parte temporary orders in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship under this subtitle, whichever occurs first.
"(b) If the child is not restored to the possession of its parent, guardian, or conservator, the court shall:
"(1) order such restoration or possession; or
"(2) direct the filing of a suit affecting the parent-child relationship in the appropriate court with regard to continuing jurisdiction."
"On the motion of a parent, managing conservator, or guardian of the person of the child, and notice to those persons involved in the original emergency hearing, the court shall conduct a hearing and may modify any emergency order made under this chapter if found to be in the best interest of the child."
Suits affecting the parent-child relationship are authorized by § 11.02 (1975). These suits are the vehicles by which the State brings about any change in the parent-child relationship.
"(b) One or more matters covered by this subtitle may be determined in the suit. The court, on its own motion, may require the parties to replead in order that any issue affecting the parent-child relationship may be determined in the suit." Tex. Fam. Code Ann., Tit. 2, § 11.02 (b) (1975).
As one Texas commentator has noted, § 11.02 (b) vests "a broad range of powers and duties on district courts in cases in which minors appear before the court." Smith, Draftmen's Commentary to Title 2 of the Texas Family Code, 5 Tex. Tech. L. Rev. 389, 393 (1974). He notes that this section adopts the liberal approach to joinder of claims and remedies found in Tex. Rule Civ. Proc. 51. Section 11.14, which describes the hearing in suits affecting the parent-child relationship, fortifies that view. It states: "(a) Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, proceedings shall be as in civil cases generally."
Texas Rule Civ. Proc. 51 is modeled on Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 18 and provides in relevant part that "[t]he plaintiff in his petition or in a reply setting forth a counterclaim and the defendant in an answer setting forth a counterclaim may join either as independent or as alternate claims as many claims either legal or equitable or both as he may have against an opposing party." Thus, Texas procedural law has long encouraged joinder of claims in civil actions. See, e. g., Texas Gauze Mills v. Goatley, 119 S.W.2d 887, 888 (Tex. Civ. App. 1938); Blair v. Gay, 33 Tex. 157, 165 (1870).
In a very recent case, In re R. E. W., 545 S.W.2d 573 (1976), the Texas Court of Civil Appeals has indicated that under Title 2 the full range of constitutional challenges is cognizable in the emergency-removal proceedings and in suits affecting the parent-child relationship. Id., at 575. Therefore, this is not a case like Hernandez v. Finley, 471 F.Supp. 516 (ND Ill. 1978), summarily aff'd sub nom. Quern v. Hernandez, 440 U.S. 951 (1979), where the three-judge court found, after our remand in Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434 (1977), that the applicable state procedures did not permit the defendant to raise a constitutional challenge.
The dissenters' additional argument that a constitutional attack on state procedures automatically vitiates the adequacy of those procedures for purposes of the Younger-Huffman line of cases is reiteration of a theme sounded and rejected in prior cases. See Trainor v. Hernandez, supra, at 469-470 (STEVENS, J., dissenting); Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 339-340 (1977) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment).
"Here it is abundantly clear that appellees had an opportunity to present their federal claims in the state proceedings. No more is required to invoke Younger abstention. . . . Appellees need be accorded only an opportunity to fairly pursue their constitutional claims in the ongoing state proceedings . . . and their failure to avail themselves of such opportunities does not mean that the state procedures were inadequate." (Footnotes omitted; emphasis in original.)
"2. That the use of Section 11.11 (a) (4) in conjunction with Chapter 17 of Title 2 of the Texas Family Code to deprive parents of the custody of children for longer than ten (10) days measured from the date of the deprivation, without a full adversary hearing, is an unconstitutional application of said provision.
"5. That Section 17.03 is unconstitutional on its face insofar as it fails to require the State to make all reasonable efforts to serve notice on the parents of the ex parte hearing to be held immediately after possession of a child is taken by the State.
"6. That Section 17.05 is unconstitutional on its face insofar as it fails to require the State to hold a full adversary hearing with adequate notice to the parents before possession of a child taken by the State can be retained by the State beyond ten (10) days.
"7. That Section 17.06 is unconstitutional on its face insofar as it fails to require the State to hold a full adversary hearing at the expiration of the ex parte order, if the State seeks to obtain an order to retain possession of the child beyond ten (10) days.
"8. That Section 34.05 (c) is unconstitutional on its face insofar as it fails to require notice to the parents and a hearing in which the State makes a showing that a court order allowing psychological or psychiatric examinations is necessary to aid in the investigation of the abuse or neglect before such an order is obtained." App. A-102—A-103.