JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents questions concerning a federal court's obligation to abstain from the adjudication of federal claims
Respondents William Monaghan, Theodore DeSantis, and John James are in the construction business together. They jointly own respondents Foundations & Structures, Inc. (F & S), and MJD Construction Company, Inc., New Jersey corporations, and William E. Monaghan Associates, a New Jersey general partnership. On October 4, 1984, petitioner Albert G. Palentchar, a criminal investigator for the State of New Jersey, applied to the Honorable Samuel T. Lenox, Jr., the "assignment judge" of the Superior Court for Mercer County with supervisory authority over the state grand jury, for a warrant to search the Tuckahoe, N. J., premises of F & S for evidence of theft, bribery, records tampering, and other criminal activities that were the subject of an ongoing state grand jury investigation. Judge Lenox found probable cause and issued a warrant authorizing the seizure of documents, including contracts, minutes, site logs, invoices, correspondence, memoranda, deeds, canceled checks, and bank statements. The validity of this warrant has not been contested.
The following morning, Palentchar and eight other New Jersey law enforcement officers, all petitioners here, executed
Respondents' attorneys arrived while the search was in progress and challenged the adequacy under New Jersey law of the inventory procedure. To resolve the dispute, respondents' counsel and petitioner Deakins telephoned Judge Lenox, who ordered all seized materials sealed pending his assessment of the procedure. Ten days later, on October 15, 1984, New Jersey's Deputy Attorney General Julian Wilsey invited respondents' counsel to examine the documents under seal and to copy whatever documents respondents needed in order to continue the conduct of their business. General Wilsey also informed respondents' counsel that the State was prepared to return any documents discovered that exceeded the scope of the warrant. In the course of this examination, counsel identified numerous documents that they contended were either outside the scope of the warrant or protected by the attorney-client or attorney-work-product privilege. The State disagreed, and the disputed documents were resealed under the authority of Judge Lenox's original sealing order.
On December 27, while the documents were still under seal, respondents instituted this civil rights action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Respondents sought equitable relief, including the return of all documents seized, and, as well, compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged violations
While all this was taking place in federal court, Judge Lenox, at the State's behest, entered an ex parte order directing respondents to show cause why he should not lift the seal and make the documents available to the state officials conducting the grand jury investigation. Three days before the scheduled hearing on that order to show cause, the District Court issued a temporary restraining order staying discovery in the federal action and directing the State not to lift the seal before the District Court disposed of the motions pending before it. Several months later, on August 6, 1985, the District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss on abstention grounds and denied respondents' motion for a preliminary injunction. App. to Pet. for Cert. 5a.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of the preliminary injunction but reversed the judgment dismissing the complaint. 798 F.2d 632 (1986). A divided panel ruled that the abstention doctrine pronounced in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and its progeny did not require the District Court to abstain from adjudicating respondents' claims for injunctive relief arising out of the ongoing state grand jury investigation. The panel was unanimous, however, in reversing the District Court's dismissal of respondents' claims for money damages and attorney's fees. Relying on Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals held that, even when abstaining entirely
After the Court of Appeals rendered its judgment, the state grand jury returned an indictment against three of the respondents — Monaghan, DeSantis, and F & S — and against others not parties to the present federal action.
Article III of the Constitution limits federal courts to the adjudication of actual, ongoing controversies between litigants. Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975); SEC v. Medical Committee for Human Rights, 404 U.S. 403, 407 (1972). It is not enough that a controversy existed at the time the complaint was filed, and continued to exist when review was obtained in the Court of Appeals. Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 402 (1975); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 459, n. 10 (1974). In the case now before us, respondents state that they no longer seek any equitable relief in federal court.
Petitioners, however, object that respondents' promise to amend their complaint is an empty one, because nothing will prevent respondents, particularly those not indicted, from nullifying that amendment by further amendment or from filing a new complaint if they are dissatisfied with the relief obtained in the state criminal proceeding. Petitioners also express
Petitioners misconceive the effect respondents' representations and our reliance thereon will have on the shape of the federal litigation. When a claim is rendered moot while awaiting review by this Court, the judgment below should be vacated with directions to the District Court to dismiss the relevant portion of the complaint. See United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 39-40 (1950). This disposition strips the decision below of its binding effect. And respondents can be prevented from reviving their claims by the order of dismissal. Because this case was rendered moot in part by respondents' willingness permanently to withdraw their equitable claims from their federal action, a dismissal with prejudice is indicated. This will prevent the regeneration of the controversy by a reassertion of a right to litigate the equitable claims in federal court.
Our conclusion that the issue concerning respondents' equitable claims is now moot does not prevent our consideration of the propriety of the District Court's dismissal of respondents' claims for monetary relief. See University of Texas v. Camenisch, 451 U.S. 390, 393 (1981); Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 495-500 (1969). Respondents continue to press their claims for damages and attorney's fees. They state, however, that they will seek a stay of federal proceedings
Petitioners argue that the Younger doctrine — which requires a federal court to abstain where a plaintiff's federal claims could be adjudicated in a pending state judicial proceeding — applies to complaints seeking only monetary relief. Petitioners further argue that it is within the District Court's discretion to dismiss rather than stay a federal complaint for damages and fees where abstention is required. We need not decide the extent to which the Younger doctrine applies to a federal action seeking only monetary relief, however, because even if the Younger doctrine requires abstention here, the District Court has no discretion to dismiss rather than to stay claims for monetary relief that cannot be redressed in the state proceedings.
In reversing the District Court's dismissal of the claims for damages and attorney's fees, the Court of Appeals applied the Third Circuit rule that requires a District Court to stay rather than dismiss claims that are not cognizable in the parallel state proceeding. 798 F. 2d, at 635, citing Crane v. Fauver, 762 F.2d 325 (1985), and Williams v. Red Bank Bd. of Ed., 662 F.2d 1008 (1981). The Third Circuit rule is sound. It allows a parallel state proceeding to go forward without interference from its federal sibling, while enforcing the duty of federal courts "to assume jurisdiction where jurisdiction
We are unpersuaded by petitioners' suggestion that this case presents such extraordinary circumstances. First, petitioners' speculation that the District Court, if allowed to retain jurisdiction, would "hover" about the state proceedings, ready to lift the stay whenever it concluded that things were proceeding unsatisfactorily, is groundless. Petitioners seem to assume that the District Court would not hold up its end of the comity bargain — an assumption as inappropriate as the converse assumption that the States cannot be trusted to enforce federal rights with adequate diligence. See Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 493-494, n. 35 (1976).
Second, petitioners' contention that Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984), prevents the District Court from adjudicating respondents' claims under state law does not argue for the dismissal of all of respondents' damages claims, state and federal. Petitioners seem to suggest that the state-law claims predominate in the complaint, and the federal claims are minimal additions not substantial enough to require the District Court to exercise its jurisdiction. Saying nothing about the applicability of Pennhurst
Finally, petitioners argue that allowing the District Court to dismiss the complaint will prevent the piecemeal litigation of the dispute between the parties. But the involvement of the federal courts cannot be blamed for the fragmentary nature of the proceedings in this litigation. Because the state criminal proceedings can provide only equitable relief, any action for damages would necessarily be separate. Indeed, the state forum in which petitioners invite respondents to pursue their claims for monetary relief clearly would require the initiation of a separate action. See Brief for Petitioners 32. Piecemeal litigation of the issues involved in this case is thus inevitable.
In sum, none of the circumstances cited by petitioners to justify the District Court's dismissal of respondents' claims for damages and attorney's fees constitutes the kind of extraordinary circumstance that we have held may justify abdication of the "virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given" the federal courts. Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S., at 817.
Because respondents' claims for equitable relief are moot, we vacate the portion of the Court of Appeals' judgment addressing those claims and remand with instructions to dismiss the claims for equitable relief with prejudice. We affirm the portion of the Court of Appeals' judgment reversing
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE WHITE, with whom JUSTICE O'CONNOR joins, concurring.
Respondents, targets of a state grand jury investigation, filed this § 1983 suit, alleging, inter alia, that petitioners had violated their federal constitutional rights in the execution of a search warrant and three grand jury subpoenas. The federal action sought damages as well as an order for the return of the seized property. Relying on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the District Court dismissed both the equitable and the damages claims. The Court of Appeals reversed. It held, first, that even if there was a need for abstention on respondents' claims for equitable relief, the District Court erred in dismissing the damages phase of the case, at least when that remedy may not be had in pending state proceedings. 798 F.2d 632, 635 (CA3 1986). Second, the Court of Appeals held that a state grand jury investigation is not the kind of proceeding that calls for abstention under Younger. 798 F. 2d, at 636-638. We granted certiorari on both questions. 479 U.S. 1063 (1987).
I agree with the Court that the issue of Younger's applicability to state grand jury proceedings is moot, and that the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the District Court must be vacated insofar as they dealt with that question. I concur in the Court's judgment that, because respondents are no longer seeking equitable relief in this action, the grand jury question is no longer properly before us. Ante, at 200-201. It is worth noting, however, that the reason respondents give for withdrawing their injunctive claim is that the return of an indictment against three of them has now created a state criminal proceeding in which their federal constitutional claims may be adjudicated. It is thus not surprising that respondents no longer seek a federal court injunction: had they not withdrawn their request or conceded that the indictments
The mooting of the claim for injunctive relief leaves the question whether the Court of Appeals was correct in reversing the District Court's dismissal of the damages claim. I agree with the Court that it was. To permit dismissal of a claim for damages when such relief may not be obtained in any pending state proceeding is surely not required by any notions of comity. Moreover, dismissal might foreclose, on statute of limitations grounds, the subsequent pursuit of a damages action in federal court in the event that the state court holds that a violation of constitutional rights took place. No doubt this is why Courts of Appeals which have applied Younger to damages actions have ordered stays, and not dismissals, of damages claims to which Younger applies.
My difficulty with the Court's opinion is that, while approving the Court of Appeals' decision to stay and not dismiss the damages claim, it does not adequately explain why the federal courts must or may stay, rather than proceed to adjudicate, the federal constitutional claims for damages. After all, the Court's opinion cites the "virtually unflagging obligation" of the federal courts to adjudicate claims within their jurisdiction absent extraordinary circumstances, as we recognized in Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). Why, then, stay the § 1983 damages claim asserting a violation of federal constitutional rights? Why does not the District Court's "unflagging obligation" require it to proceed on that claim?
In sanctioning this decision to stay, the Court recites the rule of the Third Circuit that when there is abstention on an equitable claim because of a pending state proceeding, the
To affirm the Court of Appeals' judgment ordering a stay requires a more substantial basis than "prudential consideration," and that basis is not difficult to find: it is that Younger requires, not only dismissal of the equitable claim in this case, but also that the damages action not go forward. Several times before this Court has declined to state that Younger applies to damages actions. E. g., Tower v.
The reasons for such an approach are obvious. As the Younger decision itself recognized, it has long been the rule that the federal courts should not interfere with or pre-empt the progress of state criminal proceedings. Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S., at 43-44, 53-54. A judgment in the federal damages action may decide several questions at issue in the state criminal proceedings. It may determine, for example, that certain evidence was seized contrary to the Fourth Amendment, or that an interrogation was conducted in violation of the Sixth Amendment, or that Fifth Amendment rights were somehow violated. In fact, in this case, such claims — and many more — are all being pressed by respondents in their § 1983 damages action. If the claims the Court remands today were disposed of on the merits by the District Court, this decision would presumably be owed res judicata effect in the forthcoming state criminal trial of respondents. "[T]he potential for federal-state friction is obvious." Guerro v. Mulhearn, 498 F.2d 1249, 1253 (CA1 1974).
In light of the developments in this case and our decisions in Younger and Samuels, it is clear that the District Court should not dismiss the damages claims, yet must not proceed to judgment on them either. Consequently, I would couple our remand of this case with a holding that, pursuant to Younger, the lower courts may not adjudicate respondents'
With respect to the latter, the Court's reliance on respondents' disclaimer of any interest in equitable relief has resulted in a dismissal of these claims as moot. This dismissal, with prejudice, effectively prevents a reversal of position on the part of respondents. However, there is nothing in the Court's decision today that bars respondents from changing their views on seeking a stay of their damages claim. Such an altered litigation posture may come out of a good- or bad-faith change of heart, and may lead respondents to request an immediate adjudication of their damages claims. Unfortunately, for the reasons discussed above, the Court's opinion does not adequately address why the District Court must not accommodate such a renewed request.
Some courts have taken a more ambiguous position, akin to the Third Circuit cases discussed supra. See, e. g., Suggs v. Brannon, 804 F.2d 274, 279 (CA4 1986); Giulini v. Blessing, 654 F.2d 189, 193 (CA2 1981); Singleton v. New York City, 632 F.2d 185, 190 (CA2 1980).
By contrast, the Fifth and Sixth Circuits both hold that Younger has no applicability to a claim for damages, see Thomas v. Texas State Bd. of Medical Examiners, 807 F.2d 453, 457 (CA5 1987); Carras v. Williams, 807 F.2d 1286, 1291-1292 (CA6 1986), although the Sixth Circuit's rule on this point appears to be "flexible," see id., at 1292.