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Supreme Court of the United States
April 22, 1964, Argued ; June 8, 1964, Decided
[*408] [***411] [**1580] MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question [****2] presented here is whether a state court can validly enjoin a person from prosecuting an action in personam in a district or appellate court of the United States which has jurisdiction both of the parties and of the subject matter.
The City of Dallas, Texas, owns Love Field, a municipal airport. In 1961, 46 Dallas citizens who owned or had interests in property near the airport filed a class suit in a Texas court to restrain the city from building an additional runway and from issuing and selling municipal [*409] bonds for that purpose. The complaint alleged many damages that would occur to the plaintiffs if the runway should be built and charged that issuance of the bonds would be illegal for many reasons. The case was tried, summary judgment was given for the city, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, 1 the Supreme Court of Texas denied review, and we denied certiorari. 2 Later 120 Dallas citizens, including 27 of the plaintiffs in the earlier action, filed another action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas seeking similar relief. A number of new defendants were named in addition to the City of Dallas, all the defendants being [****3] charged with taking part in plans to construct the runway and to issue and sell bonds in violation of state and federal laws. The complaint sought an injunction against construction of the runway, issuance of bonds, payment on bonds already issued, and circulation of false information about the bond issue, as well as a declaration that all the bonds were illegal and void. None of the bonds would be approved, and therefore under Texas law none could be issued, so long as there was pending litigation challenging their validity. 3 The city filed a motion to dismiss and an answer to the complaint in the federal court. But at the same time [**1581] the city applied to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals for a writ of prohibition to bar all the plaintiffs in the case in the United States District Court from prosecuting their case there. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals denied relief, holding that it was without power [***412] to enjoin litigants from prosecuting an action in a federal court and that the defense of res judicata on which the city relied could be raised and adjudicated in the United States District [*410] Court. 4 On petition for mandamus the Supreme Court of [****4] Texas took a different view, however, held it the duty of the Court of Civil Appeals to prohibit the litigants from further prosecuting the United States District Court case, and stated that a writ of mandamus would issue should the Court of Civil Appeals fail to perform this duty. 5 The Court of Civil Appeals promptly issued a writ prohibiting all the plaintiffs in the United States District Court case from any further prosecution of that case and enjoined them "individually and as a class . . . from filing or instituting . . . any further litigation, lawsuits or actions in any court, the purpose of which is to contest the validity of the airport revenue bonds . . . or from in any manner interfering with . . . the proposed bonds . . . ." The United States District Court in an unreported opinion dismissed the case pending there. Counsel Donovan, who is one of the petitioners here, excepted to the dismissal and then filed an appeal from that dismissal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals thereupon cited Donovan and the other United States District Court claimants for contempt and convicted 87 of them on a finding that they [****5] had violated its "valid order." 6 Donovan was sentenced to serve 20 days in jail, and the other 86 were fined $ 200 each, an aggregate of $ 17,200. These penalties were imposed upon each contemner for having either (1) joined as a party plaintiff in the United States District Court case; (2) failed to request and contested the dismissal of that case; (3) taken exceptions to the dismissal preparatory to appealing to the Court of Appeals; or (4) filed a separate action in the Federal District Court seeking to enjoin the Supreme Court of Texas from interfering with [*411] the original federal-court suit. After the fines had been paid and he had served his jail sentence, 7 counsel Donovan appeared in the District Court on behalf of himself and all those who had been fined and moved to dismiss the appeal to the United States Court of Appeals. His motion stated that it was made under duress and that unless the motion was made "the Attorney for Defendant City of Dallas and the Chief Judge of the Court of Civil Appeals have threatened these Appellants and their Attorney with further prosecution for contempt resulting in additional fines and imprisonment." The United States District [****6] Court then dismissed the appeal. 8
[****7] We declined to grant certiorari to review the United States District Court's dismissal of the case before it or its dismissal of the appeal [***413] brought on by the state court's coercive contempt [**1582] judgment, but we did grant certiorari to review the State Supreme Court's judgment directing the Civil Court of Appeals to enjoin petitioners from prosecuting their action in the federal courts and also granted certiorari to review the Civil Court of Appeals' judgment of conviction for contempt. 375 U.S. 878.We think the Texas Court of Civil Appeals was right in its first holding that it was without power to enjoin these litigants from prosecuting their federal-court action, and we therefore reverse the State Supreme Court's judgment upsetting that of the Court of Appeals. We vacate the later contempt judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals, [*412] which rested on the mistaken belief that the writ prohibiting litigation by the federal plaintiffs was "valid."
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377 U.S. 408 *; 84 S. Ct. 1579 **; 12 L. Ed. 2d 409 ***; 1964 U.S. LEXIS 1070 ****
DONOVAN ET AL. v. CITY OF DALLAS ET AL.
Prior History: [****1] CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS AND THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OF TEXAS, FIFTH SUPREME JUDICIAL DISTRICT.
Disposition: 365 S. W. 2d 919, reversed. 368 S. W. 2d 240 (Tex. Civ. App.), judgment vacated and cause remanded.
federal court, Appeals, enjoin, state court, proceedings, prosecuting, injunction, contempt, restrain, bonds, vexatious, cases, federal-court, courts, harassing, parties
Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Exclusive Jurisdiction, In Rem & Personal Jurisdiction, In Rem Actions, General Overview, Quasi in Rem Actions, Jurisdiction, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Concurrent Jurisdiction, In Personam Actions, Judgments, Preclusion of Judgments, Res Judicata, Governments, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate