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Sprint Communs., Inc. v. Jacobs

Supreme Court of the United States

November 5, 2013, Argued; December 10, 2013, Decided

No. 12-815


 [**588]  [*72]   JUSTICE Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves two proceedings, one pending in state court, the other in federal court. Each seeks review of an Iowa Utilities Board (IUB or Board) order. And each presents the question whether Windstream Iowa Communications, Inc. (Windstream), a local telecommunications carrier, may impose on Sprint Communications, Inc. (Sprint), intrastate access charges for telephone calls transported via the Internet. Federal-court jurisdiction over controversies of this kind was confirmed in Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 122 S. Ct. 1753, 152 L. Ed. 2d 871 (2002). Invoking Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1971), the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of  [***510]  Iowa abstained from adjudicating Sprint’s complaint in deference to the parallel state-court proceeding, and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s abstention decision.

We reverse  [****7] the judgment of the Court of Appeals. In the main, federal courts are obliged to decide cases within the scope of federal jurisdiction. Abstention is not in order simply because a pending state-court proceeding involves the same subject matter. New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 373, 109 S. Ct. 2506, 105 L. Ed. 2d 298 (1989) (NOPSI) (“[T]here is no doctrine that . . . pendency of state judicial proceedings excludes the federal courts.”). This Court has recognized, however, certain instances in which the prospect of undue interference with state proceedings counsels against federal relief. See id., at 368, 109 S. Ct. 2506, 105 L. Ed. 2d 298.

Younger exemplifies one class of cases in which federal-court abstention is required: When there is a parallel, pending state criminal proceeding, federal courts must refrain from enjoining the state prosecution. This Court has extended Younger abstention to particular state civil proceedings that are akin to criminal prosecutions, see Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 95 S. Ct. 1200, 43 L. Ed. 2d 482 (1975), or that implicate a State’s  [*73]  interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts, see Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 107 S. Ct. 1519, 95 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1987). We have cautioned, however, that federal courts  [****8] ordinarily should entertain and resolve on the merits an action within the scope of a jurisdictional grant, and should not “refus[e] to decide a case in deference to the States.” NOPSI, 491 U.S., at 368, 109 S. Ct. 2506, 105 L. Ed. 2d 298.

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571 U.S. 69 *; 134 S. Ct. 584 **; 187 L. Ed. 2d 505 ***; 2013 U.S. LEXIS 9019 ****; 82 U.S.L.W. 4027; 24 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 488; 59 Comm. Reg. (P & F) 773; 2013 WL 6410850


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


Sprint Communs. Co., L.P. v. Jacobs, 690 F.3d 864, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 18560 (8th Cir. Iowa, 2012)

Disposition: Reversed.


abstention, federal-court, state-court, state-initiated, intrastate, akin

Civil Procedure, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Abstention