Law School Case Brief
Pelfresne v. Williams Bay - 917 F.2d 1017 (7th Cir. 1990)
The Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2283, forbids a federal court to enjoin state court proceedings, and the prohibition has been interpreted to bar an injunction against the enforcement of a judgment obtained in such proceedings, even though such an injunction is directed not against the state court itself but against the victorious party in state court proceedings who is trying to enforce the judgment he obtained.
In November 1984, the Village of Williams Bay in Walworth County, Wisconsin brought suit in state court against Michael Schiessle. The suit sought a court order to raze four single-family houses located on property owned by Schiessle in Williams Bay that were in disrepair and believed to be unsafe. The Village filed a notice of lis pendens (pending litigation) in the Walworth County registry of deeds.The next month, Schiessle conveyed the property to Lommen Eley and John Koch to hold in trust for him, whereupon the Village named Eley and Koch as additional defendants in its suit. The suit was dismissed in July of the following year on technical grounds and promptly refiled, but no new notice of lis pendens was filed. In February 1986 Eley and Koch conveyed the property to Anita Catania, but the conveyance was not recorded. In June 1986, judgment was entered for the Village in the refiled suit. The judgment ordered the buildings razed and also awarded the Village damages and costs totaling $ 629. In September 1987, both the release of the notice of lis pendens in the first suit (the one that had been dismissed) and the deed to Catania were recorded in the Walworth County registry of deeds, along with another deed from Catania, this one made in either 1986 or 1987 (the record is unclear which) to Allen Veren. Schiessle continued as the beneficial owner. The day after these instruments were recorded, plaintiff Pelfresne bought the property for $ 60,000. Ten days later he brought this suit, basing federal jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship. (He was a citizen of Michigan, while all the defendants were citizens of Wisconsin.) The suit depicted plaintiff Pelfresne as a bona fide purchaser for value who, under Wisconsin law, was not bound by the raze order contained in the judgment that had been entered against Schiessle, Eley, and Koch in June 1986. Pelfresne sought a preliminary injunction against the Village's carrying out the raze order. The U.S. District Court dismissed the suit as violative of the Anti-Injunction Act (Act), 28 U.S.C.S. § 2283, and refused to allow plaintiff to amend his complaint.
Did the lower court err in denying plaintiff landowner's preliminary injunction seeking to stop a village from carrying out a raze order?
No, not if the plaintiff was on inquiry notice or actual notice of the raze order.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the preliminary injunction, but remarked that regardless of the merits of Pelfresne's claim as they might ultimately be determined at trial, the district court might lack jurisdiction to enjoin the raze order, whether preliminarily or permanently. The Anti-Injunction Act forbids a federal court to enjoin state court proceedings, with exceptions inapplicable here, and the prohibition has been interpreted to bar an injunction against the enforcement of a judgment obtained in such proceedings, even though such an injunction is directed not against the state court itself but against the victorious party in state court proceedings, who is trying to enforce the judgment he obtained. The court held that the raze order was not enforceable against Pelfresne if the order amounted to a lien against Pelfresne’s property to which Pelfresne had no notice. The court further held that because the instrument in the chain of title to Pelfresne’s land should have alerted Pelfresne to the possibility of the raze order against the land, Pelfresne may have had constructive notice of the order. Finally, the court also held that the lower court had correctly refused Pelfresne’s motion to amend his complaint because his claim for damages was premature, as the raze order had not yet been executed. The court remanded the case for a determination of whether Pelfresne was on either actual notice or inquiry notice of the raze order.
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