United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
HONORABLE MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
before the Court are Defendants' Amended Motion to
Dismiss and supporting brief (Docs. 19-20) and
Plaintiff's Response and supplement thereto (Docs.
21-22). A hearing was held on June 28, 2016, at which the
Court permitted the parties to present their arguments in
connection with Defendants' motion. For the reasons
reflected herein, the Court finds abstention under
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) is
appropriate. Accordingly, Defendants' Amended Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. 19) is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Complaint
is DISMISSED as to all Defendants.
filed his Complaint on April 22, 2016, requesting the Court
to enter an emergency restraining order enjoining the
Defendants from enforcing the City of Fort Smith's
nuisance ordinances as Plaintiff contends they are
unconstitutional. (Doc. 1) On March 22, 2016, the City served
Plaintiff with a 7 Day Clean-Up Notice for his property for
violations of the ordinances. (Doc. 1-1, p. 6) On April 15,
2016, the City advised Plaintiff it was scheduling a final
inspection for April 29, 2016. (Doc. 1-1, p. 7) Plaintiff was
advised that if the property remained in violation, then the
City would bring the property into compliance and charge
Plaintiff with the costs of abatement. Id.
26, 2016, a criminal summons was issued for Plaintiff in the
District Court of Sebastian County, Arkansas, Fort Smith
Division, for the offense of Failure to Care for Premises.
(Doc. 19-1). On June 7, 2016, Plaintiff was served with a
citation for failure to maintain premises and a summons to
appear in Fort Smith District Court. (Doc. 15, p. 3)
Plaintiff was arraigned on June 22, 2016, and his criminal
case is set for trial on July 27, 2016. (Doc. 20, p. 2)
contend that this action should be dismissed under the
abstention rules established by the United States Supreme
Court in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct.
746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971). Plaintiff contends that
Younger abstention is not appropriate in this case
as the prosecution is in bad faith and part of a pattern of
harassment. Plaintiff contends he will not be able to afford
to appeal a conviction in the criminal case and will not be
able to have his constitutional claims heard in the state
Younger, the Supreme Court held that a federal court
should not act to restrain an ongoing state court criminal
prosecution. Id. at 41, 91 S.Ct. at 749. By
abstaining from the exercise of jurisdiction, the federal
courts promote the value of comity between the states and the
federal government and avoid unnecessary determinations of
federal constitutional questions. Id. at 44, 52, 91
S.Ct. at 750, 754. Specifically under the Younger
doctrine of abstention, a federal court must decline to
interfere with pending state civil or criminal judicial
proceedings involving important state interests.
Younger, 401 U.S. at 44. See also, Night Clubs,
Inc. v. City of Fort Smith, Arkansas, 163 F.3d 475, 479
(8th Cir. 1998).
Younger abstention applies, it is not appropriate to
address the merits. Greening v. Moran, 953 F.2d 301,
304 (7th Cir. 1992). "To say that abstention is in order
then is to say that federal courts should not address the
merits, period. Silence by the federal court is the objective
of abstention; the desirability of silence is the reason for
abstention." Greening, 953 F.2d at 304.
directs federal courts to abstain from hearing cases when (1)
there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding which (2)
implicates important state interests, and when (3) that
proceeding affords an adequate opportunity to raise the
federal questions presented." Fuller v. Ulland,
76 F.3d 957, 959 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Middlesex County
Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association, 457
U.S. 423, 432, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 2521, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982)).
If all three criteria are met, "a federal court should
abstain unless it detects ‘bad faith, harassment, or
some extraordinary circumstances that would make abstention
inappropriate.'" Night Clubs, 163 F.3d at
fact that there is an ongoing state prosecution against
Plaintiff is not in dispute. Accordingly, the first
requirement is met. Further, the underlying state proceeding
clearly encompasses important state and local interests. In
fact, Plaintiff admits to the legal authority of
municipalities to enact and enforce ordinances and codes.
(Doc. 14, p. 4) Finally, an adequate opportunity exists in
Plaintiff's state proceeding to raise his constitutional
challenges. Therefore, under the Younger abstention
doctrine, it is appropriate for this Court to abstain from
ruling on Plaintiff's constitutional claims.
opinion issued concurrently with Younger, the
Supreme Court held that "the same equitable principles
relevant to the propriety of an injunction [apply] to ... a
declaratory judgment.... [W]here an injunction would be
impermissible under these principles, declaratory relief
should ordinarily be denied as well." Samuels v.
Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 73, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688
(1971). The Court expressed two reasons for treating
declaratory relief essentially the same as injunctive relief.
First, even though a party seeks only declaratory relief,
once a declaratory judgment is obtained, the party may obtain
an injunction to enforce the declaratory judgment.
Id. at 72, 91 S.Ct. 764. If, for example, the
court's declaratory judgment states that a statute is
unconstitutional, the court may then enjoin a prosecution of
the federal plaintiff under the statute. Second, a federal
court declaratory judgment would ordinarily have preclusive
effect in the state court proceeding. Id. Once the
declaratory judgment is entered, the victorious party could
insist in state court that the legal proposition declared in
federal court could not be disputed in the state proceeding.
Thus, a state court prosecution of a federal plaintiff may
not be able to proceed under a statute declared
unconstitutional in the federal court proceeding. Plaintiff
then could conceivably take the Court's judgment to state
court where it may have preclusive effect on the ongoing
state litigation. This untenable contingency, inter
alia, militates toward abstention.
clear from the relief Plaintiff seeks that Plaintiff wishes
this Court to directly interfere with the ongoing state
proceeding by enjoining the City from enforcing the
ordinances from which his criminal prosecution arose and by
asking the Court to declare them unconstitutional. This is
exactly the type of situation that abstention seeks to avoid.
also does not contest that ordinances such as these which are
designed to protect the health and welfare of the community
by avoiding hazardous, unsanitary, and unsightly conditions
are an important state interest. Instead, Plaintiff contends
he will be unable to present his constitutional claims in the
state court. Plaintiff offers no citation or other legal
support for the proposition that the state court cannot
address his federal claims, likely because no such support
exists. Finally, the Plaintiff has failed to show that the
Arkansas courts cannot or will not provide an adequate
opportunity to raise his constitutional claims. The Supreme
Court has stated that so long as a plaintiff had the