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Wallace v. Powell

June 9, 2010

FLORENCE WALLACE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT J. POWELL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
WILLIAM CONWAY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JUDGE MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
H.T., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
SAMANTHA HUMANIK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction by Defendants Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, Pennsylvania Child Care, and Western Pennsylvania Child Care (collectively "Defendants") (Doc. 388) as modified by their Motion to Amend (Doc. 396). Defendants request this Court enjoin Special Master the Honorable Arthur E. Grim, acting on behalf of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, from ordering the Defendants to expunge their own records which relate to this litigation. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Injunctive Relief

Since nearly the birth of the country, Congress has limited the ability of federal courts to enjoin state court proceedings to demarcate the lines between the federal and state legal systems in order to "prevent needless friction between state and federal courts." Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs, 398 U.S. 281, 286 (quoting Okla. Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Elec. Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9 (1940)). The All Writs Act provides affirmative statutory authority for a federal court to enjoin state court proceedings, but that power is limited by the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA). Grider v. Keystone Health Plan Cent., Inc., 500 F.3d 322, 328 (3d Cir. 2007). The power available under the All Writs Act must be "construed narrowly and invoked sparingly." In re Diet Drugs Products Liability Litig., 369 F.3d 293, 297 (3d Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted) (hereinafter Diet Drugs II).

The AIA is an "an absolute prohibition against enjoining state court proceedings, unless the injunction falls within one of three specifically defined exceptions." Atlantic Coast, 398 U.S. at 286. The word "proceeding" under the AIA has a broad meaning and includes injunctions directed against the enforcement of a state court proceeding or judgment. See Hill v. Martin, 296 U.S. 393, 403 (1935) (the prohibition against enjoining state proceedings "applies not only to an execution issued on a judgment, but to any proceeding supplemental or ancillary taken with a view to making the suit or judgment effective"). The parties do not dispute that the state court expungement orders are part of state court proceedings; thus the Anti-Injunction Act bars this Court from issuing an injunction against the expungement orders unless one of the three exceptions applies.

The three exceptions*fn1 authorized by the AIA are: (1) where an injunction is expressly authorized by Act of Congress, (2) where it is necessary in aid of a federal court's jurisdiction, or (3) to protect or effectuate a federal court's judgments. 28 U.S.C. § 2283. "The exceptions in the Anti-Injunction Act are to be construed narrowly." In re Diet Drugs Products Liability Litigation, 282 F.3d 220, 233 (3d Cir. 2002) (hereinafter Diet Drugs I). Even if an exception to the AIA is applicable, the exception only establishes that a federal court may grant an injunction, not that it must do so. Diet Drugs II, 369 F.3d at 306. Defendants' argue that each of the exceptions is applicable here, and that this Court should granted the requested injunctive relief. I will first consider whether any of the specific exceptions are satisfied, then I will consider whether an injunction is appropriate here.

A. Authority to Enjoin (Exceptions to the AIA)

Defendants argue that the AIA does not bar their requested relief because this Court may act to protect its order (Scheduling Order 5, Doc. 72) requiring the preservation of evidence "that may be relevant to this action." Id. The exception to protect or effectuate a federal court's judgments, also known as the "relitigation" exception, applies where it is necessary for a federal court to enjoin state court proceedings from determining what has already been decided by a federal court judgment. Diet Drugs II, 369 F.3d 293, 305 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp, 486 U.S. 140, 147 (1988)). The AIA also applies to discovery determinations. In re Prudential Ins. Co. of America Sales Practice Litigation, 261 F.3d 355, 368 (3d Cir. 2001). At least one Court of Appeals has held that granting an injunction to effectuate an earlier discovery order does not violate the AIA. Sperry Rand Corp. V. Rothlein, 288 F.2d 245 (2d Cir. 1961). Here there is an apparent conflict between this Court's scheduling order to preserve and the state court expungement orders to destroy the same evidence. I find that this exception to the AIA applies, and permits this Court to enjoin the state court expungement orders.

Defendants also argue that the AIA exception for injunctions "necessary in aid of a federal court's jurisdiction" also applies. This exception should be read similarly to the exception to "protect or effectuate judgments" in that it is necessary when the injunction prevents a state court from impairing a federal court's "flexibility and authority to decide that case." Atlantic Coast, 398 U.S. at 295.Traditionally, cases where it is necessary in aid of a federal court's jurisdiction are in removal cases, in rem cases, or complex class actions and multi-district litigation where state court proceedings threaten to derail a tentative settlement. Piper v. Portnoff Law Associates, 262 F. Supp.2d 520, 529 (E.D. Pa. 2003). Even when a case does not fall into one of these categories, a three step test may be used to consider if this exception applies. Id. at 530. These factors are: (1) examining the nature of the federal action to determine what kinds of state court interference would sufficiently impair the federal proceeding; (2) assessing the state court's actions, in order to determine whether they present a sufficient threat to the federal action; and (3) considering principles of federalism and comity, for a primary aim of the Anti-Injunction Act is "to prevent needless friction between the state and federal courts." Id. (citing Diet Drugs I, 282 F.3d at 234). Here the nature of the federal action lends itself to this exception, because of its nature as a complex litigation involving hundreds, if not thousands, of plaintiffs. Likewise, the state court's actions unwittingly threaten this Court's proceedings because they restrict discovery and the presentation of evidence in this litigation. And for the reasons discussed further below, see infra Part I.B., the balance of federalism and comity in this case leans in favor of applying this exception. I find that the AIA exception for situations necessary in aid of a federal court's jurisdiction also applies.

In light of the above conclusions that this Court may act to protect its discovery order and to aid this Court's jurisdiction, I need not consider Defendants' argument that Congress expressly permitted such an injunction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

B. Discretion to Enjoin

As stated above, even if an exception to the AIA is applicable, the exception only establishes that a federal court may grant an injunction, not that it must do so. Diet Drugs II, 369 F.3d at 306.Before granting any such injunction, however, a federal court must consider principles of comity and federalism. Id. Plaintiffs do not oppose the preservation of the Defendants' records, but instead argue that this Court should give deference to the interests of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.*fn2 When considering the principles of comity and federalism, it is important to understand the interaction between this litigation and the proceedings before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On April 9, 2009, at the outset of this litigation, I entered a pre-trial order which provides: "until the parties reach agreement on a preservation plan, all parties and their counsel are reminded of their duty to preserve evidence that may be relevant to this action." (Scheduling Order 5, Doc. 72.) On July 2, 2009, this Court denied a motion for a protective order, stating:

For this Court, by order of preservation for discovery purposes in a civil suit, to directly interfere with the Supreme Court[ of Pennsylvania's] determination to expunge, erase and leave no trace would reverse appropriate priorities in the relief addressing the fundamental issue of integrity in the system, and would otherwise thereby disrupt the delicate balance necessitated in our system of federalism. The Pennsylvania priority in correcting and restoring the state juvenile judicial system and the consequent confidence of the public in that system outweighs any benefit to particular civil litigants that would be gained by this Court's effect order that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's remedy be somehow nullified or delayed. (Memorandum Opinion 6, July 2, 2009, Doc. 146.) Thus I have expressed my reluctance to meddle in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's determination to remove all traces of a process marred by fundamental unfairness in the name of discovery and availability of evidence to be used in a civil rights suit in this Court. Thereafter, in its effort to assure fairness in the litigation in this Court, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued an order preserving certain records held by Luzerne County until the conclusion of the litigation before this Court. Unwittingly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has effectively determined not only the scope of discovery, viz what is discoverable in this case, but also what may or may not ultimately be used as evidence in trial before this Court. The Plaintiffs, by virtue of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's order of preservation, have had evidence of their claims protected from destruction, while, at the same time, the Defendants' records or evidence needed to ...


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