For reasons unknown, 1347 Congress in 1793 enacted a statute to prohibit the issuance of injunctions by federal courts to stay state court proceedings.1348 Over time, a long list of exceptions to the statutory bar was created by judicial decision,1349 but in Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co.,1350 the Court in a lengthy opinion by Justice Frankfurter announced a very liberal interpretation of the anti-injunction statute so as to do away with practically all the exceptions that had been created. Congress’s response was to redraft the statute and to indicate that it was restoring the pre-Toucey interpretation.1351 Considerable disagreement exists over the application of the statute, however, especially with regard to the exceptions it permits. The present tendency appears to be to read the law expansively and the exceptions restrictively in the interest of preventing conflict with state courts.1352 Nonetheless, some exceptions exist, either expressly or implicitly in statutory language,1353 or through Court interpretation.1354 The Court’s general policy of application, however, seems to a considerable degree to effectuate what is now at least the major rationale of the statute, deference to state court adjudication of issues presented to them for decision.1355
- Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co., 314 U.S. 118, 130–32 (1941).
- “[N]or shall a writ of injunction be granted to stay proceedings in any court of a state . . . .” Ch. XXII, § 5, 1 Stat. 335 (1793), now, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 2283.
- Durfee & Sloss, Federal Injunctions Against Proceedings in State Courts: The Life History of a Statute, 30 MICH. L. REV. 1145 (1932).
- 314 U.S. 118 (1941).
- “A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.” 28 U.S.C. § 2283. The Reviser’s Note is appended to the statute, stating intent.
- Amalgamated Clothing Workers v. Richman Bros., 348 U.S. 511 (1955); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281 (1970). See M. REDISH, FEDERAL JURISDICTION: TENSIONS IN THE ALLOCATION OF JUDICIAL POWER ch. 10 (1980).
- The greatest difficulty is with the “expressly authorized by Act of Congress” exception. No other Act of Congress expressly refers to § 2283 and the Court has indicated that no such reference is necessary to create a statutory exception. Amalgamated Clothing Workers v. Richman Bros., 348 U.S. 511, 516 (1955). Compare Capital Service, Inc. v. NLRB, 347 U.S. 501 (1954). Rather, “in order to qualify as an ‘expressly authorized’ exception to the anti-injunction statute, an Act of Congress must have created a specific and uniquely federal right or remedy, enforceable in a federal court of equity, that could be frustrated if the federal court were not empowered to enjoin a state court proceeding.” Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 237 (1972). Applying this test, the Court in Mitchum held that a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit is an exception to § 2283 and that persons suing under this authority may, if they satisfy the requirements of comity, obtain an injunction against state court proceedings. The exception is, of course, highly constrained by the comity principle. On the difficulty of applying the test, see Vendo Co. v. Lektco-Vend Corp., 433 U.S. 623 (1977) (fragmented Court on whether Clayton Act authorization of private suits for injunctive relief is an “expressly authorized” exception to § 2283). On the interpretation of the § 2283 exception for injunctions to protect or effectuate a federal-court judgment, see Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140 (1988).
- Thus, the Act bars federal court restraint of pending state court proceedings but not restraint of the institution of such proceedings. Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 484 n.2 (1965). Restraint is not barred if sought by the United States or an officer or agency of the United States. Leiter Minerals v. United States, 352 U.S. 220 (1957); NLRB v. Nash-Finch Co., 404 U.S. 138 (1971). Restraint is not barred if the state court proceeding is not judicial but rather administrative. Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210 (1908); Roudebush v. Hartke, 405 U.S. 15 (1972). Compare Hill v. Martin, 296 U.S. 393, 403 (1935), with Lynch v. Household Finance Corp., 405 U.S. 538, 552–56 (1972).
- The statute is to be applied “to prevent needless friction between state and federal courts.” Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9 (1940); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 285–86 (1970).