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Media Alerts - Nimer v. Litchfield Township Board of Trustees -- Sixth Circuit
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March 11, 2013
  Nimer v. Litchfield Township Board of Trustees -- Sixth Circuit
2013-02-21

Headline: Sixth Circuit holds that Younger abstention doctrine applies to a damage claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Area of Law: Abstention; Civil Procedure; Constitutional Law

Issues Presented: (1) Does the Younger abstention doctrine apply to a damages claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983? (2) After applying the doctrine, may a federal district court exercise its discretion and dismiss the damages claim?

Brief Summary: A couple wanted to expand their meat-producing business to include butchering cattle and pigs. But the couple's land was only zoned for residential use. The township sought injunctive relief in state court after the couple began improving the buildings on their property without obtaining appropriate zoning certificates. The state court stopped the couple from building until they obtained the necessary zoning certificates. The couple appealed to the state appellate court and, a week later, sued the township in federal district court.

The district court dismissed the case, holding that the Younger abstention doctrine applied. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit agreed that the Younger doctrine applied but concluded that the district court should have stayed the case rather than dismissing it. In reaching this conclusion, the Sixth Circuit noted that the Younger doctrine applies if there is a pending state proceeding that involves an important state interest, and the state proceeding will provide an adequate opportunity for a plaintiff to raise his or her constitutional claims. The court found that these elements were met because (1) the couple filed their federal claim while their state appeal was pending, (2) states have a substantial interest in enforcing zoning ordinances, and (3) the couple was able to raise - and, in fact, did raise - constitutional defenses in the state case. Thus, the district court was correct in applying the doctrine. But the district court erred in dismissing the case because a district court only has the power to dismiss a case based on abstention where the relief sought is equitable. The court explained that "where, as here, the plaintiffs seek only legal relief, and the district court properly applies the Younger doctrine to abstain from adjudicating a claim for damages, it must stay the case instead of exercising its discretion in deciding to dismiss the case." Here, the couple sought only legal relief, in the form of compensatory and punitive damages. Because the couple's federal complaint sought only legal relief, the district court did not have the authority to dismiss the case.

To read the full opinion, please go to: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/op...s.pdf/13a0046p-06.pdf

Panel: Circuit Judges Martin, Siler, and Donald

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/21/2013

Docket Number: 12-3309

Decided: Remand, instructing the district court to stay proceedings.

Case Alert Author: Kathryn Burkhart

Counsel: On brief: Theodore J. Lesiak, LESIAK HENSAL & HATHCOCK, LLC, Medina, Ohio, for Appellants. Timothy T. Reid, Meghan B. Kilbane, MANSOUR, GAVIN, GERLACK & MANOS CO., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellees.
Author of Opinion: Judge Martin

Supervisor: Professor Mark Cooney

Edited: 03/25/2013 at 10:46 AM by Mark Cooney

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 03/11/2013 01:14 PM     6th Circuit  

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