Perez v. Ledesma/Opinion of the Court

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Perez v. Ledesma
Opinion of the Court by Hugo Black
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinions

United States Supreme Court

401 U.S. 82

Perez  v.  Ledesma

 Argued: Nov. 17, 1970. --- Decided: Feb 23, 1971

Given our decisions today in No. 2, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669; No. 7, Samuels v. Mackell, and No. 9, Fernandez v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688; No. 4, Boyle v. Landry, 401 U.S. 77, 91 S.Ct. 758, 27 L.Ed.2d 696; No. 83, Byrne v. Karalexis, 401 U.S. 216, 91 S.Ct. 777, 27 L.Ed.2d 792; and No. 41, Dyson v. Stein, 401 U.S. 200, 91 S.Ct. 769, 27 L.Ed.2d 781, in which we have determined when it is appropriate for a federal court to intervene in the administration of a State's criminal laws, the disposition of this case should not be difficult.

* Ledesma and the other appellees operated a newsstand in the Parish of St. Bernard, Louisiana, where they displayed for sale allegedly obscene magazines, books, and playing cards. As a result of this activity, appellees were charged in four informations filed in state court with violations of Louisiana statute, La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 14-106 (Supp.1970), and St. Bernard Parish Ordinance 21-60. After the state court proceedings had commenced by the filing of the informations, appellees instituted the instant suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division. Since the appellees sought a judgment declaring a state statute of statewide application unconstitutional, together with an injunction against pending or future prosecutions under the statute, a three-judge court was convened. That court held the Louisiana statute constitutional on its face, but ruled that the arrests of appellees and the seizure of the allegedly obscene materials were invalid for lack of a prior adversary hearing on the character of the seized materials. Although the three-judge court declined to issue an injunction against the pending or any future prosecutions, it did enter a suppression order and require the return of all the seized material to the appellees. 304 F.Supp. 662, 667-670 (1969). The local district attorney and other law enforcement officers appealed and we set the case for argument but postponed the question of jurisdiction to the hearing on the merits. 399 U.S. 924, 90 S.Ct. 2234, 26 L.Ed.2d 790 (1970). [1]

It is difficult to imagine a more disruptive interference with the operation of the state criminal process short of an injunction against all state proceedings. Even the three-judge court recognized that its judgment would effectively stifle the then-pending state criminal prosecution.

'In view of our holding that the arrests and seizures in these cases are invalid for want of a prior adversary judicial determination of obscenity, which holding requires suppression and return of the seized materials, the prosecutions should be effectively terminated.' 304 F.Supp., at 670. (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, the District Court retained jurisdiction 'for the purposes of hereafter entering any orders necessary to enforce' its view of the proper procedures in the then-pending state obscenity prosecution. According to our holding in Younger v. Harris, supra, such federal interference with a state prosecution is improper. The propriety of arrests and the admissibility of evidence in state criminal prosecutions are ordinarily matters to be resolved by state tribunals, see Stefanelli v. Minard, 342 U.S. 117, 72 S.Ct. 118, 96 L.Ed. 138 (1951), subject, of course, to review by certiorari or appeal in this Court or, in a proper case, on federal habeas corpus. Here Ledesma was free to present his federal constitutional claims concerning arrest and seizure of materials or other matters to the Louisiana courts in the manner permitted in that State. Only in cases of proven harassment or prosecutions undertaken by state officials in bad faith without hope of obtaining a valid conviction and perhaps in other extraordinary circumstances where irreparable injury can be shown is federal injunctive relief against pending state prosecutions appropriate. See Younger v. Harris, supra; Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). There is nothing in the record before us to suggest that Louisiana officials undertook these prosecutions other than in a good-faith attempt to enforce the State's criminal laws. We therefore hold that the three-judge court improperly intruded into the State's own criminal process and reverse its orders suppressing evidence in the pending state prosecution and directing the return of all seized materials.

After crippling Louisiana's ability to enforce its criminal statute against Ledesma, the three-judge court expressed the view that the Parish of St. Bernard Ordinance 21-60 was invalid. Although the court below recognized that 'it is not the function of a three-judge federal district court to determine the constitutionality or enjoin the enforcement of a local ordinance,' the court nevertheless seized the 'opportunity to express its views on the constitutionality of the ordinance.' 304 F.Supp. 662, 670 n. 31 (1969). Judge Boyle, the District Judge who initially referred the action to the three-judge court, adopted that court's view and declared the parish ordinance invalid. There is considerable question concerning the propriety of issuing a declaratory judgment against a criminal law in the circumstances of this case. [2]

We are, however, unable to review the decision concerning the local ordinance because this Court has no jurisdiction to review on direct appeal the validity of a declaratory judgment against a local ordinance, such as St. Bernard Parish Ordinance 21-60. Even if an order granting a declaratory judgment against the ordinance had been entered by the three-judge court below (which it had not), that court would have been acting in the capacity of a single-judge court. We held in Moody v. Flowers, 387 U.S. 97, 87 S.Ct. 1544, 18 L.Ed.2d 643 (1967), that a three-judge court was not properly convened to consider the constitutionality of a statute of only local application, similar to a local ordinance. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1253 we have jurisdiction to consider on direct appeal only those civil actions 'required * * * to be heard and determined' by a three-judge court. Since the constitutionality of this parish ordinance was not 'required * * * to be heard and determined' by a three-judge panel, there is no jurisdiction in this Court to review that question.

The fact that a three-judge court was properly convened in this case to consider the injunctive relief requested against the enforcement of the state statute, does not give this Court jurisdiction on direct appeal over other controversies where there is no independent jurisdictional base. Even where a three-judge court is properly convened to consider one controversy between two parties, the parties are not necessarily entitled to a three-judge court and a direct appeal on other controversies that may exist between them. [3] See Public Service Comm'n v. Brashear Freight Lines, 306 U.S. 204, 59 S.Ct. 480, 83 L.Ed. 608 (1939).

In this case, the order granting the declaratory judgment was not issued by a three-judge court, but rather by Judge Boyle, acting as a single district judge. The three-judge court stated:

'The view expressed by this court concerning the constitutionality of the ordinance is shared by the initiating federal district judge and is adopted by reference in his opinion issued contemporaneously herewith.' 304 F.Supp., at 670 n. 31. (Emphasis added.)

The last clause of the quoted sentence indicates what, under Moody v. Flowers, must be the case: The decision granting declaratory relief against the Parish of St. Bernard Ordinance 21 60 was the decision of a single federal judge. This fact is confirmed by the orders entered by the two courts. The three-judge court entered the following order at the end of its opinion.

'Accordingly, for the reasons assigned, it is ordered that judgment in both cases be entered decreeing:

'1. That all seized materials be returned, instanter, to those from whom they were seized, '2. That said materials be suppressed as evidence in any pending or future prosecutions of the plaintiffs,

'3. That the preliminary and permanent injunctions prayed for be denied, and

'4. That jurisdiction be retained herein for the issuance of such further orders as may be necessary and proper.'

The order of the single-judge District Court is as follows:

'For the reasons assigned in the foregoing 3-Judge Court opinion, it is ordered that judgment be entered herein decreeing:

'1. That St. Bernard Parish Ordinance No. 21-60 is unconstitutional.

'2. That jurisdiction be retained herein for the issuance of such further orders as may be necessary and proper.' 304 F.Supp., at 670-671.

The fact that the clerk of the District Court merged these orders into one judgment does not confer jurisdiction upon this Court. In the first place, our jurisdiction cannot be made to turn on an inadvertent error of a court clerk. Second, the jurisdictional statute by its own terms grants a direct appeal from 'an order granting or denying' an injunction. 28 U.S.C. § 1253. (Emphasis added.) Since the order entered by the three-judge court omits any reference to declaratory relief, the discussion of such relief in the court's opinion is dictum.

The judgment of the court below is reversed insofar as it grants injunctive relief. In all other respects the judgment is vacated and the case remanded to the United States District Court with instructions to enter a fresh decree from which the parties may take an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit it they so desire.

It is so ordered.

Judgment reversed in part and vacated in part and case remanded to United States District Court with instructions.

Mr. Justice STEWART, with whom Mr. Justice BLACKMUN joins, concurring.

In joining the opinion and judgment of the Court, I add these few concurring words.

The three-judge District Court's decree suppressing the use of the seized material as evidence and ordering its return to the appellees was an injunctive order, from which an appeal was properly taken directly to this Court. 28 U.S.C. § 1253. The decree was plainly wrong under Stefanelli v. Minard, 342 U.S. 117, 72 S.Ct. 118, 96 L.Ed. 138, and I agree that it must be reversed. In Stefanelli we affirmed the refusal of a federal district court to suppress the use in a pending state proscution of evidence that the petitioners alleged had been obtained in an unlawful search. Our ruling there is clearly applicable to the facts before us:

'We hold that the federal courts should refuse to intervene in State criminal proceedins to suppress the use of evidence even when claimed to have been secured by unlawful search and seizure.' 342 U.S., at 120, 72 S.Ct., at 120, 96 L.Ed. 138.

See also Cleary v. Bolger, 371 U.S. 392, 400, 83 S.Ct. 385, 389, 9 L.Ed.2d 390.

I also agree that the appeal from the declaratory judgment holding the parish ordinance unconstitutional is not properly before us. This Court has no power to consider the merits of that appeal for two quite distinct reasons, each sufficient to defeat our jurisdiction. First, the ordinance is neither a state statute nor of statewide application. The case thus presents a fortiori the situation in which the Court found no jurisdiction in Moody v. Flowers, 387 U.S. 97, 101, 87 S.Ct. 1544, 1547-1548, 18 L.Ed.2d 643. Second, the appeal is from the grant of declaratory relief, not from the grant or denial of an injunction, and jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1253 is therefore lacking. Gunn v. University Committee to End War in Viet Nam, 399 U.S. 383, Id., at 391, 90 S.Ct. 2013, at 2018, 26 L.Ed.2d 684 (White, J., concurring).

This is not a case in which the District Court's action on the prayer for declaratory relief was so bound up with its action on the request for an injunction that this Court might, on direct appeal, consider the propriety of declaratory relief on pendency grounds. Cf. Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444; Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688. Indeed, the District Court itself recognized that the request for a declaratory judgment regarding the local ordinance was so unrelated to the prayer for injunctive relief against the state statute that the single District Judge entered a separate order declaring the ordinance unconstitutional.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS dissenting in part.


  1. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1253 an aggrieved party in any civil action required to be heard and determined by a district court of three judges 'may appeal to the Supreme Court from an order granting or denying * * * an interlocutory or permanent injunction.' The orders directing the suppression of evidence and the return of the seized material were injunctive orders against the appellants. Thus, we have jurisdiction to review those orders.
  2. At the time the instant federal court suit was filed, there was pending in Louisiana state court a criminal prosecution under the parish ordinance. In Samuels v. Mackell, supra, we held that interference with pending state criminal prosecutions by declaratory judgments is subject to the same restrictions curbing federal interference by injunction. 401 U.S., at 73, 91 S.Ct., at 768. As indicated above, there are no facts present in this record to show that appellees would suffer irreparable injury of the kind necessary to justify federal injunctive interference with the state criminal processes.
  3. Aside from the limited local application of the ordinance, which bars a direct appeal under Moody v. Flowers, 387 U.S. 97, 87 S.Ct. 1544, 18 L.Ed.2d 643 (1967), there is a question whether a successful party can properly maintain an appeal. The statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1253, permits a direct appeal only from an order granting or denying an injunction. The State successfully opposed an injunction against the enforcement of the parish ordinance in the court below and now cannot appeal from its victory. See Gunn v. University Committee to End War in Viet Nam, 399 U.S. 383, 391, 90 S.Ct. 2013, 2018, 26 L.Ed.2d 684 (1970) (White, J., concurring).

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).