On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey -- Camden, D.C. Civil No. 84-5369.
Before: ADAMS, GIBBONS, and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges.
Three individuals and three business entities appeal from a final order dismissing their complaint against several officials of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and from the denial of their motion for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs-appellants sought damages, permanent injunctive relief, and preliminary injunctive relief. The district court held that the rule of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971), required dismissal of their complaint. We reverse the order dismissing the complaint but affirm the denial of the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction.
The complaint alleges that on October 4, 1984 a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey issued a warrant authorizing officers of the Division of Criminal Justice to search the premises of Foundations & Structures, Inc. (Foundations) in Tuckahoe, New Jersey and to seize certain documents and business records. Foundations, owned by Theodore DeSantis, William Monaghan, and John James, is engaged in the engineering and construction business. Monaghan, DeSantis, and James are also owners of Monaghan Associates and MJD Construction Company, Inc.
About 7:00 a.m. on October 5, 1984 defendants Deakins and Sost, officers of the Division of Criminal Justice, awakened Monaghan at his home. Monaghan previously had testified before a Cape May County grand jury investigating allegations of government corruption in that county, and Deakins and Sost sought Monaghan's cooperation in connection with an investigation of such corruption. Monaghan told them that his attorney had advised him not to answer questions about the subjects under inquiry unless the attorney was present. He then called the attorney and arranged for a meeting with Deakins and Sost later that day. Despite this arrangement, Deakins and Sost threatened to focus their investigation on Monaghan and his businesses if he did not cooperate.
While Deakins and Sost were visiting Monaghan, two other defendants called on DeSantis at a construction site in Sea Isle City, New Jersey; they also attempted to enlist his cooperation in the corruption investigation. When DeSantis insisted that he would not answer questions unless his attorney were present, these defendants threatened him in the same way Deakins and Sost had threatened Monaghan.
After these early morning attempts to conscript Monaghan and DeSantis had failed, certain other defendants arrived at the premises of Foundations to execute the warrant. Those defendants occupied the premises for nearly eight hours, barricading the entrance to the site with a state vehicle. They searched exiting vehicles, recorded serial numbers of construction machinery on the site, and took photographs. They used the company telephone without authorization and denied such use to others. They required every person -- nonemployees included -- who happened to be at the multi-acre site to line up and produce identification. Among those detained were Monaghan, DeSantis, and James.*fn1
Eventually, the defendants loaded into state vehicles cartons containing hundreds of documents, many of which were not within the scope of the warrant and many of which were necessary to the operation of the business. Among the papers indiscriminately seized were dozens of attorney-client communications, some of which were in a folder plainly marked "Grand Jury" and thus were readily identifiable as such.*fn2 As of the date of the filing of this opinion, some eighteen months after the October 1984 raid, the state has not indicted or charged any of the plaintiffs, and it retains possession of most of the seized documents.
II. The District Court Proceedings
On December 26, 1984 the plaintiffs filed in the District of New Jersey a complaint in which they alleged that the October 5 search violated the fourth amendment. They charged that the search was unlawfully motivated in that it sought no information that could not have been obtained in an orderly manner by a subpoena duces tecum and that it was but a pretext designed to coerce Monaghan, DeSantis, and James into cooperating in an investigation the defendants were conducting. The plaintiffs sought return of the seized documents and damages pursuant to section 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982).
The defendants moved for dismissal of the complaint, contending principally that the district court should abstain because of then-ongoing state proceedings. The plaintiffs countered with a motion for a preliminary injunction ordering the return of the documents. In an order dated August 6, 1985 the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint in its entirety. It held that abstention was appropriate and found further that, even if it were not, the plaintiffs did not qualify for a preliminary injunction. Monaghan v. Deakins, 798 F.2d 632 (D.N.J. 1985).
III. Abstention and Dismissal of the Complaint
The plaintiffs first challenge the district court dismissal, on abstention grounds, of their claims for damages and permanent injunctive relief. Because the district court dismissed the complaint, we must take its allegations to be true.*fn3 Our review is plenary, and we can affirm only if, assuming the truth of those allegations, the district court could not have granted, as a matter of law, any of the requested relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957).
The plaintiffs urge that whatever else may be said in favor of the order dismissing the complaint, the district court plainly erred in dismissing their claim for money damages and attorney fees. We agree. It is settled in this circuit that a district court, when abstaining from adjudicating a claim for injunctive relief, should stay and not dismiss accompanying claims for damages and attorney fees when such relief is not available from the ongoing state proceedings. Crane v. Fauver, 762 F.2d 325, 328-29 (3d Cir. 1985) (reversing district court dismissal of claims for damages and attorney fees); Williams v. Red Bank Board of Education, 662 F.2d 1008, 1022-24 (3d Cir. 1981) (same). The defendants do not contend that the ongoing state proceedings at issue in this case offer the plaintiffs any opportunity to recover either damages or attorney fees. Nonetheless, they offer several arguments in support of the district court's dismissal of the damage claims.
The defendants' principal contention is that the eleventh amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 97-124, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984), bars the district court from awarding damages against them individually, even with respect to alleged violations of the federal Constitution. The state officials neither cite any authority nor proffer any credible argument for such an extreme proposition, and we reject it.
Alternatively, the state urges us to affirm the district court's Younger -based dismissal of the damage claim on the ground that the plaintiffs could have asserted that claim in a state tribunal. That, of course, is true of every section 1983 claim, see, e.g., Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 65 L. Ed. 2d 555, 100 S. Ct. 2502 (1980) (affirming judgment in section 1983 claim brought in Maine state court), and it was true of the damage claims asserted in Crane and Red Bank. It, however, is no reason for a district court to abstain from adjudicating a cognizable section 1983 claim.
No argument advanced by the defendant-appellants convinces us that the holdings of Crane and Red Bank do not control this case or that those cases are no longer valid. Consequently, we will reverse the district court's ...