United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 12, 2005.
MELANIE BRUNO, et al., Plaintiffs,
BOROUGH OF SEASIDE PARK, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARRETT BROWN, District Judge
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] MEMORANDUM OPINION
This matter comes before the Court upon a motion for injunctive
relief filed by plaintiffs Melanie Bruno, Melissa Bruno and Jose
Roman ("Plaintiffs"). The Court, having considered the parties'
submissions and decided the motion without oral argument pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78, and for the reasons set
forth in this Memorandum Opinion, will deny Plaintiffs' request
for injunctive relief.
This civil action stems from events surrounding the arrest and
detention of Plaintiffs on the evening of November 22, 2003.
Plaintiffs allege that employees of the Sawmill Restaurant and
Tavern, an establishment in the Borough of Seaside Park ("the
town"), ejected Plaintiffs from the bar for no apparent reason.
Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 28-29. Following their removal,
Plaintiffs allege that members of the town police department
("Police Defendants") arrived, confronted Plaintiffs, and used
extreme and unnecessary force to subdue and arrest them. Compl. ¶¶ 30-32. Plaintiffs further allege that the Police
Defendants shouted obscenities at them and otherwise inflicted
emotional and mental distress. Compl. ¶ 32. Upon arrival at the
police station, Plaintiffs allege that the Police Defendants
continued to inflict physical injury and extreme mental anguish,
and failed to provide adequate medical care, for up to five
hours. Compl. ¶ 33.
After arrest and detention at the police station, Plaintiffs
were charged with disorderly conduct, see N.J. STAT. ANN. §
2C:33-2 (2004); obstructing the administration of law, see N.J.
STAT. ANN. § 2C:29-1 (2004); and resisting arrest. While criminal
proceedings were still pending before the Island Heights
Municipal Court, see Pls. Br. at 4, Plaintiffs brought a civil
action against the Police Defendants and the town pursuant to
42 U.S.C. 1983.*fn1
Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the police department and
the town inadequately trained and supervised the individual
officers that caused Plaintiffs injury. Compl. ¶ 41. Plaintiffs
allege that the town knowingly encouraged these actions, and that
the conduct of these parties occurred under color of state law.
Compl. ¶¶ 40-42. Plaintiffs also raised state law claims of
assault, battery, false arrest and false imprisonment against all
defendants. Compl. ¶¶ 44-52. On June 24, 2005, Plaintiffs moved
for injunctive relief, requesting that this Court enjoin the
pending state criminal proceedings. II. DISCUSSION
The Anti-Injunction Act provides that "[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 (2005). The United States
Supreme Court has held that the federal civil rights remedies
enunciated in Section 1983 provide federal courts with such
express authorization. See Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225,
242 (1972) ("Congress plainly authorized the federal courts to
issue injunctions in Section 1983 actions, by expressly
authorizing a `suit in equity' as one of the means of redress.").
Although the Supreme Court found Section 1983 to be an
exception to the Anti-Injunction Act, the Court did not otherwise
"question or qualify in any way the principles of equity, comity,
and federalism that must restrain a federal court when asked to
enjoin a state court proceeding," Mitchum, 407 U.S. at 243.
These principles first appeared in Younger v. Harris,
401 U.S. 37, 53 (1971), in which the Court conceded to federal courts the
power to issue injunctions only in "extraordinary circumstances."
Thus, the Court's reasoning effectively created an additional
jurisdictional barrier to federal court injunctions.
First, the Court tracked the history of a "longstanding public
policy against federal court interference with state court
proceedings." Id. at 43. The Court acknowledged the basic
principle "that courts of equity should not act, and particularly
should not act to restrain a criminal prosecution, when the
moving party has an adequate remedy at law and will not suffer
irreparable injury if denied equitable relief." Id. at 43-44.
The Court also described the "extraordinary circumstances"
necessary to depart from this established practice of federal restraint. These include situations where: (1) "it plainly
appears" that reliance on state court proceedings to bring
constitutional claims "would not afford adequate protection,"
Younger, 401 U.S. at 45 (quoting Fenner v. Boykin,
271 U.S. 240, 243 (1926)); (2) state authorities exhibit bad faith and
harassment in the prosecution of parties, see Younger,
401 U.S. at 48; see also Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479
(1965); or (3) "the danger of irreparable loss [to a party] is
both great and immediate." Younger, 401 U.S. at 45 (quoting
Fenner, 271 U.S. at 243).
Plaintiffs argue that this Court should enjoin the state court
proceedings because the Island Heights Municipal Court does not
provide a "fair and sufficient opportunity to properly vindicate
their legislatively created and uniquely federal rights." Pls.
Br. at 8. However, this argument fails to recognize the structure
of the New Jersey court system. Not only may Plaintiffs present
any factual or legal defenses to the charges against them, but
they will have the opportunity to appeal any adverse decisions
made by the municipal court. See N.J. Mun. Ct. Sys., available
(describing the appellate process). Because Plaintiffs have the
opportunity for appellate review and may pursue their
constitutional claims somewhere in the state system, they have
access to adequate protection from the State of New Jersey. See
Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 431 n. 12 (1979) ("[Federal
plaintiffs] need be accorded only an opportunity to fairly pursue
their constitutional claims in the ongoing state proceedings . . .
and their failure to avail themselves of such opportunities
does not mean that the state procedures were inadequate.")
(citation omitted). Therefore, the Court will not enjoin the
state criminal proceedings on this basis.
Further, Plaintiffs argue that the Police Defendants acted in
bad faith and with the sole purpose of harassment when they
allegedly arrested and detained Plaintiffs for five hours. However, allegations of police misconduct on one evening are
insufficient to find bad faith state prosecutions and to vest
this Court with absolute discretion to grant equitable relief.
"`[B]ad faith' in this context generally means that a prosecution
has been brought without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a
valid conviction." Kugler v. Helfant, 421 U.S. 117, 126 n. 6
Here, Plaintiffs do not allege that they were by victimized by
a consistent pattern of police harassment or physical and mental
abuse. Cf. Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. at 490 (upholding
federal court injunction after state authorities continued to
arrest and indict civil rights workers without "any expectation
of securing valid convictions"). Rather, Plaintiffs allege only
one altercation and one night when the Police Defendants used
harassment or physical abuse. In addition, Plaintiffs do not
allege capricious state prosecution or judicial misconduct.
Plaintiffs concede that a hearing is scheduled this month
relating to the criminal charges brought against each individual.
See Pls. Br. at 4. Because prosecution of Plaintiffs continues,
and Plaintiffs will not be deprived of a forum to assert their
constitutional claims, the Court finds that bad faith and
harassment are not present here. Therefore, the Court will not
grant the extraordinary relief sought by Plaintiffs on this
Plaintiffs also argue that they face irreparable loss, both
great and immediate, if this Court refuses to enjoin the state
criminal proceedings. Specifically, Plaintiffs state that
irreparable injury would occur "if they were required to defend a
criminal proceeding premised upon unlawful acts violating [their
federal rights]." Pls. Br. at 6. However, the Supreme Court has
held that the "the cost, anxiety, and inconvenience of having to
defend against a single criminal prosecution, could not by
[itself] be considered `irreparable' in the special legal sense
of the term." Younger, 401 U.S. at 46; see also Davis v.
Sheldon (In re Davis), 691 F.2d 176, 179 (3d Cir. 1982) ("The processing of a bona fide criminal proceeding
does not itself constitute irreparable injury."). Although
Plaintiffs perceive the pending criminal charges as unlawful,
they have the opportunity to defend against this good faith
criminal prosecution and, as described above, to present
constitutional claims in state court. Because Plaintiffs can
alleviate the threat to their federal rights by defending against
the criminal prosecutions, this Court will not exercise the
extraordinary power to enjoin state criminal proceedings.
Therefore, without reaching the merits of Plaintiffs' Section
1983 claims, this Court must deny the motion for injunctive
For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' motion for
injunctive relief is denied. An appropriate form of order
accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.