by Gregory Williams, Esq. | What is the U.S. Anti-Injunction Act? Here’s my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).
THE U.S. ANTI-INJUNCTION ACT
Pursuant to the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 2283, a court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except (1) as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, (2) where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or (3) to protect or effectuate its judgments. Atlantic CoastLine Railroad v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 282-83, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970).
“Courts must construe the exceptions to the Anti-Injunction Act narrowly and resolve doubts in favor of letting the state action proceed.” Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 121 F.3d 1372, 1378 (9th Cir. 1997) (hyperlink added to original). “Rooted firmly in constitutional principles, the Act is designed to prevent friction between federal and state courts by barring federal intervention in all but the narrowest of circumstances.” Sandpiper Village Condominium Ass’n., Inc. v. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., 428 F.3d 831, 842 (9th Cir. 2005) (hyperlink added to original).
1. “EXPRESS AUTHORIZATION” EXCEPTION
Under the first exception of the Anti-Injunction Act (Express Authorization), a court of the United States may grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court when expressly authorized by Act of Congress.
For example, the Supreme Court has held that the statute governing removal procedures, 28 U.S.C. §1446, provides “express authorization” to enjoin State proceedings in removed cases. Quackenbush, 121 F.3d at 1378 (internal citations omitted). The relevant portion of 28 U.S.C. §1446 follows:
A defendant or defendants desiring to remove any civil action from a State court shall file in the district court of the United States for the district and division within which such action is pending a notice of removal signed pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such actionId. (emphasis added).
2. “IN AID OF JURISDICTION” EXCEPTION
Under the 2nd exception of the Anti-Injunction Act (In Aid Of Jurisdiction), “parallel in personam actions in state court seriously impede a federal court’s ability to adjudicate a case only where the state court proceeding threatens to render the exercise of the federal court’s jurisdiction nugatory.” Bennet v. Medtronic, 285 F.3d 801, 806 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Winkler v. Eli Lilly & Co., 101 F.3d 1196, 1202 (7th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Thus, there are only very limited circumstances where such a threat exists in personam cases." Id. (internal citations omitted). In reality, the threat created by a concurrent State court action is most severe when federal jurisdiction is dependent upon a res. Id. "For that reason, the most prominent ‘in aid of jurisdiction’ exception is for in rem actions." Id.
Thus, the court in Sandpiper found that the general rule remains as follows:
[W]here a suit is strictly in personam there is no objection to a subsequent action in another jurisdiction, either before or after judgment, although the same issues are to be tried and determined, because the subsequent action neither ousts the jurisdiction of the court in which the first suit was brought, nor does it delay or obstruct the exercise of that jurisdiction, nor lead to a conflict of authority where each court acts in accordance with the law.Sandpiper Village Condominium Ass’n, 428 F.3d at 844 (Holding that the US District Court did not meet “in aid of jurisdiction exception” and ruled that it violated Anti-Injunction Act when it attempted to enjoin a Minnesota state court from entering judgment) (alteration to original) (internal citations omitted).
3. “RELITIGATION” EXCEPTION
Under the 3rd exception of the Anti-Injunction Act (Relitigation), a federal court is permitted to prevent State court litigation of an issue that was previously presented to and decided by a federal court. G.C. & K.B. Inv., Inc. v. Wilson, 326 F.3d 1096, 1107 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 147 (1988)). The Relitigation Exception enables federal courts to protect the res judicata effect of their judgments. Sandpiper Village Condominium Ass’n., Inc., 428 F.3d 831 at 847 (internal quotation marks omitted).
A FINAL THOUGHT
The U.S. Anti-Injunction Act can be a handy litigation tool in an employment-discrimination-attorney's arsenal. In practice, I've had the opportunity to use the Act (i.e., Express Authorization Exception) to defeat defendant-employers' motions for removal.
If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.