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Gates v. Strain

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 22, 2018

SHANE M. GATES, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
RODNEY JACK STRAIN, Sheriff, in his official and individual capacity; WALTER P. REED, District Attorney, in his official capacity; CHARLES M. HUGHES, JR., Attorney; NATHAN MILLER, Sheriff Deputy; ROGER GOTTARDI, Sheriff Deputy; BRIAN WILLIAMS, Sheriff Deputy; PHILIP DUIETT, Lacombe Nurse, Defendants - Appellees SHANE M. GATES, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
RICHARD SWARTZ, Judge; NICHOLAS F. NORIEA, JR., Assistant District Attorney; MARIE-ELISE PRIETO, Clerk of Court - St. Tammany; JEFF LANDRY, Louisiana Attorney General; RONALD GRACIANETTE, Assistant District Attorney; KATHY SHERWOOD, Captain; KATHRYN LANDRY; RODNEY STRAIN, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Office Sheriff, also known as Jack Strain; ST. PAUL FIRE; MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY; WALTER P. REED, Defendants - Appellees

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana USDC Nos. 2:07-CV-6983; 2:13-CV-6425

          Before KING, ELROD, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

          STEPHEN A. HIGGINSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Shane Gates was arrested by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office in 2006. In 2007, he filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the arresting officers used excessive force and that he was being prosecuted in bad faith. The case has been stayed since 2008 pending the resolution of the underlying state criminal charges. He was acquitted of aggravated flight, a felony, in 2012, and the state then sought to pursue prosecution on the remaining misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated. Gates then fled St. Tammany Parish, and has not appeared for trial on those charges. Gates moved in the district court to lift the stay for the purpose of entering an injunction preventing the state from prosecuting him for the pending misdemeanor charges. The state moved to lift the stay for the limited purpose of dismissing the case with prejudice for failure to prosecute. The district court determined that Younger abstention precluded an injunction, and dismissed the case with prejudice. We affirm.

         I.

         On November 16, 2006, plaintiff-appellant Shane Gates was pulled over and arrested by deputies of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. According to the police report, Deputy Nathan Miller signaled to Gates to pull over after observing Gates's vehicle swerve repeatedly while driving on Interstate 12. The report indicates that Gates then accelerated to 104 miles-per-hour in an attempt to flee before finally pulling over. Gates then opened his car door and fell to the ground. Deputy Miller attempted to move Gates away from the shoulder of the interstate, but, according to the police report, Gates began to wrestle with Miller. Miller then held Gates down on the hood of his patrol car while waiting for backup. A few minutes later, Deputies Gottardi and Williams arrived. Gottardi advised Gates that he was under arrest and attempted to place him in handcuffs. The report indicates that Gates then began flailing his arms, and that Deputy Miller administered a one-second burst of pepper spray to stun Gates and enable the deputies to handcuff him, which they did. While Gottardi attempted to place Gates in the back of Williams's patrol car, the report states that Gates threw his head and body back against Gottardi. Gottardi took Gates down to the ground, causing Gates's face to strike the asphalt and resulting in a one-half inch laceration near his left eye. Gates was transported to the emergency room for treatment. According to the police report, medical records from the emergency room indicate that Gates's blood-alcohol level was .273 at the time he was admitted.

         Gates's arrest report cites the following offenses: driving while intoxicated, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, open container in a motor vehicle, aggravated obstruction of a highway of commerce, and resisting an officer. He was later also charged with aggravated flight from a police officer. In 2007, Gates filed in federal district court a § 1983 suit alleging that the deputies used excessive force in arresting him and that he was being prosecuted in bad faith in state court. He sought damages and an injunction preventing his prosecution in state court.[1] That action was stayed in 2008, pending resolution of the underlying criminal charges against Gates. The action was reopened in 2012 after a state-court jury found Gates not guilty of aggravated flight, but then stayed again after the district court became aware of still-pending misdemeanor charges including driving while intoxicated and resisting an officer. The misdemeanor charges were originally set for trial on August 31, 2012, but the trial was continued due to Hurricane Isaac. Gates was then ordered to appear on November 22, 2013, to be served with a new trial date. When he failed to appear, an attachment was issued for his arrest. He has failed to appear before the state court since, and his whereabouts are unknown, even to his counsel.

         On October 20, 2016, defendants filed a motion in the district court requesting that the stay be lifted for the limited purpose of allowing Gates to appear for service for his misdemeanor trial and that, should he fail to appear, his § 1983 action should be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) for failure to prosecute. On December 14, 2016, the district court denied the motion, but ordered Gates to file, no later than January 23, 2017, a motion explaining why the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, and related abstention doctrine did not preclude his request for an injunction. The district court warned that failure to file such a motion would result in dismissal of his case with prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(b). On January 23, 2017, Gates filed a motion asking the district court to lift the stay and enter an injunction preventing defendants from prosecuting him for the pending misdemeanor charges. Defendants then filed their own motion asking the district court to lift the stay and dismiss Gates's case with prejudice for failure to prosecute. After a hearing, the district court denied Gates's motion and granted defendants' motion to dismiss the case with prejudice. Gates timely appealed.

         II.

         Gates first contends that the district court erred by not enjoining the state from prosecuting him for the pending misdemeanor charges. We review both the denial of a motion for a permanent injunction and an abstention ruling for abuse of discretion. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Earle, 388 F.3d 515, 518 (5th Cir. 2004) (abstention ruling); St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Williamson, 332 F.3d 304, 308 (5th Cir. 2003) (denial of motion for permanent injunction). However, we review de novo both a district court's legal determination regarding the applicability of the Anti-Injunction Act, United States v. Billingsley, 615 F.3d 404, 409-10 (5th Cir. 2010), and "whether the requirements of a particular abstention doctrine are satisfied, " Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 388 F.3d at 518 (quoting Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Unauthorized Practice of Law Comm., 283 F.3d 650, 652 (5th Cir. 2002)).

         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. Section 1983 is an express authorization from Congress permitting federal courts to enjoin state proceedings in order to protect federal rights. See Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 242-43 (1972). However, § 1983 does not "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." Id. at 243; see also Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-47 (1971). Under the Younger abstention doctrine, federal courts should generally decline to exercise jurisdiction when: "(1) the federal proceeding would interfere with an 'ongoing state judicial proceeding'; (2) the state has an important interest in regulating the subject matter of the claim; and (3) the plaintiff has 'an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.'" Bice v. La. Pub. Def. Bd., 677 F.3d 712, 716 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)).

         Where those three criteria are satisfied, a federal court may enjoin a pending state-court criminal proceeding only if: (1) the state-court proceeding was brought in bad faith or to harass the federal plaintiff; (2) the federal plaintiff seeks to challenge a state statute that is "flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every clause, sentence, and paragraph, and in whatever manner and against whomever an effort might be made to apply it, " or (3) where other "extraordinary circumstances" threaten "irreparable loss [that] is both great and immediate." Younger, 401 U.S. at 45, 53-54; accord Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 432-33 (1979).[2]

         Here, the district court correctly determined that the three criteria that generally require Younger abstention are satisfied. First, Gates requested that the district court enjoin his pending state-court criminal proceeding. The federal proceeding would therefore clearly interfere with an ongoing state judicial proceeding. Second, the underlying state proceeding concerns the enforcement of state criminal laws, something in which the state has a strong interest. Third, Gates can raise his challenges to the state criminal proceedings in state court. To the extent that Gates argues that he has been unsuccessful or is likely to be unsuccessful in raising his constitutional claims in state court that is irrelevant. The relevant question is whether the would-be federal plaintiff has the opportunity to raise his federal claims in state court. See Moore, 442 U.S. at 425 ("[T]he federal court should not exert jurisdiction if the plaintiffs 'had an opportunity to present their federal claims in the state proceedings.'" (quoting Juidice v. Vall, 430 U.S. 327, 337 (1977))); id. at 425- 26 ("Certainly, abstention is appropriate unless state law clearly bars the interposition of the constitutional claims."). Gates does not contend that he cannot raise his constitutional claims in the state court. Accordingly, Younger abstention precludes an injunction here unless one of the three narrow exceptions applies.

         Gates contends that the state prosecution has been taken in bad faith or that other extraordinary circumstances warrant enjoining the state criminal proceedings. Specifically, he argues that: (1) his prosecution for resisting an officer was instigated by the parish's insurer, St. Paul-Travelers (whom former district attorney Walter Reed privately represented and from whom he derived personal financial benefits, which Gates argues amounted to a Hobbs Act violation), in order to preclude § 1983 liability for excessive force; (2) prosecution for the pending misdemeanor offenses would constitute double jeopardy; and (3) prosecution would violate state and federal speedy-trial laws. We agree with the district court that Gates's ...


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