Anti-Injunction Act (Litigator Series)

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THIS CASEBOOK contains a selection of 34 U. S. Court of Appeals decisions that analyze and interpret provisions of the Anti-Injunction Act. The selection of decisions spans from 2005 to the date of publication.

The Anti-Injunction Act limits the power of federal courts to interfere with state court proceedings:

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, or [2] where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or [3] to protect or effectuate its judgments.

28 U.S.C. § 2283. “The statute … ‘is a necessary concomitant of the Framers’ decision to authorize, and Congress’ decision to implement, a dual system of federal and state courts.'” Smith v. Bayer Corp., 131 S.Ct. 2368, 2375, 180 L.Ed.2d 341 (2011) (quoting Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 146, 108 S.Ct. 1684, 100 L.Ed.2d 127 (1988)). As such, the statute is designed to “forestall the inevitable friction between the state and federal courts that ensues from the injunction of state judicial proceedings by a federal court.” Vendo Co. v. Lektro-Vend Corp., 433 U.S. 623, 630, 97 S.Ct. 2881, 53 L.Ed.2d 1009 (1977). Williams v. BASF Catalysts LLC, 765 F. 3d 306 (3rd Cir. 2014).

The All Writs Act provides that federal courts “may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a). The statute codifies “the long recognized power of courts of equity to effectuate their decrees by injunctions or writs of assistance.” Burr & Forman, 470 F.3d at 1026 (quoting Wesch v. Folsom, 6 F.3d 1465, 1470 (11th Cir.1993)) (alteration and quotation marks omitted). Although its express language refers only to writs issued “in aid of [courts’] jurisdictions,” it is understood that the All Writs Act “also empowers federal courts to issue injunctions to protect or effectuate their judgments.” Id. (quoting Wesch, 6 F.3d at 1470). SFM Holdings v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, 764 F. 3d 1327 (11th Cir. 2014).

The Anti-Injunction Act, however, “serves as a check on the broad authority recognized by the All Writs Act.” Id. at 1027. SFM Holdings v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, ibid.

The Anti-Injunction Act embodies a fundamental principle of federalism: state courts are free to conduct their own litigation, without ongoing supervision by federal judges, let alone threats by federal judges to hold state judges in contempt. The scope given to state litigation is especially great in the realm of criminal investigations and prosecutions, a principle that led to Younger, which requires a federal court to abstain even if an injunction would be justified under normal principles, except in rare situations. See Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584, 187 L.Ed.2d 505 (2013), which discusses the current state of Younger’s abstention doctrine. O’Keefe v. Chisholm, 769 F. 3d 936 (7th Cir. 2014).

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