Courthouse News Service v. Planet

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 04-07-2014
  • Case #: 11-57187
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wardlaw for the Court; Circuit Judges Noonan and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

It is incorrect for a district court to abstain from hearing a case where the plaintiff’s claim presents an important constitutional question and the relief sought would not excessively intrude on sensitive state interests.

Courthouse News Service (“CNS”) is a news service that provides same-day reports of civil litigation filings. The Ventura, California County Superior Court had been providing CNS with swift access to newly filed “unlimited” civil complaints, but now withholds these for days or weeks during processing. CNS sued the clerk of court, Michael Planet, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the failure to provide same-day access violates its right of access to public judicial proceedings under the First Amendment and federal common law. The district court granted a motion from Planet to abstain from hearing the case under the equitable abstention doctrine as set forth in Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co. and O’Shea v. Littleton, on the grounds that the case would interfere with sensitive state interests. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit first held that a Pullman Co. abstention was “almost never” appropriate in cases implicating First Amendment rights, which raise issues of particular federal concern. The panel found that CNS’s right of access claims fell within these rights and thus abstaining under Pullman Co. was improper. Further, the panel held that abstention was inappropriate under Littleton because the district court could easily fashion a remedy that did not cause a “major continuing intrusion of the equitable power of the federal courts into the daily conduct of state … proceedings.” REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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