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Tooele County v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 3, 2016

TOOELE COUNTY; STATE OF UTAH, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Appellee, and SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE; THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY; SIERRA CLUB, Intervenor-Defendants. MICHAEL ABDO; SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE, Appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah, D.C. No. 2:12-CV-00477-CW

Jess M. Krannich, Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar LLC, Salt Lake City, Utah, (Stephen H.M. Bloch and Joseph J. Bushyhead, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Salt Lake City, Utah; Brent V. Manning and Alan C. Bradshaw, Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar LLC, Salt Lake City, Utah with her on the briefs) for Appellants.

Anthony L. Rampton, Assistant Attorney General, Utah Attorney General, Salt Lake City, Utah, (Kathy A. F. Davis, Assistant Attorney General and Sean D. Reyes, Utah Attorney General, Salt Lake City, Utah, with him on the brief) for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Before HARTZ, BACHARACH, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

BACHARACH, Circuit Judge.

This appeal concerns two suits in state and federal court and statutory limitations on the power of the federal court to enjoin the state-court case.

The first action to be filed was the one in federal court, where the Utah Attorney General and the Board of Tooele County Commissioners sued the federal government under the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a. In this suit, the Utah officials are attempting to quiet title in favor of Utah for hundreds of rights of way in Tooele County, Utah. Five environmental groups opposed this suit, and the federal district court permitted the groups to intervene.

The second suit was the one in state court, where the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Michael Abdo, a Tooele County resident, claim that the Utah officials lack authority under state law to prosecute the quiet-title action in federal court.

The Utah officials asked the federal court to enjoin the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo from prosecuting the state-court action. The federal district court granted the request and entered a temporary restraining order enjoining the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo for an indefinite period of time. The Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo appeal this ruling, presenting us with two primary issues.

First, do we have appellate jurisdiction? We conclude that we do. This issue arises because the federal district court called its order a "temporary restraining order, " which is not ordinarily appealable. But temporary restraining orders cannot exceed fourteen days. After fourteen days, the order either lapses or becomes a preliminary injunction. The district court's order had already lasted more than fourteen days by the time the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo appealed. Thus, the order is treated as a preliminary injunction for purposes of appellate jurisdiction.

Second, did the federal district court have the authority to enjoin the state-court suit? We think not. The All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651, grants a district court expansive authority to issue "all writs necessary." But the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283 generally prohibits federal courts from enjoining state-court suits. An exception exists when an injunction is "in aid of" the federal court's exercise of its jurisdiction. This exception applies when

● the federal and state court exercise in rem or quasi in rem jurisdiction over the same res and

● the federal court is the first to take possession of the res.

These circumstances are absent because the state-court action is neither in rem nor quasi in rem. Thus, the district court's order violates the Anti-Injunction Act.

I. Jurisdiction existed in district court and exists now in our court.

The parties do not dispute our jurisdiction to hear this appeal, but we must independently examine our jurisdiction and the district court's. See Lovell v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 466 F.3d 893, 897 (10th Cir. 2006). We conclude that jurisdiction existed in district court and exists now in our court.

A. The federal district court had jurisdiction.

The federal court had jurisdiction over the quiet-title suit under the Quiet Title Act's grant of exclusive federal jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(f). Exercising this jurisdiction, the federal district court used its authority under the All Writs Act to issue the temporary restraining order.

The Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo challenge the district court's jurisdiction, arguing that the district court tried "to attach subject matter jurisdiction" over the state-court suit by entering the temporary restraining order. Appellants' Opening Br. at 17. We disagree. When a district court enjoins another court from proceeding with a parallel suit, the district court does not "assert jurisdiction" over the other suit; rather, the district court exercises its own jurisdiction. See Commercial Sec. Bank v. Walker Bank & Tr. Co., 456 F.2d 1352, 1355 (10th Cir. 1972) (holding that "no new grant of judicial power is contemplated" by a statute empowering federal courts to enjoin state-court proceedings). Thus, we reject the challenge to the district court's jurisdiction.

B. We have appellate jurisdiction.

Because the district court's order took the form of a temporary restraining order, we must address our own jurisdiction. Temporary restraining orders are not ordinarily appealable, but preliminary injunctions are appealable. Hyde Constr. Co. v. Koehring Co., 388 F.2d 501, 511 (10th Cir. 1968) (temporary restraining order); Crowe & Dunlevy, P.C. v. Stidham, 640 F.3d 1140, 1147 (10th Cir. 2011) (preliminary injunction). Thus, we must consider whether the order, when appealed, was truly a temporary restraining order. If it was, it would not be appealable. But in our view, the order should be treated as a preliminary injunction for purposes of appellate jurisdiction.

Temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions differ in how long they can last. Temporary restraining orders can last no more than fourteen days[1]; preliminary injunctions can last longer. When a temporary restraining order lasts longer than fourteen days, it becomes appealable as a preliminary injunction. Sampson v. Murray, 415 U.S. 61, 86 n.58, 87-88 (1974). This is true even if the district court labels its order a temporary restraining order. See Workman v. Bredesen, 486 F.3d 896, 904 (6th Cir. 2007) (explaining that appellate "jurisdiction is not controlled by . . . the name that a district court attaches to an order").

Appellate jurisdiction turns on what kind of order was appealed. The Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo appealed an order labeled as a temporary restraining order. But the federal district court said that the order would remain in effect until the court decided whether to grant an injunction. That period of time was indefinite. For fourteen days, the order functioned as a temporary restraining order. But on the fifteenth day, that order could be treated as a preliminary injunction, for purposes of appealability, because a temporary restraining order cannot last longer than fourteen days.

The Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo appealed on the eighteenth day. Thus, they appealed an order that "we view" as a preliminary injunction. Sampson, 415 U.S. at 87-88. And as a preliminary injunction, ...


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