Recent Court Rulings
In Sprint Communications Company v. Jacobs the Court held that a federal court should not have abstained from deciding a case where a state court also was reviewing a decision of the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) because the IUB proceedings did not “resemble . . . state enforcement actions” where abstention is appropriate.
Sprint withheld payment of intercarrier access fees for Voice over Internet Protocol calls to an Iowa communications company, Windstream, and filed a complaint with the IUB asking it to prevent Windstream from discontinuing service to Sprint. The IUB ordered Sprint to pay, and Sprint challenged the IUB’s decision in federal and state courts simultaneously. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, held that Younger abstention does not apply in this case. The Court reasoned that Younger abstention only applies in three “exceptional circumstances,” including civil enforcement proceedings. The IUB proceedings in this case did not resemble state enforcement actions because they were not “akin to criminal prosecution” and were not initiated by “the State in its sovereign capacity.” Instead, Sprint initiated the action and no state authority investigated Sprint or filed a complaint against Sprint.
The SLLC’s brief argues what should matter in determining whether Younger abstention applies is the strength of the state interest in the proceeding not the label of “remedial” or “coercive.” And the integrity of the judicial process is maintained by state courts being allowed to resolve issues initiated before them that directly affect state and local government.
Kira Klatchko and Irene Zurko of Best, Best & Krieger LLP wrote the SLLC’s brief which the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association signed onto.