Ellis v. Dyson

PETITIONER: Tom E. Ellis and Robert D. Love
RESPONDENT: Frank M. Dyson, Alex Bickley, Scott McDonald, Hugh Jones, Wes Wise
LOCATION: Municipal Court of Dallas Texas

DOCKET NO.: 73-130
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 421 US 426 (1975)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1974
DECIDED: May 19, 1975
GRANTED: Apr 22, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Burt Neuborne - for petitioners
Douglas H. Conner, III - for respondents

Facts of the case

Tom Ellis and Robert Love plead nolo contendere to charges of violating a city loitering ordinance. The court fined each man $10. Rather than seeking a trial in the county court and risking a harsher punishment, the men sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. They sought a declaratory judgment that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, and equitable relief in the form of removal of their arrest and conviction records. The district court denied relief and dismissed the claim, holding that declaratory relief was unavailable because there was no pending criminal prosecution or allegation of bad faith prosecution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed without an opinion.

Question

Can Ellis and Love seek declaratory and equitable relief after being fined under an allegedly unconstitutional ordinance?

Media for Ellis v. Dyson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1974 in Ellis v. Dyson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 19, 1975 in Ellis v. Dyson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 73-130, Ellis against Dyson and 73-1543, Johnson against The Railway Express Agency will each be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

For the first case, Ellis against Dyson comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petitioners here were convicted and fined by the Municipal Court of the City of Dallas on their pleas of nolo contendere for violating the Dallas loitering ordinance.

They did not seek a trial de novo in the County Court as they were entitled to do.

Instead they brought the present action in the federal court challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance and seeking declaratory and other relief.

The federal court dismissed the action and held that such relief against future state criminal prosecutions was not available.

In so doing, it relied upon a decision of the Fifth Circuit, the District Court's controlling court.

Word was held that the principles of Younger against Harris applied where a state criminal prosecution was merely threatened. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Fifth Circuit's opinion on which the District Court had relied was subsequently reversed in our case entitled Steffel against Thompson.

We there held that federal declaratory relief was not precluded when a state prosecution based upon an assertedly unconstitutional state statute had been threatened but was not pending.

As a consequence, we reversed the Court of Appeals' judgment and remand the case to the District Court for reconsideration on the light of Steffel as to whether there is a genuine threat of prosecution here and as to the relationship between the past prosecution of the petitioners and the alleged threat of future prosecutions.

I'm authorized to say that Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

And Mr. Justice Powell has filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Stewart has joined and in which the Chief Justice has joined in part.