throbber
(Slip Opinion)
`
`
`
` OCTOBER TERM, 2013
`
`
`Syllabus
`
`1
`
` NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
`
`
`
` being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
`
`
`
` The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
`
` prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
`
` See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
` Syllabus
`
` SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS ET AL.
`
`CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
`
`THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
`No. 12–815. Argued November 5, 2013—Decided December 10, 2013
`Sprint Communications, Inc. (Sprint), a national telecommunications
`service provider, withheld payment of intercarrier access fees im-
`posed by Windstream Iowa Communications, Inc. (Windstream), a lo-
`cal telecommunications carrier, for long distance Voice over Internet
`Protocol (VoIP) calls, after concluding that the Telecommunications
`Act of 1996 preempted intrastate regulation of VoIP traffic. Wind-
`stream responded by threatening to block all Sprint customer calls,
`which led Sprint to ask the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to enjoin
`Windstream from discontinuing service to Sprint. Windstream re-
`tracted its threat, and Sprint moved to withdraw its complaint. Con-
`cerned that the dispute would recur, the IUB continued the proceed-
`ings in order to resolve the question whether VoIP calls are subject to
`intrastate regulation. Rejecting Sprint’s argument that this question
`
`was governed by federal law, the IUB ruled that intrastate fees ap-
`plied to VoIP calls.
`Sprint sued respondents, IUB members (collectively IUB), in Fed-
`
`eral District Court, seeking a declaration that the Telecommunica-
`
`tions Act of 1996 preempted the IUB’s decision. As relief, Sprint
`sought an injunction against enforcement of the IUB’s order. Sprint
`also sought review of the IUB’s order in Iowa state court, reiterating
`the preemption argument made in Sprint’s federal-court complaint
`and asserting several other claims. Invoking Younger v. Harris, 401
`U. S. 37, the Federal District Court abstained from adjudicating
`Sprint’s complaint in deference to the parallel state-court proceeding.
`
`
`The Eighth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s abstention decision,
`concluding that Younger abstention was required because the ongo-
`
`
`ing state-court review concerned Iowa’s important interest in regulat-
`ing and enforcing state utility rates.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`2
`
`
`
`SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`
`Syllabus
`Held: This case does not fall within any of the three classes of excep-
`
`
`tional cases for which Younger abstention is appropriate. Pp. 6–12.
`
`(a) The District Court had jurisdiction to decide whether federal
`
`law preempted the IUB’s decision, see Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public
`
`Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U. S. 635, 642, and thus had a “virtually
`unflagging obligation” to hear and decide the case, Colorado River
`
`Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S. 800, 817. In
`
`Younger, this Court recognized an exception to that obligation for
`
`cases in which there is a parallel, pending state criminal proceeding.
`This Court has extended Younger abstention to particular state civil
`proceedings that are akin to criminal prosecutions, see Huffman v.
`Pursue, Ltd., 420 U. S. 592, or that implicate a State’s interest in en-
`forcing the orders and judgments of its courts, see Pennzoil Co. v.
`Texaco Inc., 481 U. S. 1, but has reaffirmed that “only exceptional cir-
`cumstances justify a federal court’s refusal to decide a case in defer-
`
`ence to the States,” New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of
`City of New Orleans, 491 U. S. 350, 368 (NOPSI). NOPSI identified
`three such “exceptional circumstances.” First, Younger precludes
`federal intrusion into ongoing state criminal prosecutions. See 491
`
`U. S., at 368. Second, certain “civil enforcement proceedings” war-
`
`rant Younger abstention. Ibid. Finally, federal courts should refrain
`from interfering with pending “civil proceedings involving certain or-
`ders . . . uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform
`their judicial functions.” Ibid. This Court has not applied Younger
`
`outside these three “exceptional” categories, and rules, in accord with
`NOPSI, that they define Younger’s scope. Pp. 6–8.
`
`
`
`(b) The initial IUB proceeding does not fall within any of NOPSI’s
`three exceptional categories and therefore does not trigger Younger
`abstention. The first and third categories plainly do not accommo-
`
`date the IUB’s proceeding, which was civil, not criminal in character,
`and which did not touch on a state court’s ability to perform its judi-
`
`cial function. Nor is the IUB’s order an act of civil enforcement of the
`kind to which Younger has been extended. The IUB proceeding is not
`“akin to a criminal prosecution.” Huffman, 420 U. S., at 604. Nor
`
`was it initiated by “the State in its sovereign capacity,” Trainor v.
`Hernandez, 431 U. S. 434, 444, to sanction Sprint for some wrongful
`
`act, see, e.g., Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar
`Assn., 457 U. S. 423, 433–434. Rather, the action was initiated by
`Sprint, a private corporation. No state authority conducted an inves-
`tigation into Sprint’s activities or lodged a formal complaint against
`
`Sprint.
`
`Once Sprint withdrew the complaint that commenced administra-
`tive proceedings, the IUB argues, those proceedings became, essen-
`
`
`tially, a civil enforcement action. However, the IUB’s adjudicative
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`3
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`
`Syllabus
`authority was invoked to settle a civil dispute between two private
`
` parties, not to sanction Sprint for a wrongful act.
`In holding that abstention was the proper course, the Eighth Cir-
`
`
`
` cuit misinterpreted this Court’s decision in Middlesex to mean that
`Younger abstention is warranted whenever there is (1) “an ongoing
`state judicial proceeding, which (2) implicates important state inter-
`ests, and (3) . . . provide[s] an adequate opportunity to raise [federal]
`
` challenges.” In Middlesex, the Court invoked Younger to bar a feder-
`al court from entertaining a lawyer’s challenge to a state ethics com-
`mittee’s pending investigation of the lawyer. Unlike the IUB’s pro-
`ceeding, however, the state ethics committee’s hearing in Middlesex
`
`was plainly “akin to a criminal proceeding”: An investigation and
`formal complaint preceded the hearing, an agency of the State’s Su-
`
`preme Court initiated the hearing, and the hearing’s purpose was to
`determine whether the lawyer should be disciplined for failing to
`
`meet the State’s professional conduct standards. 457 U. S., at 433–
`
`435. The three Middlesex conditions invoked by the Court of Appeals
`were therefore not dispositive; they were, instead, additional factors
`appropriately considered by the federal court before invoking Young-
`er. Younger extends to the three “exceptional circumstances” identi-
`fied in NOPSI, but no further. Pp. 8–11.
`690 F. 3d 864, reversed.
`GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`1
`
`
` NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
`
`
`
` preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
`
` notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash­
`
` ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
`
`
` that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
`
`
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`_________________
`
` No. 12–815
`_________________
` SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC., PETITIONER v.
`
`ELIZABETH S. JACOBS ET AL.
`
`
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
`
`
`APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
`
`
`[December 10, 2013]
`
` JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
`
`This case involves two proceedings, one pending in state
`court, the other in federal court. Each seeks review of an
`Iowa Utilities Board (IUB or Board) order. And each
`presents the question whether Windstream Iowa Commu­
`nications, Inc. (Windstream), a local telecommunications
`carrier, may impose on Sprint Communications, Inc.
`(Sprint), intrastate access charges for telephone calls
`transported via the Internet. Federal-court jurisdiction
`over controversies of this kind was confirmed in Verizon
`Md. Inc. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U. S. 635
`(2002). Invoking Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37 (1971),
`
`the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa
`abstained from adjudicating Sprint’s complaint in defer­
`ence to the parallel state-court proceeding, and the Court
`of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the District
`
`Court’s abstention decision.
`
`We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. In the
`main, federal courts are obliged to decide cases within the
`scope of federal jurisdiction. Abstention is not in order
`
`simply because a pending state-court proceeding involves
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`Opinion of the Court
`the same subject matter. New Orleans Public Service, Inc.
`v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U. S. 350, 373
`(1989) (NOPSI) (“[T]here is no doctrine that . . . pendency
`of state judicial proceedings excludes the federal courts.”).
`
`This Court has recognized, however, certain instances in
`
`which the prospect of undue interference with state pro­
`
`ceedings counsels against federal relief. See id., at 368.
`
`Younger exemplifies one class of cases in which federal­
`
`court abstention is required: When there is a parallel,
`pending state criminal proceeding, federal courts must
`refrain from enjoining the state prosecution. This Court
`has extended Younger abstention to particular state civil
` proceedings that are akin to criminal prosecutions, see
`
`Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U. S. 592 (1975), or that
`
`
`
`implicate a State’s interest in enforcing the orders and
`judgments of its courts, see Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc.,
`481 U. S. 1 (1987). We have cautioned, however, that
`federal courts ordinarily should entertain and resolve on
`the merits an action within the scope of a jurisdictional
`
` grant, and should not “refus[e] to decide a case in defer­
`ence to the States.” NOPSI, 491 U. S., at 368.
`
` Circumstances fitting within the Younger doctrine, we
`
`have stressed, are “exceptional”; they include, as cata­
`logued in NOPSI, “state criminal prosecutions,” “civil
`enforcement proceedings,” and “civil proceedings involving
`certain orders that are uniquely in furtherance of the state
`courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions.” Id., at
`367–368. Because this case presents none of the circum­
`stances the Court has ranked as “exceptional,” the general
`rule governs: “[T]he pendency of an action in [a] state
`court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter
`in the Federal court having jurisdiction.” Colorado River
`Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S. 800,
`817 (1976) (quoting McClellan v. Carland, 217 U. S. 268,
`282 (1910)).
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`2
`
`
`

`
`
`Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`I
`
`
`Sprint, a national telecommunications service provider,
`has long paid intercarrier access fees to the Iowa commu­
`nications company Windstream (formerly Iowa Telecom)
`for certain long distance calls placed by Sprint customers
`to Windstream’s in-state customers. In 2009, however,
`Sprint decided to withhold payment for a subset of those
`calls, classified as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP),
`after concluding that the Telecommunications Act of 1996
`preempted intrastate regulation of VoIP traffic.1 In re­
`sponse, Windstream threatened to block all calls to and
`from Sprint customers.
`Sprint filed a complaint against Windstream with the
`
`IUB asking the Board to enjoin Windstream from discon­
`tinuing service to Sprint. In Sprint’s view, Iowa law enti­
`tled it to withhold payment while it contested the access
`charges and prohibited Windstream from carrying out its
`disconnection threat. In answer to Sprint’s complaint,
`Windstream retracted its threat to discontinue serving
`Sprint, and Sprint moved, successfully, to withdraw its
`complaint. Because the conflict between Sprint and Wind­
`stream over VoIP calls was “likely to recur,” however, the
`
`IUB decided to continue the proceedings to resolve the
`underlying legal question, i.e., whether VoIP calls are
`subject to intrastate regulation. Order in Sprint Commu­
`nications Co. v. Iowa Telecommunications Servs., Inc., No.
`FCU–2010–0001 (IUB, Feb. 1, 2010), p. 6 (IUB Order).
`The question retained by the IUB, Sprint argued, was
`
`governed by federal law, and was not within the IUB’s
`adjudicative jurisdiction. The IUB disagreed, ruling that
`——————
`1The Federal Communications Commission has yet to provide its
`view on whether the Telecommunications Act categorically preempts
`intrastate access charges for VoIP calls. See In re Connect America
`Fund, 26 FCC Rcd. 17663, 18002, ¶934 (2011) (reserving the ques­
`
` tion whether all VoIP calls “must be subject exclusively to federal
`
` regulation”).
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`3
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`Opinion of the Court
` the intrastate fees applied to VoIP calls.2
`
`Seeking to overturn the Board’s ruling, Sprint com­
`
`menced two lawsuits. First, Sprint sued the members of
`the IUB (respondents here)3 in their official capacities in
`the United States District Court for the Southern District
`of Iowa.
`In its federal-court complaint, Sprint sought
`a declaration that the Telecommunications Act of 1996
`
`preempted the IUB’s decision; as relief, Sprint requested
`
`an injunction against enforcement of the IUB’s order.
`Second, Sprint petitioned for review of the IUB’s order
`in Iowa state court. The state petition reiterated the
`preemption argument Sprint made in its federal-court
`complaint; in addition, Sprint asserted state law and
`procedural due process claims. Because Eighth Circuit
`precedent effectively required a plaintiff to exhaust state
`remedies before proceeding to federal court, see Alleghany
`Corp. v. McCartney, 896 F. 2d 1138 (1990), Sprint urges
`that it filed the state suit as a protective measure. Failing
`to do so, Sprint explains, risked losing the opportunity to
`obtain any review, federal or state, should the federal
`court decide to abstain after the expiration of the Iowa
`
`statute of limitations. See Brief for Petitioner 7–8.4
`As Sprint anticipated, the IUB filed a motion asking the
`
`
`Federal District Court to abstain in light of the state suit,
`
`citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37 (1971). The District
`
`Court granted the IUB’s motion and dismissed the suit.
`
`——————
`2At the conclusion of the IUB proceedings, Sprint paid Windstream
`all contested fees.
` 3For convenience, we refer to respondents collectively as the IUB.
`
`
`
` 4Since we granted certiorari, the Iowa state court issued an opinion
` rejecting Sprint’s preemption claim on the merits. Sprint Communica­
`
`tions Co. v. Iowa Utils. Bd., No. CV–8638, App. to Joint Supp. Brief
`
` 20a–36a (Iowa Dist. Ct., Sept. 16, 2013). The Iowa court decision does
` not, in the parties’ view, moot this case, see Joint Supp. Brief 1, and we
`
`agree. Because Sprint intends to appeal the state-court decision, the
`
` “controversy . . . remains live.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
` Industries Corp., 544 U. S. 280, 291, n. 7 (2005).
`
`
`
`
`
`
`4
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`The IUB’s decision, and the pending state-court review of
`
`it, the District Court said, composed one “uninterruptible
`process” implicating important state interests. On that
`
`ground, the court ruled, Younger abstention was in order.
`Sprint Communications Co. v. Berntsen, No. 4:11–cv–
`
`00183–JAJ (SD Iowa, Aug. 1, 2011), App. to Pet. for Cert.
`24a.
`
`For the most part, the Eighth Circuit agreed with the
`District Court’s judgment. The Court of Appeals rejected
`the argument, accepted by several of its sister courts, that
`Younger abstention is appropriate only when the parallel
`state proceedings are “coercive,” rather than “remedial,” in
`nature. 690 F. 3d 864, 868 (2012); cf. Guillemard-Ginorio
`v. Contreras-Gómez, 585 F. 3d 508, 522 (CA1 2009)
`(“[P]roceedings must be coercive, and in most cases, state­
`initiated, in order to warrant abstention.”). Instead, the
`Eighth Circuit read this Court’s precedent to require
`Younger abstention whenever “an ongoing state judicial
`proceeding . . . implicates important state interests, and
`. . . the state proceedings provide adequate opportunity to
`raise [federal] challenges.” 690 F. 3d, at 867 (citing Mid­
`dlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Assn.,
`457 U. S. 423, 432 (1982)). Those criteria were satisfied
`here, the appeals court held, because the ongoing state­
`court review of the IUB’s decision concerned Iowa’s “im­
`portant state interest in regulating and enforcing its
`intrastate utility rates.” 690 F. 3d, at 868. Recognizing
`the “possibility that the parties [might] return to federal
`court,” however, the Court of Appeals vacated the judg­
`ment dismissing Sprint’s complaint. In lieu of dismissal,
`the Eighth Circuit remanded the case, instructing the
`District Court to enter a stay during the pendency of the
`
`state-court action. Id., at 869.
`
`We granted certiorari to decide whether, consistent with
`our delineation of cases encompassed by the Younger
`doctrine, abstention was appropriate here. 569 U. S. ___
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`5
`
`
`
`

`
`SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`6
`
`
`
`
` (2013).5
`
`
`II
`
`A
`
`Neither party has questioned the District Court’s juris­
`
`diction to decide whether federal law preempted the IUB’s
`decision, and rightly so. In Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public
`Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U. S. 635 (2002), we reviewed a
`similar federal-court challenge to a state administrative
`adjudication. In that case, as here, the party seeking
`federal-court review of a state agency’s decision urged that
`the Telecommunications Act of 1996 preempted the state
`action. We had “no doubt that federal courts ha[d federal
`question] jurisdiction under [28 U. S. C.] §1331 to enter­
`tain such a suit,” id., at 642, and nothing in the Telecom­
`munications Act detracted from that conclusion, see id.,
`
`at 643.
`Federal courts, it was early and famously said, have “no
`
`more right to decline the exercise of jurisdiction which is
`given, than to usurp that which is not given.” Cohens v.
`Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 404 (1821). Jurisdiction existing,
`this Court has cautioned, a federal court’s “obligation” to
`hear and decide a case is “virtually unflagging.” Colorado
`
`River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S.
`800, 817 (1976). Parallel state-court proceedings do not
`detract from that obligation. See ibid.
`
` In Younger, we recognized a “far-from-novel” exception
`to this general rule. New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v.
`Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U. S. 350, 364 (1989)
`(NOPSI). The plaintiff in Younger sought federal-court
`adjudication of the constitutionality of the California
`——————
` 5The IUB agrees with Sprint that our decision in Burford v. Sun Oil
`
`Co., 319 U. S. 315 (1943), cannot independently sustain the Eighth
`Circuit’s abstention analysis. See Brief for Respondents 9; cf. New
`Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U. S.
`350, 359 (1989).
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`7
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`Criminal Syndicalism Act. Requesting an injunction
`against the Act’s enforcement, the federal-court plaintiff
`was at the time the defendant in a pending state criminal
`prosecution under the Act. In those circumstances, we
`said, the federal court should decline to enjoin the prose­
`cution, absent bad faith, harassment, or a patently invalid
`state statute. See 401 U. S., at 53–54. Abstention was in
`order, we explained, under “the basic doctrine of equity
`
`jurisprudence that courts of equity should not act . . . to
`restrain a criminal prosecution, when the moving party
`has an adequate remedy at law and will not suffer irrepa­
`rably injury if denied equitable relief.” Id., at 43–44.
`“[R]estraining equity jurisdiction within narrow limits,”
`the Court observed, would “prevent erosion of the role of
`the jury and avoid a duplication of legal proceedings and
`legal sanctions.” Id., at 44. We explained as well that this
`doctrine was “reinforced” by the notion of “‘comity,’ that is,
`
`a proper respect for state functions.” Ibid.
`
`We have since applied Younger to bar federal relief in
`
`
`certain civil actions. Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U. S.
`592 (1975), is the pathmarking decision. There, Ohio
`officials brought a civil action in state court to abate the
`showing of obscene movies in Pursue’s theater. Because
`the State was a party and the proceeding was “in aid of
`and closely related to [the State’s] criminal statutes,” the
`Court held Younger abstention appropriate. Id., at 604.
`
`
`More recently, in NOPSI, 491 U. S., at 368, the Court
`had occasion to review and restate our Younger jurispru­
`dence. NOPSI addressed and rejected an argument that
`a federal court should refuse to exercise jurisdiction to
`review a state council’s ratemaking decision. “[O]nly ex­
`ceptional circumstances,” we reaffirmed, “justify a fed­
`eral court’s refusal to decide a case in deference to the
`States.” Ibid. Those “exceptional circumstances” exist,
`
`
`the Court determined after surveying prior decisions,
`in three types of proceedings. First, Younger precluded
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`8
`
`
`
`
` SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`Opinion of the Court
`federal intrusion into ongoing state criminal prosecutions.
`
` See ibid. Second, certain “civil enforcement proceedings”
`
` warranted abstention.
`
`Ibid. (citing, e.g., Huffman, 420
`U. S., at 604). Finally, federal courts refrained from inter­
`fering with pending “civil proceedings involving certain
`
`orders . . . uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’
`ability to perform their judicial functions.” 491 U. S., at
`368 (citing Juidice v. Vail, 430 U. S. 327, 336, n. 12 (1977),
`and Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U. S. 1, 13 (1987)).
`
`We have not applied Younger outside these three “excep­
`tional” categories, and today hold, in accord with NOPSI,
`that they define Younger’s scope.
`B
`The IUB does not assert that the Iowa state court’s
`
`review of the Board decision, considered alone, implicates
`Younger. Rather, the initial administrative proceeding
`justifies staying any action in federal court, the IUB con­
`tends, until the state review process has concluded. The
`same argument was advanced in NOPSI. 491 U. S., at
`
`368. We will assume without deciding, as the Court did in
`NOPSI, that an administrative adjudication and the
`subsequent state court’s review of it count as a “unitary
`process” for Younger purposes. Id., at 369. The question
`remains, however, whether the initial IUB proceeding is of
`
`
`the “sort . . . entitled to Younger treatment.” Ibid.
`
`The IUB proceeding, we conclude, does not fall within
`any of the three exceptional categories described in NOPSI
`and therefore does not trigger Younger abstention. The
`first and third categories plainly do not accommodate the
`
`IUB’s proceeding. That proceeding was civil, not criminal
`in character, and it did not touch on a state court’s ability
`to perform its judicial function. Cf. Juidice, 430 U. S., at
`
`336, n. 12 (civil contempt order); Pennzoil, 481 U. S., at 13
`(requirement for posting bond pending appeal).
`
`Nor does the IUB’s order rank as an act of civil enforce­
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`ment of the kind to which Younger has been extended.
`Our decisions applying Younger to instances of civil en­
`forcement have generally concerned state proceedings
`
`“akin to a criminal prosecution” in “important respects.”
`
`
`Huffman, 420 U. S., at 604. See also Middlesex, 457 U. S.,
`at 432 (Younger abstention appropriate where “noncrimi­
`nal proceedings bear a close relationship to proceedings
`criminal in nature”). Such enforcement actions are char­
`acteristically initiated to sanction the federal plaintiff, i.e.,
`
`the party challenging the state action, for some wrongful
`
`act. See, e.g., Middlesex, 457 U. S., at 433–434 (state­
`initiated disciplinary proceedings against lawyer for viola­
`tion of state ethics rules). In cases of this genre, a state
`actor is routinely a party to the state proceeding and often
`
`initiates the action. See, e.g., Ohio Civil Rights Comm’n v.
`Dayton Christian Schools, Inc., 477 U. S. 619 (1986) (state­
`initiated administrative proceedings to enforce state civil
`
`
`rights laws); Moore v. Sims, 442 U. S. 415, 419–420 (1979)
`
`(state-initiated proceeding to gain custody of children
`
`allegedly abused by their parents); Trainor v. Hernandez,
`
`431 U. S. 434, 444 (1977) (civil proceeding “brought by the
`State in its sovereign capacity” to recover welfare pay­
`ments defendants had allegedly obtained by fraud); Huff­
`man, 420 U. S., at 598 (state-initiated proceeding to
`
`enforce obscenity laws). Investigations are commonly
`involved, often culminating in the filing of a formal com­
`
`plaint or charges. See, e.g., Dayton, 477 U. S., at 624
`(noting preliminary investigation and complaint); Middle­
`sex, 457 U. S., at 433 (same).
`
`
`The IUB proceeding does not resemble the state en­
`forcement actions this Court has found appropriate for
`Younger abstention. It is not “akin to a criminal prosecu­
`tion.” Huffman, 420 U. S., at 604. Nor was it initiated by
`
`
`“the State in its sovereign capacity.” Trainor, 431 U. S., at
`
`444. A private corporation, Sprint, initiated the action.
`
`No state authority conducted an investigation into Sprint’s
`
`9
`
`
`
`

`
`
`10
`
`
`
`SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`Opinion of the Court
`activities, and no state actor lodged a formal complaint
`against Sprint.
`In its brief, the IUB emphasizes Sprint’s decision to
`
`withdraw the complaint that commenced proceedings
`
`before the Board. At that point, the IUB argues, Sprint
`was no longer a willing participant, and the proceedings
`became, essentially, a civil enforcement action. See Brief
`for Respondents 31.6 The IUB’s adjudicative authority,
`
`however, was invoked to settle a civil dispute between two
`private parties, not to sanction Sprint for commission of a
`wrongful act. Although Sprint withdrew its complaint,
`
`administrative efficiency, not misconduct by Sprint,
`prompted the IUB to answer the underlying federal ques­
`tion. By determining the intercarrier compensation re­
`gime applicable to VoIP calls, the IUB sought to avoid
`renewed litigation of the parties’ dispute. Because the
`underlying legal question remained unsettled, the Board
`observed, the controversy was “likely to recur.” IUB Order
`6. Nothing here suggests that the IUB proceeding was
`“more akin to a criminal prosecution than are most civil
`cases.” Huffman, 420 U. S., at 604.
`
`In holding that abstention was the proper course, the
`
`
`Eighth Circuit relied heavily on this Court’s decision in
`
`
`Middlesex. Younger abstention was warranted, the Court
`of Appeals read Middlesex to say, whenever three condi­
`
`tions are met: There is (1) “an ongoing state judicial
`proceeding, which (2) implicates important state interests,
`and (3) . . . provide[s] an adequate opportunity to raise
`——————
`6To determine whether a state proceeding is an enforcement action
`under Younger, several Courts of Appeals, as noted, see supra, at 5,
`inquire whether the underlying state proceeding is “coercive” rather
`
`
` than “remedial.” See, e.g., Devlin v. Kalm, 594 F. 3d 893, 895 (CA6
` 2010). Though we referenced this dichotomy once in a footnote, see
`
`
` Ohio Civil Rights Comm’n v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc., 477 U. S.
` 619, 627, n. 2 (1986), we do not find the inquiry necessary or inevitably
`
`
`
`helpful, given the susceptibility of the designations to manipulation.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
` 11
`
`
`
` Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`[federal] challenges.” 690 F. 3d, at 867 (citing Middlesex,
`457 U. S., at 432). Before this Court, the IUB has en­
`dorsed the Eighth Circuit’s approach. Brief for Respond­
`ents 13.
`
`The Court of Appeals and the IUB attribute to this
`Court’s decision in Middlesex extraordinary breadth. We
`
`invoked Younger in Middlesex to bar a federal court from
`entertaining a lawyer’s challenge to a New Jersey state
`ethics committee’s pending investigation of the lawyer.
`Unlike the IUB proceeding here, the state ethics commit­
`tee’s hearing in Middlesex was indeed “akin to a criminal
`proceeding.” As we noted, an investigation and formal
`
`complaint preceded the hearing, an agency of the State’s
`Supreme Court initiated the hearing, and the purpose of
`the hearing was to determine whether the lawyer should
`be disciplined for his failure to meet the State’s standards
`of professional conduct. 457 U. S., at 433–435. See also
`id., at 438 (Brennan, J., concurring in judgment) (noting
`
`the “quasi-criminal nature of bar disciplinary proceed­
`ings”). The three Middlesex conditions recited above were
`
`not dispositive; they were, instead, additional factors
`appropriately considered by the federal court before invok­
`ing Younger.
`
`Divorced from their quasi-criminal context, the three
`Middlesex conditions would extend Younger to virtually all
`parallel state and federal proceedings, at least where a
`
`party could identify a plausibly important state interest.
`See Tr. of Oral Arg. 35–36. That result is irreconcilable
`with our dominant instruction that, even in the presence
`of parallel state proceedings, abstention from the exercise
`of federal jurisdiction is the “exception, not the rule.”
`Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U. S. 229, 236
`(1984) (quoting Colorado River, 424 U. S., at 813). In
`short, to guide other federal courts, we today clarify and
`
`affirm that Younger extends to the three “exceptional
`circumstances” identified in NOPSI, but no further.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. JACOBS
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`
`*
`*
`*
`
`For the reasons stated, the judgment of the United
`States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is
`
`
` 12
`
`
`
`Reversed.

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