Civil Action No. 04-568 (FSH).
July 20, 2004
This matter having come before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion for a Turnover of Seized Property and Expedited Discovery; and this Court having reviewed the parties' submissions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; and for good cause shown it appearing that federal abstention doctrine applies in this case;
Plaintiff's goods, allegedly being sold in her retail store in violation of the New Jersey Trademark Counterfeiting Act (the "TCA"), were seized by the Ridgefield Police Department on January 6, 2004. Plaintiff commenced the present civil action in federal court on February 9, 2004. On May 22, 2004, a state grand jury sitting in Bergen County returned an indictment against Plaintiff, and a criminal proceeding is pending against Plaintiff in the Superior Court of New Jersey on charges of violating the TCA.
The Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts may not "stay or enjoin pending state court proceedings except under special circumstances." Younger v. Harris, 91 S.Ct. 746, 749 (1971). Younger and its progeny "espouse a strong federal policy against federal court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances."Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 2521 (1982).
Although Plaintiff filed the present action in this Court prior to her criminal indictment in state court, abstention is appropriate in the instant action because no substantive proceedings have taken place in this Court. Middlesex, 102 S.Ct. at 2523 (holding that when "state criminal proceedings are begun against the federal plaintiffs after the federal complaint is filed but before any proceedings of substance . . . have taken place in federal court, the principles of Younger v. Harris should apply in full force" (quoting Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332, 349 (1975))).
Younger abstention is also appropriate where: (1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise federal claims. Middlesex, 102 S.Ct. at 2521. In the present case, state criminal proceedings against Plaintiff are undoubtedly judicial in nature and, since New Jersey is enforcing the TCA, the state proceedings will implicate important state interests. Additionally, Plaintiff has an adequate forum in state court to bring any federal claims. See Younger, 91 S.Ct. at 753 (holding that state court is an adequate forum for a litigant to raise constitutional claims).
Plaintiff has been charged with violating the TCA, and the legal status of the seized goods, whether they bear or are identified by a counterfeit mark, is an essential element of that New Jersey statute. See N.J.S.A. 2C:21-32(c). A declaration by this Court as to the validity of Plaintiff's goods would unduly interfere with the state criminal proceedings. See Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 84 (1971) (reversing a federal district court ruling that materials in a state criminal case were seized illegally because "it is difficult to imagine a more disruptive interference with the operation of the state criminal process.")
Plaintiff argues that the "irreparable damage" to her retail business are extraordinary circumstances requiring federal interference in this case. The Supreme Court, however, has declared that "certain types of injuries, in particular, the cost . . . and inconvenience of a criminal prosecution, could not by themselves be considered `irreparable' in the special legal sense of that term. Younger, 91 S.Ct. at 751. To warrant federal intervention, "the threat to the plaintiff's federally protected rights must be one that cannot be eliminated by his defense against a single criminal prosecution." Id. Since Plaintiff alleges only economic loss that may be cured by a successful defense to the criminal charges against her, this Court finds no reason to depart from the Younger abstention doctrine.
Accordingly, IT IS on this 20th day of July 2004, hereby
ORDERED that Plaintiff's action before this Court is DISMISSED without prejudice; and it is further ORDERED that all pending motions in the instant action are DENIED as moot; and it is further
ORDERED that this case is CLOSED.