Monday, March 07, 2005

The Relitigation Exception. Woolsely had given up his parental rights to his child, and then changed his mind. The Texas Court had ruled in favor of the adoptive parents and against Woolsey. Woolsely had brought an action in the District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania, seeking a declaratory judgment that his parental rights had been invalidly terminated and an order setting aside the adoption decree entered by the Texas court. The District Court dismissed the action as time barred. Woolsley later brought an action in a Connecticut court, seeking visitation rights and contending that the Texas decree was void. The Smiths, the adoptive parents, brought an action in federal courts, seeking damages for this vexatious litigation and for intentional infliction of emotional distress and sought an injunction to prevent Woolsley from further attempts to challenge the Texas decree. The District Court granted the injunction.

The Anti-Injunction Act generally prohibits federal courts from enjoining state court proceedings. There is a relitigation exception, which provides authority to federal courts to issue an injunction to protect its judgments from further litigation in state courts. In Smith v. Woosley, the Second Circuit stated that "the purposes of the relitigation exception -- precluding relitigation in state courts of issues determined by a federal court -- appears to be better served by allowing a district court that has subject matter and personal jurisdiction to issue an injunction that protects the judgment of another federal court than by forcing the litigants to a likely inconvenient forum for an identical result." The Court further noted that if one were to limit the relitigatiojn exception to courts that had entered the judgment rather than other federal courts, such a limitation on the exception would be one of venue, not subject matter jurisdiction. That objection had been waived by Woolsley's failure to object. The Court also asserted that the equities favored granting the injunction to the Smiths.

The last question was whether the Pennsylvania judgment was entitled to protection. The Pennsylvania court never reached the merits of the case, but dismissed the case on statute of limitatons grounds. In that the judgment left Woolsley with no forum to bring his claim (as the statute of limitations had appeared to have passed in all relevant jurisdictions), the relitigation exception applied. The Court, however, modified the injunction to allow Woolsley to bring an action in a forum whose statute of limitations had not paseed in which personal jurisdiction could be obtained over the Smiths and where he would otherwise be entitled to challenge the Texas decree. In other words, Woolsely lost.

The decision can be found here.

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