SCHMIDT v. LESSARD(1974)
The three-judge District Court's order, in a class action challenging the constitutionality of the Wisconsin statutory scheme for involuntary commitment of mental patients, that "judgment be and hereby is entered in accordance with the Opinion heretofore entered," which opinion stated that appellees were entitled to injunctive relief against further enforcement of "the present Wisconsin scheme," is sufficient as an order "granting" an injunction to invoke this Court's appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1253. Gunn v. University Committee, 399 U.S. 383 , distinguished. For purposes of plenary judicial review, however, the court's order does not satisfy the requirements of Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 65 (d) that an order granting an injunction "be specific in terms" and "describe in reasonable detail . . . the act or acts sought to be restrained . . . ."
349 F. Supp. 1078, vacated and remanded.
In October and November 1971, appellee Alberta Lessard was subjected to a period of involuntary commitment under the Wisconsin State Mental Health Act, Wis. Stat. 51.001 et seq. While in confinement, she filed this suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, on behalf of herself and all other persons 18 years of age or older who were being held involuntarily pursuant to the Wisconsin involuntary-commitment laws, alleging that the statutory scheme was violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Jurisdiction was predicated on 28 U.S.C. 1343 (3) and 42 U.S.C. 1983. Since both declaratory [414 U.S. 473, 474] and injunctive relief were sought, a District Court of three judges was convened, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2281.
After hearing argument and receiving briefs, the District Court filed a comprehensive opinion, declaring the Wisconsin statutory scheme unconstitutional. 349 F. Supp. 1078. The opinion concluded by stating that
In Gunn, a statutory three-judge court had found a Texas breach of the peace statute unconstitutional. There, as here, the opinion of the District Court concluded by stating that the plaintiffs "are entitled to . . . injunctive relief." University Committee to End the War v. Gunn, 289 F. Supp. 469, 475 (WD Tex.). The District Court in Gunn, however, entered no further order or judgment of any kind; the concluding paragraph of the opinion was the only mention of injunctive relief. Thus, we concluded that we lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1253, because of the total absence of any order "granting or denying" an injunction.
Although the language of the District Court opinion here parallels that in Gunn, there is thus an important distinction between the two cases. While the record in Gunn was devoid of any order granting injunctive relief, there was in the present case a judgment entered "in accordance with the Opinion." Since the opinion of the District Court by its own terms authorizes the granting of injunctive relief to the appellee, we believe that the judgment here is sufficient to invoke our jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1253.
Yet, although sufficient to invoke our appellate jurisdiction, the District Court's order provides a wholly inadequate foundation upon which to premise plenary judicial review. Rule 65 (d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in relevant part:
As we have emphasized in the past, the specificity provisions of Rule 65 (d) are no mere technical requirements. The Rule was designed to prevent uncertainty and confusion on the part of those faced with injunctive orders, and to avoid the possible founding of a contempt citation on a decree too vague to be understood. International Longshoremen's Assn. v. Philadelphia Marine Trade Assn., 389 U.S. 64, 74 -76; Gunn, supra, at 388-389. See generally 7 J. Moore, Federal Practice § 65.11; 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure 2955. 1 Since an injunctive order prohibits conduct under threat of judicial punishment, basic fairness requires that those enjoined receive explicit notice of precisely what conduct is outlawed. 2 [414 U.S. 473, 477]
The requirement of specificity in injunction orders performs a second important function. Unless the trial court carefully frames its orders of injunctive relief, it is impossible for an appellate tribunal to know precisely what it is reviewing. Gunn, supra, at 388. We can hardly begin to assess the correctness of the judgment entered by the District Court here without knowing its precise bounds. In the absence of specific injunctive relief, informed and intelligent appellate review is greatly complicated, if not made impossible.
Hence, although the order below is sufficient to invoke our appellate jurisdiction, it plainly does not satisfy the important requirements of Rule 65 (d). Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the District Court and remand the case to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
[ Footnote 2 ] "The judicial contempt power is a potent weapon. When it is founded upon a decree too vague to be understood, it can be a deadly [414 U.S. 473, 477] one. Congress responded to that danger by requiring that a federal court frame its orders so that those who must obey them will know what the court intends to require and what it means to forbid." International Longshoremen's Assn. v. Philadelphia Marine Trade Assn., 389 U.S. 64, 76 . [414 U.S. 473, 478]