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Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc.

Citation. 481 U.S. 1 (1987)
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Citation. 481 U.S. 1 (1987)

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff sued Defendant in a Texas state court, arguing that Defendant wrongfully interfered with a contract.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under the Younger v. Harris abstention doctrine, federal courts should not act to restrain state civil or criminal proceedings when the moving party has an adequate remedy at law.


Pennzoil Co. (Plaintiff) sued Texaco, Inc. (Defendant) in a Texas state court, arguing that Defendant wrongfully interfered with a contract Plaintiff had with Getty Oil.


Should the New York District Court have abstained from issuing the preliminary injunction while the Texas state court proceedings were ongoing?


Yes, the District Court should not have issued to preliminary injunction. The decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed and remanded.


Justice Scalia

Justice Scalia concurred with the judgment, and added that abstention is not necessary when the federal court hears issues not already litigated in the state court.

Justice Brennan

Justice Brennan agreed that the case should be remanded, but on the grounds that Defendant’s constitutional claims lacked merit. He argued that the District Court did not need to abstain because Younger is inapplicable to civil proceeds.

Justice Marshall

Justice Marshall agreed that the New York federal court should have abstained, adding that it was an improper venue and lacked jurisdiction.

Justice Blackmun

Justice Blackmun agreed with the judgment of the case. But he argued that Younger did not apply here, and instead the New York federal court should not have issued the preliminary injunction on the grounds that Texas had unsettled state law regarding bond requirements that needed to be determined before constitutional questions were considered.

Justice Stevens

Justice Stevens agreed with the judgment because Defendant did not have a valid constitutional claim. He also argued that Younger did not apply to civil proceedings.


The Court determined that the New York federal courts should have abstained from issuing the preliminary injunction and deferred to the pending state proceedings. The Texas state court had significant interest in the case, there was not sufficient evidence that the Texas state court was inadequate for providing effective relief, and Defendant had not given the Texas state court an opportunity to address its constitutional claims.

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