In 1945, Michigan-Wisconsin Pipe Line Company sought from the Federal Power Commission a certificate of public convenience and necessity, required by § 7 (c) of the Natural Gas Act, 52 Stat. 825, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 717f (c), for the construction and operation of a pipe line to carry natural gas from Texas to Michigan and Wisconsin. A prerequisite for such a certificate is adequate reserves of gas. To obtain these reserves Michigan-Wisconsin entered into an agreement with Phillips Petroleum Company on December 11, 1945, whereby the latter undertook to make available gas from the Hugoton Gas Field, sprawling over Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which it produced or purchased from others. Phillips had contracted with petitioners, Skelly Oil Company, Stanolind Oil and Gas Company, and Magnolia Petroleum Company, to purchase gas produced by them in the Hugoton Field for resale to Michigan-Wisconsin. Each contract provided that "in the event Michigan-Wisconsin Pipe Line Company shall fail to secure from the Federal Power Commission on or before [October 1, 1946] a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the construction and operation of its pipe line, Seller [a petitioner] shall have the right to terminate this contract by written notice to Buyer [Phillips] delivered to Buyer at any time after December 1, 1946, but before the issuance of such certificate." The legal significance of this provision is at the core of this litigation.
The Federal Power Commission, in response to the application of Michigan-Wisconsin, on November 30, 1946, ordered that "A certificate of public convenience and necessity be and it is hereby issued to applicant [Michigan-Wisconsin], upon the terms and conditions of this order," listing among the conditions that there be no transportation
News of the Commission's action was released on November 30, 1946, but the actual content of the order was not made public until December 2, 1946. Petitioners severally, on December 2, 1946, gave notice to Phillips of termination of their contracts on the ground that Michigan-Wisconsin had not received a certificate of public convenience and necessity. Thereupon Michigan-Wisconsin and Phillips brought suit against petitioners in the District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Alleging that a certificate of public convenience and necessity, "within the meaning of said Natural Gas Act and said contracts" had been issued prior to petitioners' attempt
"[T]he operation of the Declaratory Judgment Act is procedural only." Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240. Congress enlarged the range of remedies available in the federal courts but did not extend their jurisdiction. When concerned as we are with the power of the inferior federal courts to entertain litigation within the restricted area to which the Constitution and Acts of Congress confine them, "jurisdiction" means the kinds of issues which give right of entrance to federal courts. Jurisdiction in this sense was not altered by the Declaratory Judgment Act. Prior to that Act, a federal court would entertain a suit on a contract only if the plaintiff asked for an immediately enforceable remedy like money damages or an injunction, but such relief could only be given if the requisites of jurisdiction, in the sense of a federal right or diversity, provided foundation for resort to the federal courts. The Declaratory Judgment Act allowed relief to be given by way of recognizing the plaintiff's
If Phillips sought damages from petitioners or specific performance of their contracts, it could not bring suit in a United States District Court on the theory that it was asserting a federal right. And for the simple reason that such a suit would "arise" under the State law governing the contracts. Whatever federal claim Phillips may be able to urge would in any event be injected into the case only in anticipation of a defense to be asserted by petitioners. "Not every question of federal law emerging in a suit is proof that a federal law is the basis of the suit." Gully v. First National Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 115; compare 28 U. S. C. § 1257, with 28 U. S. C. § 1331. Ever since Metcalf v. Watertown, 128 U.S. 586, 589, it has been settled doctrine that where a suit is brought in the federal courts "upon the sole ground that the determination of the suit depends upon some question of a Federal nature, it must appear, at the outset, from the declaration or the bill of the party suing, that the suit is of that character." But "a suggestion of one party, that the other will or may set up a claim under the Constitution or laws of the United States, does not make the suit one arising under that Constitution or those laws." Tennessee v. Union & Planters' Bank, 152 U.S. 454, 464. The plaintiff's claim itself must present a federal question "unaided by anything alleged in anticipation of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may interpose." Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74, 75-76; Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152.
To be observant of these restrictions is not to indulge in formalism or sterile technicality. It would turn into the federal courts a vast current of litigation indubitably arising under State law, in the sense that the right to be vindicated was State-created, if a suit for a declaration of rights could be brought into the federal courts merely because an anticipated defense derived from federal law. Not only would this unduly swell the volume of litigation in the District Courts but it would also embarrass those courts—and this Court on potential review—in that matters of local law may often be involved, and the District Courts may either have to decide doubtful questions of State law or hold cases pending disposition of such State issues by State courts. To sanction suits for declaratory relief as within the jurisdiction of the District Courts merely because, as in this case, artful pleading anticipates a defense based on federal law would contravene the whole trend of jurisdictional legislation
As to Magnolia, a Texas corporation, a different situation is presented. Since Phillips was a Delaware corporation, there is diversity of citizenship. Magnolia had qualified to do business in Oklahoma and appointed an agent for service of process in accordance with the prevailing Oklahoma statute. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, § 452 (1937). Magnolia claimed that the subject matter of this proceeding did not arise in Oklahoma within the meaning of its consent to be sued. This contention was rejected below, and we do not reexamine the local law as applied by the lower courts. Under the doctrine of Neirbo Co. v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 308 U.S. 165, venue was properly laid in Oklahoma; that the declaratory remedy which may be given by the federal courts may not be available in the State courts is immaterial.
Therefore, in the case of Magnolia we must reach the merits. They relate to two matters: (1) the clause in the contract with Phillips permitting its termination at any time after December 1, 1946, but before the "issuance" of "a certificate of public convenience and necessity" by the Federal Power Commission; and (2) whether this provision was satisfied by Magnolia's notice of termination of December 2, 1946, despite the Commission's order of November 30, 1946. The phraseology "certificate of
It will be recalled that the order of November 30, 1946, had three parts: (A) it stated that "A certificate of public convenience and necessity be and it is hereby issued to applicant [Michigan-Wisconsin]"; (B) it imposed certain conditions upon the grant, some of which were to be set forth in a supplemental order; and (C) it said that "For the purpose of computing the time within which applications for rehearing may be filed, the date of issuance of this order shall be deemed to be the date of issuance of the opinions, or of the supplemental order referred to herein, whichever may be the later." 5 F. P. C. at 954, 956. The course of reasoning by which the Court of Appeals concluded that the order of November 30, 1946, satisfied the statutory requirement for a certificate of public convenience and necessity can be briefly summarized. It relied on the grammatical argument that the Commission used the present tense in its order and subsequently referred to it as an order "issuing a certificate of public convenience and necessity," e. g., 6 F. P. C. 1, 37; the conditional nature of the order was not deemed to impair its efficacy since § 7 (e) of the Natural Gas Act authorized the Commission "to attach to the issuance of the certificate and to the exercise of the rights granted there-under such reasonable terms and conditions as the public
We are not persuaded now to rest decision on the analysis of the Court of Appeals which led to its conclusion. We need not linger long on the merely grammatical argument of that court; it is given more weight than it can bear. Of course, the Commission has considerable administrative discretion to decide when an order may fairly be deemed to have been "issued." Section 16 of the Act provides that "Orders of the Commission shall be effective on the date and in the manner which the Commission shall prescribe." But surely a certificate cannot be said to have been issued for purposes of defining rights and the seeking of reconsideration by an aggrieved person if its substance is merely in the bosom of the Commission. Knowledge of the substance must to some extent be made manifest. Here the content of the order of November 30, 1946, was not made public until December 2, 1946, the date of the termination notice.
The Commission itself in its rule for computing rehearing time distinguishes between "adoption" of an order and its "issuance."
Since the requirements of the Natural Gas Act for the issuance of "a certificate of public convenience and necessity" may be distributive in scope, varying with the different contexts in which the question must be examined, this is not the occasion to decide that these requirements have a single uniform content. Whether the statutory requirement here was satisfied is not a question of fact, the finding of which by the District Court is to be respected unless clearly erroneous. The District Court merely found that the content of the piece of paper dated November 30, 1946, was that day agreed upon in executive session of the Commission and that that fact was made known. But this leaves untouched the legal significance of this action of the Commission, and the Court ought not now in darkness to pronounce on this question.
We are not restricted to disposition of the controversy on so truncated a treatment of the issues that underlie the record. Considering the fact that so to dispose of the case
The impact of the litigation both here and below was on the proper construction of § 7 (c). Even though the language of the contract may be identic with that of § 7 (c), this language in the contract may have a scope independent of the proper construction of § 7 (c). The same words, in different settings, may not mean the same thing. Compare opinion of Mr. Justice Holmes in Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418, with his dissent in Eisner v. Macomber, 252 U.S. 189, 219. Parties do not necessarily endow statutory language in a contract with the scope of the statute, particularly when the same term may have variant meanings for different applications of the statute. See Standard Oil Co. v. Johnson, 316 U.S. 481,
In respect to Magnolia, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. As to Skelly and Stanolind, we reverse the judgment with directions that the cause be dismissed.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK agrees with the Court of Appeals and would affirm its judgment.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or disposition of this case.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON, with whom MR. JUSTICE BURTON joins, dissenting in part.
I concur in that part of the Court's judgment that directs dismissal of the cause as to Skelly and Stanolind. I have real doubts as to whether there is a federal question here at all, even though interpretation of the contract between private parties requires an interpretation of a federal statute and the action of a federal regulatory
But I am forced to dissent from the vacation and remand of the cause in respect to Magnolia. I think that, as to this petitioner, the judgment of the Court of Appeals should be affirmed. The Court decides that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the Federal Power Commission had issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Michigan-Wisconsin Pipe Line Company on November 30, 1946, despite the fact that on that date the Commission adopted an order stating that "A certificate of public convenience and necessity be and it is hereby issued to Applicant, upon the terms and conditions of this order, . . . ." This disregard for what the District Court found to be the Commission's express intention is based upon two alternative grounds. First, it is suggested that while the order issuing the certificate was "adopted" on November 30, it was not "issued" until December 2. Second, it is said that Part C of the November 30 order, which concerned the date of issuance of the order for purposes of applications for rehearing, precludes a finding that a certificate was issued on November 30. Neither of these grounds, in my judgment, supports the Court's conclusion.
As to the first, which was not argued here nor in the Court of Appeals, it is true that the Commission's rules provide that an order is not to be deemed "issued" until the full text is mimeographed and mailed to the parties to the proceeding. This usually follows within two or three days after the order is "adopted." The only purpose of the postponement of the date of issuance of the
But the Commission uniformly refers to the date of adoption of the order as the date upon which the certificate of public convenience and necessity was "issued."
Following adjournment on that day, the secretary sent a telegram to the parties to the proceeding, informing them that the "Commission today . . . adopted Opinion and Order, in Docket No. G-669, issuing certificate, with conditions, to Michigan Wisconsin Pipe Line Company." On the same day, releases to the press were made announcing the action taken by the Commission.
Skelly, Stanolind and Magnolia were not parties to this proceeding. It may very well be that the date of issuance of the order granting the certificate is December
The second argument requires but short answer. Part C provides that
The paragraph means just what it says. I do not understand the Court to hold that the Commission cannot thus postpone the running of the time for rehearing. Computation of that time, as I have indicated, has no necessary relation to the date of issuance of the certificate.
I think that the Commission intended to and did issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Michigan-Wisconsin Pipe Line Company on November 30, 1946, whatever the date of its order, for purposes of computation of time for rehearing. The crucial clause of the contract refers to "the issuance of such certificate [of public convenience and necessity]." By their inclusion of a provision dependent upon the action of a federal agency, it is obvious that the parties intended that the contract should be construed with reference to the effective
Rule 13 (c) provides: "Orders of the Commission shall be effective as of the dates of issuance unless otherwise specifically provided in the orders." 18 C. F. R. § 1.13 (c). This provision may be of significance if the effectiveness of a certificate is an issue in proceedings under § 20 or § 21 of the Act. The Court of Appeals did not discuss the bearing of these rules upon this case.
The context suggests that in the second sentence the District Court may still have been focusing upon statutory meaning.