SMITH v. BAYER CORP. No. 09-1205.
131 S.Ct. 2368 (2011)
180 L. Ed. 2d 341
Keith SMITH, et al., Petitioners, v. BAYER CORPORATION.
Supreme Court of the United States.
Decided June 16, 2011.
Mark A. Boling, Law Offices of Mark Boling, Lake Forest, CA, for Amicus Martin Murray.
In this case, a Federal District Court enjoined a state court from considering a plaintiff's request to approve a class action. The District Court did so because it had earlier denied a motion to certify a class in a related case, brought by a different plaintiff against the same defendant alleging similar claims. The federal court thought its injunction appropriate to prevent relitigation of the issue it had decided.
We hold to the contrary. In issuing this order to a state court, the federal court exceeded its authority under the "relitigation exception" to the Anti-Injunction Act. That statutory provision permits a federal court to enjoin a state proceeding only in rare cases, when necessary to "protect or effectuate [the federal court's] judgments." 28 U.S.C. § 2283. Here, that standard was not met for two reasons. First, the issue presented in the state court was not identical to the one decided in the federal tribunal. And second, the plaintiff in the state court did not have the requisite connection to the federal suit to be bound by the District Court's judgment.
Because the question before us involves the effect of a former adjudication on this case, we begin our statement of the facts not with this lawsuit, but with another. In August 2001, George McCollins sued respondent Bayer Corporation in the Circuit Court of Cabell County, West Virginia, asserting various state-law claims arising from Bayer's sale of an allegedly hazardous prescription drug called Baycol (which Bayer withdrew from the market that same month). McCollins contended that Bayer had violated West Virginia's consumer-protection statute and the company's express and implied warranties by selling him a defective product. And pursuant to West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 23 (2011), McCollins asked the state court to certify a class of West Virginia residents who had also purchased Baycol, so that the case could proceed as a class action.
Approximately one month later, the suit now before us began in a different part of West Virginia. Petitioners Keith Smith and Shirley Sperlazza (Smith for short) filed state-law claims against Bayer, similar to those raised in McCollins' suit, in the Circuit Court of Brooke County, West Virginia. And like McCollins, Smith asked the court to certify under West Virginia's Rule 23 a class of Baycol purchasers residing in the State. Neither Smith nor McCollins knew about the other's suit.
In January 2002, Bayer removed McCollins' case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441. The case was then transferred to the District of Minnesota pursuant to a preexisting order of the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, which had consolidated all federal suits involving Baycol (numbering in the tens of thousands) before a single District Court Judge. See § 1407. Bayer, however, could not remove Smith's case to federal court because Smith had sued several West Virginia defendants in addition to Bayer, and so the suit lacked complete diversity. See § 1441(b).
Over the next six years, the two cases proceeded along their separate pretrial paths at roughly the same pace. By 2008, both courts were preparing to turn to their respective plaintiffs' motions for class certification. The Federal District Court was the first to reach a decision.
Applying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23,
Although McCollins' suit was now concluded, Bayer asked the District Court for another order based upon it, this one affecting Smith's case in West Virginia. In a motion—receipt of which first apprised Smith of McCollins' suit—Bayer explained that the proposed class in Smith's case was identical to the one the federal court had just rejected. Bayer therefore requested that the federal court enjoin the West Virginia state court from hearing Smith's motion to certify a class. According to Bayer, that order was appropriate to protect the District Court's judgment in McCollins' suit denying class certification. The District Court agreed and granted the injunction.
The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. In re Baycol Prods. Litigation,
We granted certiorari, 561 U.S. ___,
The Anti-Injunction Act, first enacted in 1793, provides that
The statute, we have recognized, "is a necessary concomitant of the Framers' decision to authorize, and Congress' decision to implement, a dual system of federal and state courts." Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp.,
This case involves the last of the Act's three exceptions, known as the relitigation exception. That exception is designed to implement "well-recognized concepts" of claim and issue preclusion. Chick Kam Choo, 486 U.S., at 147, 108 S.Ct. 1684. The provision authorizes an injunction to prevent state litigation of a claim or issue "that previously was presented to and decided by the federal court." Ibid. But in applying this exception, we have taken special care to keep it "strict and narrow." Id., at 148, 108 S.Ct. 1684. After all, a court does not usually "get to dictate to other courts the preclusion consequences of its own judgment." 18 C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 4405, p. 82 (2d ed.2002) (hereinafter Wright & Miller). Deciding whether and how prior litigation has preclusive effect is usually the bailiwick of the second court (here, the one in West Virginia). So issuing an injunction
The question here is whether the federal court's rejection of McCollins' proposed class precluded a later adjudication in state court of Smith's certification motion. For the federal court's determination of the class issue to have this preclusive effect, at least two conditions must be met.
In our most recent case on the relitigation exception, Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon, we applied the "same issue" requirement of preclusion law to invalidate a federal court's injunction. 486 U.S., at 151, 108 S.Ct. 1684. The federal court had dismissed a suit involving Singapore law on grounds of forum non conveniens. After the plaintiff brought the same claim in Texas state court, the federal court issued an injunction barring the plaintiff from pursuing relief in that alternate forum. We held that the District Court had gone too far. "[A]n essential prerequisite for applying the relitigation exception," we explained, "is that the . . . issues which the federal injunction insulates from litigation in state proceedings actually have been decided by the federal court." Id., at 148, 108 S.Ct. 1684. That prerequisite, we thought, was not satisfied because the issue to be adjudicated in state court was not the one the federal court had resolved. The federal court had considered the permissibility
The question here closely resembles the one in Chick Kam Choo. The class Smith proposed in state court mirrored the class McCollins sought to certify in federal court: Both included all Baycol purchasers resident in West Virginia. Moreover, the substantive claims in the two suits broadly overlapped: Both complaints alleged that Bayer had sold a defective product in violation of the State's consumer protection law and the company's warranties. So far, so good for preclusion. But not so fast: a critical question—the question of the applicable legal standard—remains. The District Court ruled that the proposed class did not meet the requirements of Federal Rule 23 (because individualized issues would predominate over common ones). But the state court was poised to consider whether the proposed class satisfied West Virginia Rule 23. If those two legal standards differ (as federal and state forum non conveniens law differed in Chick Kam Choo)—then the federal court resolved an issue not before the state court. In that event, much like in Chick Kam Choo, "whether the [West Virginia] state cour[t]" should certify the proposed class action "has not yet been litigated." 486 U.S., at 149, 108 S.Ct. 1684.
The Court of Appeals and Smith offer us two competing ways of deciding whether the West Virginia and Federal Rules differ, but we think the right path lies somewhere in the middle. The Eighth Circuit relied almost exclusively on the near-identity of the two Rules' texts. See 593 F.3d, at 723. That was the right place to start, but not to end. Federal and state courts, after all, can and do apply identically worded procedural provisions in widely varying ways. If a State's procedural provision tracks the language of a Federal Rule, but a state court interprets that provision in a manner federal courts have not, then the state court is using a different standard and thus deciding a different issue. See 18 Wright & Miller § 4417, at 454 (stating that preclusion is "inappropriate" when "different legal standards . . . masquerad[e] behind similar legal labels"). At the other extreme, Smith contends that the source of law is all that matters: a different sovereign must in each and every case "have the opportunity, if it chooses, to construe its procedural rule differently." Brief for Petitioners 22 (quoting ALI, Principles of the Law, Aggregate Litigation § 2.11, Reporters' Notes, cmt. b, p. 181 (2010)). But if state courts have made crystal clear that they follow the same approach as the federal court applied, we see no need to ignore that determination; in that event, the issues in the two cases would indeed be the same. So a federal court considering whether the relitigation exception applies should examine whether state law parallels its federal counterpart. But as suggested earlier, see supra, at 2375-2376, the federal court must resolve any uncertainty on that score by leaving the question of preclusion to the state courts.
Under this approach, the West Virginia Supreme Court has gone some way toward resolving the matter before us by declaring its independence from federal courts' interpretation of the Federal Rules—and particularly of Rule 23. In In
But here the case against an injunction is even stronger, because the West Virginia Supreme Court has disapproved the approach to Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement that the Federal District Court embraced. Recall that the federal court held that the presence of a single individualized issue—injury from the use of Baycol—prevented class certification. See supra, at 2373-2374. The court did not identify the common issues in the case; nor did it balance these common issues against the need to prove individual injury to determine which predominated. The court instead applied a strict test barring class treatment when proof of each plaintiff's injury is necessary.
The injunction issued here runs into another basic premise of preclusion law: A court's judgment binds only the parties to a suit, subject to a handful of discrete and limited exceptions. See, e.g., 18A Wright & Miller § 4449, at 330. The importance of this rule and the narrowness of its exceptions go hand in hand. We have repeatedly "emphasize[d] the fundamental nature of the general rule" that only parties can be bound by prior judgments; accordingly, we have taken a "constrained approach to nonparty preclusion." Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 898,
Bayer's first claim ill-comports with any proper understanding of what a "party" is. In general, "[a] `party' to litigation is `[o]ne by or against whom a lawsuit is brought,'" United States ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York, 556 U.S. ___, ___,
As Bayer notes, see Brief for Respondent 37, one such principle allows unnamed members of a class action to be bound, even though they are not parties to the suit. See Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond,
But wishing does not make it so. McCollins sought class certification, but he failed to obtain that result. Because the District Court found that individual issues predominated, it held that the action did not satisfy Federal Rule 23's requirements for class proceedings. In these circumstances, we cannot say that a properly conducted class action existed at any time in the litigation. Federal Rule 23 determines what is and is not a class action in federal court, where McCollins brought his suit. So in the absence of a certification under that Rule, the precondition for binding Smith was not met. Neither a proposed class action nor a rejected class action may bind nonparties. What does have this effect is a class action approved under Rule 23. But McCollins' lawsuit was never that.
We made essentially these same points in Taylor v. Sturgell just a few Terms ago. The question there concerned the propriety of binding nonparties under a theory of "virtual representation" based on "identity of interests and some kind of relationship between parties and nonparties." 553 U.S., at 901,
Bayer's strongest argument comes not from established principles of preclusion, but instead from policy concerns relating to use of the class action device. Bayer warns that under our approach class counsel can repeatedly try to certify the same class "by the simple expedient of changing the named plaintiff in the caption of the complaint." Brief for Respondent 47-48. And in this world of "serial relitigation of class certification," Bayer contends, defendants "would be forced in effect to buy litigation peace by settling." Id., at 2, 12; see also In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., Tires Prods. Liability Litigation,
But this form of argument flies in the face of the rule against nonparty preclusion. That rule perforce leads to relitigation of many issues, as plaintiff after plaintiff after plaintiff (none precluded by the last judgment because none a party to the last suit) tries his hand at establishing some legal principle or obtaining some grant of relief. We confronted a similar policy concern in Taylor, which involved litigation brought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Government there cautioned that unless we bound nonparties a "`potentially limitless'" number of plaintiffs, perhaps coordinating with each other, could "mount a series of repetitive lawsuits" demanding the selfsame documents. 553 U.S., at 903,
And to the extent class actions raise special problems of relitigation, Congress
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The Anti-Injunction Act prohibits the order the District Court entered here. The Act's relitigation exception authorizes injunctions only when a former federal adjudication clearly precludes a state-court decision. As we said more than 40 years ago, and have consistently maintained since that time, "[a]ny doubts ... should be resolved in favor of permitting the state courts to proceed." Atlantic Coast Line, 398 U.S., at 297, 90 S.Ct. 1739. Under this approach, close cases have easy answers: The federal court should not issue an injunction, and the state court should decide the preclusion question. But this case does not even strike us as close. The issues in the federal and state lawsuits differed because the relevant legal standards differed. And the mere proposal of a class in the federal action could not bind persons who were not parties there. For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
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