STERN v. MARSHALL No. 10-179.
131 S.Ct. 2594 (2011)
180 L. Ed. 2d 475
Howard K. STERN, Executor of the Estate of Vickie Lynn Marshall, Petitioner, v. Elaine T. MARSHALL, Executrix of the Estate of E. Pierce Marshall.
Supreme Court of United States.
Decided June 23, 2011.
Kent L. Richland, Los Angeles, CA, for Petitioner.
Malcolm L. Stewart, for United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Petitioner.
Roy T. Engler, Jr., Washington, DC, for Respondent.
Roy T. Englert, Jr., Robbins, Russeh, Englert, Orseck, Untreiner & Sauber LLP, Washington, DC, G. Eric Brunstad, , Jr. Collin O'Connor Udell, Matthew J. Delude, Dechert LLP, Hartford, CT, Seth P. Waxman, Craig Goldblatt, Danielle Spinelli, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, LLP, Washington, DC, Kenneth N. Klee, Daniel J. Bussel, Whitman L. Holt, Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Don Jackson, Ware, Jackson, Lee & Chambers, LLP, Houston, TX, Sanford Svetcov, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, San Francisco, CA, Joseph A. Eisenberg, Julia J. Rider, Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Respondent.
Philip W. Boesch, Jr., The Boesch Law Group, Santa Monica, California, Bruce S. Ross, Vivian L. Thoreen, Holland & Knight LLP, Los Angeles, California, Kent L. Richland, Alan Diamond, Edward L. Xanders, Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Petitioner Howard K. Stern, Executor of the Estate of Vickie Lynn Marshall.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
This "suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that ... no two ... lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause: innumerable young people have married into it;" and, sadly, the original parties "have died out of it." A "long procession of [judges] has come in and gone out" during that time, and still the suit "drags its weary length before the Court."
Those words were not written about this case, see C. Dickens, Bleak House, in 1 Works of Charles Dickens 4-5 (1891), but they could have been. This is the second time we have had occasion to weigh in on this long-running dispute between Vickie Lynn Marshall and E. Pierce Marshall over the fortune of J. Howard Marshall II, a man believed to have been one of the richest people in Texas. The Marshalls' litigation has worked its way through state and federal courts in Louisiana, Texas, and California, and two of those courts—a Texas state probate court and the Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California—have reached contrary decisions on its merits. The Court of Appeals below held that the Texas state decision controlled, after concluding that the Bankruptcy Court lacked the authority to enter final judgment on a counterclaim that Vickie brought against Pierce in her bankruptcy proceeding.
Although the history of this litigation is complicated, its resolution ultimately turns on very basic principles. Article III, § 1, of the Constitution commands that "[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." That Article further provides that the judges of those courts shall hold their offices during good behavior, without diminution of salary. Ibid. Those requirements
Because we have already recounted the facts and procedural history of this case in detail, see Marshall v. Marshall,
After J. Howard's death, Vickie filed a petition for bankruptcy in the Central District of California. Pierce filed a complaint in that bankruptcy proceeding, contending that Vickie had defamed him by inducing her lawyers to tell members of the press that he had engaged in fraud to gain control of his father's assets. 547 U.S., at 300-301, 126 S.Ct. 1735; In re Marshall,
On November 5, 1999, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order granting Vickie summary judgment on Pierce's claim for defamation. On September 27, 2000, after a bench trial, the Bankruptcy Court issued a judgment on Vickie's counterclaim in her favor. The court later awarded Vickie over $400 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. 600 F.3d, at 1045; see
In post-trial proceedings, Pierce argued that the Bankruptcy Court lacked jurisdiction over Vickie's counterclaim. In particular, Pierce renewed a claim he had made earlier in the litigation, asserting that the Bankruptcy Court's authority over the counterclaim was limited because Vickie's counterclaim was not a "core proceeding" under 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(C). See 257 B.R., at 39. As explained below, bankruptcy courts may hear and enter final
The District Court disagreed. It recognized that "Vickie's counterclaim for tortious interference falls within the literal language" of the statute designating certain proceedings as "core," see § 157(b)(2)(C), but understood this Court's precedent to "suggest that it would be unconstitutional to hold that any and all counterclaims are core."
Because the District Court concluded that Vickie's counterclaim was not core, the court determined that it was required to treat the Bankruptcy Court's judgment as "proposed[,] rather than final," and engage in an "independent review" of the record. Id., at 633; see 28 U.S.C. § 157(c)(1). Although the Texas state court had by that time conducted a jury trial on the merits of the parties' dispute and entered a judgment in Pierce's favor, the District Court declined to give that judgment preclusive effect and went on to decide the matter itself.
The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court on a different ground, 392 F.3d, at 1137, and we—in the first visit of the case to this Court—reversed the Court of Appeals on that issue. 547 U.S., at 314-315, 126 S.Ct. 1735. On remand from this Court, the Court of Appeals held that § 157 mandated "a two-step approach" under which a bankruptcy judge may issue a final judgment in a proceeding only if the matter both "meets Congress' definition of a core proceeding and arises under or arises in title 11," the Bankruptcy Code. 600 F.3d, at 1055. The court also reasoned that allowing a bankruptcy judge to enter final judgments on all counterclaims raised in bankruptcy proceedings "would certainly run afoul" of this Court's decision in Northern Pipeline. 600 F.3d, at 1057. With those concerns in mind, the court concluded that "a counterclaim under § 157(b)(2)(C) is properly a `core' proceeding `arising in a case under' the [Bankruptcy] Code only if the counterclaim is so closely related to [a creditor's] proof of claim that the resolution of the counterclaim is necessary to resolve the allowance or disallowance of the claim itself." Id., at 1058 (internal quotation marks omitted; second brackets added). The court ruled that Vickie's counterclaim did not meet that test. Id., at 1059. That holding made "the Texas probate court's judgment ... the earliest final judgment entered on matters relevant to this proceeding," and therefore the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court should have "afford[ed]
We again granted certiorari. 561 U.S. ___,
With certain exceptions not relevant here, the district courts of the United States have "original and exclusive jurisdiction of all cases under title 11." 28 U.S.C. § 1334(a). Congress has divided bankruptcy proceedings into three categories: those that "aris[e] under title 11"; those that "aris[e] in" a Title 11 case; and those that are "related to a case under title 11." § 157(a). District courts may refer any or all such proceedings to the bankruptcy judges of their district, ibid., which is how the Bankruptcy Court in this case came to preside over Vickie's bankruptcy proceedings. District courts also may withdraw a case or proceeding referred to the bankruptcy court "for cause shown." § 157(d). Since Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 (the 1984 Act), bankruptcy judges for each district have been appointed to 14-year terms by the courts of appeals for the circuits in which their district is located. § 152(a)(1).
The manner in which a bankruptcy judge may act on a referred matter depends on the type of proceeding involved. Bankruptcy judges may hear and enter final judgments in "all core proceedings arising under title 11, or arising in a case under title 11." § 157(b)(1). "Core proceedings include, but are not limited to" 16 different types of matters, including "counterclaims by [a debtor's] estate against persons filing claims against the estate." § 157(b)(2)(C).
When a bankruptcy judge determines that a referred "proceeding ... is not a core proceeding but ... is otherwise related to a case under title 11," the judge may only "submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to the district court." § 157(c)(1). It is the district court that enters final judgment in such cases after reviewing de novo any matter to which a party objects. Ibid.
Vickie's counterclaim against Pierce for tortious interference is a "core proceeding" under the plain text of § 157(b)(2)(C). That provision specifies that core proceedings include "counterclaims by the estate against persons filing claims against the estate." In past cases, we have suggested that a proceeding's "core" status alone authorizes a bankruptcy judge, as a statutory matter, to enter final judgment in the proceeding. See, e.g., Granfinanciera, S.A. v. Nordberg,
Section 157(b)(1) authorizes bankruptcy courts to "hear and determine all cases under title 11 and all core proceedings arising under title 11, or arising in a case under title 11." As written, § 157(b)(1) is ambiguous. The "arising under" and "arising in" phrases might, as Pierce suggests, be read as referring to a limited category of those core proceedings that are addressed in that section. On the other hand, the phrases might be read as simply describing what core proceedings are: matters arising under Title 11 or in a Title 11 case. In this case the structure and context of § 157 contradict Pierce's interpretation of § 157(b)(1).
As an initial matter, Pierce's reading of the statute necessarily assumes that there is a category of core proceedings that neither arise under Title 11 nor arise in a Title 11 case. The manner in which the statute delineates the bankruptcy courts' authority, however, makes plain that no such category exists. Section 157(b)(1) authorizes bankruptcy judges to enter final judgments in "core proceedings arising under title 11, or arising in a case under title 11." Section 157(c)(1) instructs bankruptcy judges to instead submit proposed findings in "a proceeding that is not a core proceeding but that is otherwise related to a case under title 11." Nowhere does § 157 specify what bankruptcy courts are to do with respect to the category of matters that Pierce posits—core proceedings that do not arise under Title 11 or in a Title 11 case. To the contrary, § 157(b)(3) only instructs a bankruptcy judge to "determine,
Under our reading of the statute, core proceedings are those that arise in a bankruptcy case or under Title 11. The detailed list of core proceedings in § 157(b)(2) provides courts with ready examples of such matters. Pierce's reading of § 157, in contrast, supposes that some core proceedings will arise in a Title 11 case or under Title 11 and some will not. Under that reading, the statute provides no guidance on how to tell which are which.
We think it significant that Congress failed to provide any framework for identifying or adjudicating the asserted category of core but not "arising" proceedings, given the otherwise detailed provisions governing bankruptcy court authority. It is hard to believe that Congress would go to the trouble of cataloging 16 different types of proceedings that should receive "core" treatment, but then fail to specify how to determine whether those matters arise under Title 11 or in a bankruptcy case if—as Pierce asserts—the latter inquiry is determinative of the bankruptcy court's authority.
Pierce argues that we should treat core matters that arise neither under Title 11 nor in a Title 11 case as proceedings "related to" a Title 11 case. Brief for Respondent 60 (internal quotation marks omitted). We think that a contradiction in terms. It does not make sense to describe a "core" bankruptcy proceeding as merely "related to" the bankruptcy case; oxymoron is not a typical feature of congressional drafting. See Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S., at 71, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion) (distinguishing "the restructuring of debtor-creditor relations, which is at the core of the federal bankruptcy power, ... from the adjudication of state-created private rights"); Collier on Bankruptcy ¶ 3.02, p. 3-26, n. 5 (16th ed. 2010) ("The terms `non-core' and `related' are synonymous"); see also id., at 3-26, ("The phraseology of section 157 leads to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a core matter that is `related to' a case under title 11. Core proceedings are, at most, those that arise in title 11 cases or arise under title 11" (footnote omitted)). And, as already discussed, the statute simply does not provide for a proceeding that is simultaneously core and yet only related to the bankruptcy case. See § 157(c)(1) (providing only for "a proceeding that is not a core proceeding but that is otherwise related to a case under title 11").
As we explain in Part III, we agree with Pierce that designating all counterclaims as "core" proceedings raises serious constitutional concerns. Pierce is also correct that we will, where possible, construe federal statutes so as "to avoid serious doubt of their constitutionality." Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Schor,
Pierce argues, as another alternative to reaching the constitutional question, that the Bankruptcy Court lacked jurisdiction to enter final judgment on his defamation claim. Section 157(b)(5) provides that "[t]he district court shall order that personal injury tort and wrongful death claims shall be tried in the district court in which the bankruptcy case is pending, or in the district court in the district in which the claim arose." Pierce asserts that his defamation claim is a "personal injury tort," that the Bankruptcy Court therefore had no jurisdiction over that claim, and that the court therefore necessarily lacked jurisdiction over Vickie's counterclaim as well. Brief for Respondent 65-66.
Vickie objects to Pierce's statutory analysis across the board. To begin, Vickie contends that § 157(b)(5) does not address subject matter jurisdiction at all, but simply specifies the venue in which "personal injury tort and wrongful death claims" should be tried. See Reply Brief for Petitioner 16-17, 19; see also Tr. of Oral Arg. 23 (Deputy Solicitor General) (Section "157(b)(5) is in [the United States'] view not jurisdictional"). Given the limited scope of that provision, Vickie argues, a party may waive or forfeit any objections under § 157(b)(5), in the same way that a party may waive or forfeit an objection to the bankruptcy court finally resolving a non-core claim. Reply Brief for Petitioner 17-20; see § 157(c)(2) (authorizing the district court, "with the consent of all the parties to the proceeding," to refer a "related to" matter to the bankruptcy court for final judgment). Vickie asserts that in this case Pierce consented to the Bankruptcy Court's adjudication of his defamation claim, and forfeited any argument to the contrary, by failing to seek withdrawal of the claim until he had litigated it before the Bankruptcy Court for 27 months. Id., at 20-23. On the merits, Vickie contends that the statutory phrase "personal injury tort and wrongful death claims" does not include non-physical torts such as defamation. Id., at 25-26.
We need not determine what constitutes a "personal injury tort" in this case because we agree with Vickie that § 157(b)(5) is not jurisdictional, and that Pierce consented to the Bankruptcy Court's resolution of his defamation claim.
Section 157(b)(5) does not have the hallmarks of a jurisdictional decree. To begin, the statutory text does not refer to either district court or bankruptcy court "jurisdiction," instead addressing only where personal injury tort claims "shall be tried."
The statutory context also belies Pierce's jurisdictional claim. Section 157 allocates the authority to enter final judgment between the bankruptcy court and the district court. See §§ 157(b)(1), (c)(1). That allocation does not implicate questions of subject matter jurisdiction. See § 157(c)(2) (parties may consent to entry of final judgment by bankruptcy judge in non-core case). By the same token, § 157(b)(5) simply specifies where a particular category of cases should be tried. Pierce does not explain why that statutory limitation may not be similarly waived.
We agree with Vickie that Pierce not only could but did consent to the Bankruptcy Court's resolution of his defamation claim. Before the Bankruptcy Court, Vickie objected to Pierce's proof of claim for defamation, arguing that Pierce's claim was unenforceable and that Pierce should not receive any amount for it. See 29 Court of Appeals Supplemental Excerpts of Record 6031, 6035 (hereinafter Supplemental Record). Vickie also noted that the Bankruptcy Court could defer ruling on her objection, given the litigation posture of Pierce's claim before the Bankruptcy Court. See id., at 6031. Vickie's filing prompted Pierce to advise the Bankruptcy Court that "[a]ll parties are in agreement that the amount of the contingent Proof of Claim filed by [Pierce] shall be determined by the adversary proceedings" that had been commenced in the Bankruptcy Court. 31 Supplemental Record 6801. Pierce asserted that Vickie's objection should be overruled or, alternatively, that any ruling on the objection "should be continued until the resolution of the pending adversary proceeding litigation." Ibid. Pierce identifies no point in the record where he argued to the Bankruptcy Court that it lacked the authority to adjudicate his proof of claim because the claim sought recompense for a personal injury tort.
Indeed, Pierce apparently did not object to any court that § 157(b)(5) prohibited the Bankruptcy Court from resolving his defamation claim until over two years—and several adverse discovery rulings—after he filed that claim in June 1996. The first filing Pierce cites as raising that objection is his September 22, 1998 motion to the District Court to withdraw the reference of the case to the Bankruptcy Court. See Brief for Respondent 26-27. The District Court did initially withdraw the reference as requested, but it then returned the proceeding to the Bankruptcy Court, observing that Pierce "implicated the jurisdiction of that bankruptcy court. He chose to be a party to that litigation." App. 129. Although Pierce had objected in July 1996 to the Bankruptcy Court's exercise of jurisdiction over Vickie's counterclaim, he advised the court at that time that he was "happy to litigate [his] claim" there. 29 Supplemental Record 6101. Counsel stated that even though Pierce thought it was "probably cheaper for th[e] estate if [Pierce's claim] were sent back or joined back with the State Court litigation,"
Given Pierce's course of conduct before the Bankruptcy Court, we conclude that he consented to that court's resolution of his defamation claim (and forfeited any argument to the contrary). We have recognized "the value of waiver and forfeiture rules" in "complex" cases, Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 487-488, n. 6,
Although we conclude that § 157(b)(2)(C) permits the Bankruptcy Court to enter final judgment on Vickie's counterclaim, Article III of the Constitution does not.
Article III, § 1, of the Constitution mandates that "[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." The same section provides that the judges of those constitutional courts "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour" and "receive for their Services a Compensation [that] shall not be diminished" during their tenure.
As its text and our precedent confirm, Article III is "an inseparable element of the constitutional system of checks and balances" that "both defines the power and protects the independence of the Judicial Branch." Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S., at 58, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion). Under "the basic concept of separation of powers ... that flow[s] from the scheme of a tripartite government" adopted in the Constitution, "the `judicial Power of the United States' ... can no more be shared" with another branch than "the Chief Executive, for example, can share with the Judiciary the veto power, or the Congress share with the Judiciary the power to override a Presidential veto." United States v. Nixon,
In establishing the system of divided power in the Constitution, the Framers considered it essential that "the judiciary remain truly distinct from both the legislature and the executive." The Federalist No. 78, p. 466 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (A. Hamilton). As Hamilton put it, quoting Montesquieu, "`there is no liberty if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.'"
We have recognized that the three branches are not hermetically sealed from one another, see Nixon v. Administrator of General Services,
Article III protects liberty not only through its role in implementing the separation of powers, but also by specifying the defining characteristics of Article III judges. The colonists had been subjected to judicial abuses at the hand of the Crown, and the Framers knew the main reasons why: because the King of Great Britain "made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries." The Declaration of Independence ¶ 11. The Framers undertook in Article III to protect citizens subject to the judicial power of the new Federal Government from a repeat of those abuses. By appointing judges to serve without term limits, and restricting the ability of the other branches to remove judges or diminish their salaries, the Framers sought to ensure that each judicial decision would be rendered, not with an eye toward currying favor with Congress or the Executive, but rather with the "[c]lear heads ... and honest hearts" deemed "essential to good judges." 1 Works of James Wilson 363 (J. Andrews ed. 1896).
Article III could neither serve its purpose in the system of checks and balances nor preserve the integrity of judicial decisionmaking if the other branches of the Federal Government could confer the Government's "judicial Power" on entities outside Article III. That is why we have long recognized that, in general, Congress may not "withdraw from judicial cognizance any matter which, from its nature, is the subject of a suit at the common law, or in equity, or admiralty." Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co.,
This is not the first time we have faced an Article III challenge to a bankruptcy court's resolution of a debtor's suit. In Northern Pipeline, we considered whether bankruptcy judges serving under the Bankruptcy Act of 1978—appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but lacking the tenure and salary guarantees of Article III—could "constitutionally be vested with jurisdiction to decide [a] state-law contract claim" against an entity
The plurality in Northern Pipeline recognized that there was a category of cases involving "public rights" that Congress could constitutionally assign to "legislative" courts for resolution. That opinion concluded that this "public rights" exception extended "only to matters arising between" individuals and the Government "in connection with the performance of the constitutional functions of the executive or legislative departments ... that historically could have been determined exclusively by those" branches. Id., at 67-68, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (internal quotation marks omitted). A full majority of the Court, while not agreeing on the scope of the exception, concluded that the doctrine did not encompass adjudication of the state law claim at issue in that case. Id., at 69-72, 102 S.Ct. 2858; see id., at 90-91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment) ("None of the [previous cases addressing Article III power] has gone so far as to sanction the type of adjudication to which Marathon will be subjected .... To whatever extent different powers granted under [the 1978] Act might be sustained under the `public rights' doctrine of Murray's Lessee ... and succeeding cases, I am satisfied that the adjudication of Northern's lawsuit cannot be so sustained").
A full majority of Justices in Northern Pipeline also rejected the debtor's argument that the bankruptcy court's exercise of jurisdiction was constitutional because the bankruptcy judge was acting merely as an adjunct of the district court or court of appeals. Id., at 71-72, 81-86, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion); id., at 91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment) ("the bankruptcy court is not an `adjunct' of either the district court or the court of appeals").
After our decision in Northern Pipeline, Congress revised the statutes governing bankruptcy jurisdiction and bankruptcy judges. In the 1984 Act, Congress provided that the judges of the new bankruptcy courts would be appointed by the courts of appeals for the circuits in which their districts are located. 28 U.S.C. § 152(a). And, as we have explained, Congress permitted the newly constituted bankruptcy courts to enter final judgments only in "core" proceedings. See supra, at 2603-2604.
With respect to such "core" matters, however, the bankruptcy courts under the 1984 Act exercise the same powers they wielded under the Bankruptcy Act of 1978 (1978 Act), 92 Stat. 2549. As in Northern Pipeline, for example, the newly constituted bankruptcy courts are charged under § 157(b)(2)(C) with resolving "[a]ll matters of fact and law in whatever domains of the law to which" a counterclaim may lead. 458 U.S., at 91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment); see, e.g., 275 B.R., at 50-51 (noting that Vickie's counterclaim required the bankruptcy court to determine whether Texas recognized a cause of action for tortious interference with an inter vivos gift—something the Supreme Court of Texas had yet to do). As in Northern Pipeline, the new courts in core proceedings "issue final judgments,
Vickie and the dissent argue that the Bankruptcy Court's entry of final judgment on her state common law counterclaim was constitutional, despite the similarities between the bankruptcy courts under the 1978 Act and those exercising core jurisdiction under the 1984 Act. We disagree. It is clear that the Bankruptcy Court in this case exercised the "judicial Power of the United States" in purporting to resolve and enter final judgment on a state common law claim, just as the court did in Northern Pipeline. No "public right" exception excuses the failure to comply with Article III in doing so, any more than in Northern Pipeline. Vickie argues that this case is different because the defendant is a creditor in the bankruptcy. But the debtors' claims in the cases on which she relies were themselves federal claims under bankruptcy law, which would be completely resolved in the bankruptcy process of allowing or disallowing claims. Here Vickie's claim is a state law action independent of the federal bankruptcy law and not necessarily resolvable by a ruling on the creditor's proof of claim in bankruptcy. Northern Pipeline and our subsequent decision in Granfinanciera,
Nor can the bankruptcy courts under the 1984 Act be dismissed as mere adjuncts of Article III courts, any more than could the bankruptcy courts under the 1978 Act. The judicial powers the courts exercise in cases such as this remain the same, and a court exercising such broad powers is no mere adjunct of anyone.
Vickie's counterclaim cannot be deemed a matter of "public right" that can be decided outside the Judicial Branch. As explained above, in Northern Pipeline we rejected the argument that the public rights doctrine permitted a bankruptcy court to adjudicate a state law suit brought by a debtor against a company that had not filed a claim against the estate. See 458 U.S., at 69-72, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion); id., at 90-91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment). Although our discussion of the public rights exception since that time has not been entirely consistent, and the exception has been the subject of some debate, this case does not fall within any of the various formulations of the concept that appear in this Court's opinions.
We first recognized the category of public rights in Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co.,
As an example of such matters, the Court referred to "[e]quitable claims to land by the inhabitants of ceded territories" and cited cases in which land issues were conclusively resolved by Executive Branch officials. Ibid. (citing Foley v. Harrison,
Subsequent decisions from this Court contrasted cases within the reach of the public rights exception—those arising "between the Government and persons subject to its authority in connection with the performance of the constitutional functions of the executive or legislative departments"—and those that were instead matters "of private right, that is, of the liability of one individual to another under the law as defined." Crowell v. Benson,
Shortly after Northern Pipeline, the Court rejected the limitation of the public rights exception to actions involving the Government as a party. The Court has continued, however, to limit the exception to cases in which the claim at issue derives from a federal regulatory scheme, or in which resolution of the claim by an expert government agency is deemed essential to a limited regulatory objective within the agency's authority. In other words, it is still the case that what makes a right "public" rather than private is that the right is integrally related to particular federal government action. See United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 564 U.S. ___, ___-___,
Our decision in Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co., for example, involved a data-sharing arrangement between companies under a federal statute providing that disputes about compensation between the companies would be decided by binding arbitration.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Schor concerned a statutory scheme that created a procedure for customers injured by a broker's violation of the federal commodities law to seek reparations from the broker before the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
The most recent case in which we considered application of the public rights exception—and the only case in which we have considered that doctrine in the bankruptcy context since Northern Pipeline—is Granfinanciera, S.A. v. Nordberg,
Vickie's counterclaim—like the fraudulent conveyance claim at issue in Granfinanciera—does not fall within any of the varied formulations of the public rights exception in this Court's cases. It is not a matter that can be pursued only by grace of the other branches, as in Murray's Lessee, 18 How., at 284, or one that "historically could have been determined exclusively by" those branches, Northern Pipeline, supra, at 68, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (citing Ex parte Bakelite Corp., 279 U.S., at 458, 49 S.Ct. 411). The claim is instead one under state common law between two private parties. It does not "depend on the will of congress," Murray's Lessee, supra, at 284; Congress has nothing to do with it.
In addition, Vickie's claimed right to relief does not flow from a federal statutory scheme, as in Thomas, 473 U.S., at 584-585, 105 S.Ct. 3325, or Atlas Roofing, 430 U.S., at 458, 97 S.Ct. 1261. It is not "completely dependent upon" adjudication of a claim created by federal law, as in Schor, 478 U.S., at 856, 106 S.Ct. 3245. And in contrast to the objecting party in Schor, id., at 855-856, 106 S.Ct. 3245, Pierce did not truly consent to resolution of Vickie's claim in the bankruptcy court proceedings. He had nowhere else to go if he wished to recover from Vickie's estate. See Granfinanciera, supra, at 59, n. 14, 109 S.Ct. 2782 (noting that "[p]arallel reasoning [to Schor] is unavailable in the context of bankruptcy proceedings, because creditors lack an alternative forum
Furthermore, the asserted authority to decide Vickie's claim is not limited to a "particularized area of the law," as in Crowell, Thomas, and Schor. Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S., at 85, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion). We deal here not with an agency but with a court, with substantive jurisdiction reaching any area of the corpus juris. See ibid.; id., at 91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment). This is not a situation in which Congress devised an "expert and inexpensive method for dealing with a class of questions of fact which are particularly suited to examination and determination by an administrative agency specially assigned to that task." Crowell, 285 U.S., at 46, 52 S.Ct. 285; see Schor, supra, at 855-856, 106 S.Ct. 3245. The "experts" in the federal system at resolving common law counterclaims such as Vickie's are the Article III courts, and it is with those courts that her claim must stay.
The dissent reads our cases differently, and in particular contends that more recent cases view Northern Pipeline as "`establish[ing] only that Congress may not vest in a non-Article III court the power to adjudicate, render final judgment, and issue binding orders in a traditional contract action arising under state law, without consent of the litigants, and subject only to ordinary appellate review.'" Post, at 2624 (quoting Thomas, supra, at 584, 105 S.Ct. 3325). Just so: Substitute "tort" for "contract," and that statement directly covers this case.
We recognize that there may be instances in which the distinction between public and private rights—at least as framed by some of our recent cases—fails to provide concrete guidance as to whether, for example, a particular agency can adjudicate legal issues under a substantive regulatory scheme. Given the extent to which this case is so markedly distinct from the agency cases discussing the public rights exception in the context of such a regime, however, we do not in this opinion express any view on how the doctrine might apply in that different context.
What is plain here is that this case involves the most prototypical exercise of judicial power: the entry of a final, binding judgment by a court with broad substantive jurisdiction, on a common law cause of action, when the action neither derives from nor depends upon any agency regulatory regime. If such an exercise of judicial power may nonetheless be taken from the Article III Judiciary simply by deeming it part of some amorphous "public right," then Article III would be transformed from the guardian of individual liberty and separation of powers we have long recognized into mere wishful thinking.
Vickie and the dissent next attempt to distinguish Northern Pipeline and Granfinanciera on the ground that Pierce, unlike the defendants in those cases, had filed a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceedings. Given Pierce's participation in those proceedings, Vickie argues, the Bankruptcy
We do not agree. As an initial matter, it is hard to see why Pierce's decision to file a claim should make any difference with respect to the characterization of Vickie's counterclaim. "`[P]roperty interests are created and defined by state law,' and `[u]nless some federal interest requires a different result, there is no reason why such interests should be analyzed differently simply because an interested party is involved in a bankruptcy proceeding.'" Travelers Casualty & Surety Co. of America v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 549 U.S. 443, 451,
Contrary to Vickie's contention, moreover, our decisions in Katchen and Langenkamp do not suggest a different result. Katchen permitted a bankruptcy referee acting under the Bankruptcy Acts of 1898 and 1938 (akin to a bankruptcy court today) to exercise what was known as "summary jurisdiction" over a voidable preference claim brought by the bankruptcy trustee against a creditor who had filed a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding. See 382 U.S., at 325, 327-328, 86 S.Ct. 467. A voidable preference claim asserts that a debtor made a payment to a particular creditor in anticipation of bankruptcy, to in effect increase that creditor's proportionate share of the estate. The preferred creditor's claim in bankruptcy can be disallowed as a result of the preference, and the amounts paid to that creditor can be recovered by the trustee. See id., at 330, 86 S.Ct. 467; see also 11 U.S.C. §§ 502(d), 547(b).
Although the creditor in Katchen objected that the preference issue should be resolved through a "plenary suit" in an Article III court, this Court concluded that summary adjudication in bankruptcy was appropriate, because it was not possible for the referee to rule on the creditor's proof of claim without first resolving the voidable preference issue. 382 U.S., at 329-330, 332-333, and n. 9, 334, 86 S.Ct. 467. There was no question that the bankruptcy referee could decide whether there had been a voidable preference in determining whether and to what extent to allow the creditor's claim. Once the referee did that, "nothing remains for adjudication in a plenary suit"; such a suit "would be a meaningless gesture." Id., at 334, 86 S.Ct. 467. The plenary proceeding the creditor sought could be brought into the bankruptcy court because "the same issue [arose] as part of the process of allowance and disallowance of claims." Id., at 336, 86 S.Ct. 467.
It was in that sense that the Court stated that "he who invokes the aid of the bankruptcy court by offering a proof of claim and demanding its allowance must abide the consequences of that procedure." Id., at 333, n. 9, 86 S.Ct. 467. In Katchen one of those consequences was resolution of the preference issue as part of the process of allowing or disallowing claims, and accordingly there was no basis for the creditor to insist that the issue be resolved in an Article III court. See id., at 334, 86 S.Ct. 467. Indeed, the Katchen Court expressly noted that it "intimate[d] no opinion concerning whether" the bankruptcy
Our per curiam opinion in Langenkamp is to the same effect. We explained there that a preferential transfer claim can be heard in bankruptcy when the allegedly favored creditor has filed a claim, because then "the ensuing preference action by the trustee become[s] integral to the restructuring of the debtor-creditor relationship." 498 U.S., at 44, 111 S.Ct. 330. If, in contrast, the creditor has not filed a proof of claim, the trustee's preference action does not "become part of the claims- allowance process" subject to resolution by the bankruptcy court. Ibid.; see id., at 45, 111 S.Ct. 330.
In ruling on Vickie's counterclaim, the Bankruptcy Court was required to and did make several factual and legal determinations that were not "disposed of in passing on objections" to Pierce's proof of claim for defamation, which the court had denied almost a year earlier. Katchen, supra, at 332, n. 9., 86 S.Ct. 467 There was some overlap between Vickie's counterclaim and Pierce's defamation claim that led the courts below to conclude that the counterclaim was compulsory, 600 F.3d, at 1057, or at least in an "attenuated" sense related to Pierce's claim, 264 B.R., at 631. But there was never any reason to believe that the process of adjudicating Pierce's proof of claim would necessarily resolve Vickie's counterclaim. See id., at 631, 632 (explaining that "the primary facts at issue on Pierce's claim were the relationship between Vickie and her attorneys and her knowledge or approval of their statements," and "the counterclaim raises issues of law entirely different from those raise[d] on the defamation claim"). The United States acknowledges the point. See Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae, p. (I) (question presented concerns authority of a bankruptcy court to enter final judgment on a compulsory counterclaim "when adjudication of the counterclaim requires resolution of issues that are not implicated by the claim against the estate"); id., at 26.
The only overlap between the two claims in this case was the question whether Pierce had in fact tortiously taken control of his father's estate in the manner alleged by Vickie in her counterclaim and described in the allegedly defamatory statements. From the outset, it was clear that, even assuming the Bankruptcy Court would (as it did) rule in Vickie's favor on that question, the court could not enter judgment for Vickie unless the court additionally ruled on the questions whether Texas recognized tortious interference with an expected gift as a valid cause of action, what the elements of that action were, and whether those elements were met in this case. 275 B.R., at 50-53. Assuming Texas accepted the elements adopted by other jurisdictions, that meant Vickie would need to prove, above and beyond Pierce's tortious interference, (1) the existence of an expectancy of a gift; (2) a reasonable certainty that the expectancy would have been realized but for the interference; and (3) damages. Id., at 51; see 253 B.R., at 558-561. Also, because Vickie sought punitive damages in connection with her counterclaim, the Bankruptcy Court could not finally dispose of the case in Vickie's favor without determining whether to subject Pierce to the sort of "retribution," "punishment[,] and deterrence," Exxon Shipping Co., 554 U.S., at 492, 504,
In both Katchen and Langenkamp, moreover, the trustee bringing the preference action was asserting a right of recovery created by federal bankruptcy law. In Langenkamp, we noted that "the trustee instituted adversary proceedings under 11 U.S.C. § 547(b) to recover, as avoidable preferences," payments respondents received from the debtor before the bankruptcy filings. 498 U.S., at 43, 111 S.Ct. 330; see, e.g., § 547(b)(1) ("the trustee may avoid any transfer of an interest of the debtor in property—(1) to or for the benefit of a creditor"). In Katchen, "[t]he Trustee ... [asserted] that the payments made [to the creditor] were preferences inhibited by Section 60a of the Bankruptcy Act." Memorandum Opinion (Feb. 8, 1963), Tr. of Record in O.T.1965, No. 28, p. 3; see 382 U.S., at 334, 86 S.Ct. 467 (considering impact of the claims allowance process on "action by the trustee under § 60 to recover the preference"); 11 U.S.C. § 96(b) (1964 ed.) (§ 60(b) of the then-applicable Bankruptcy Act) ("preference may be avoided by the trustee if the creditor receiving it or to be benefited thereby ... has, at the time when the transfer is made, reasonable cause to believe that the debtor is insolvent"). Vickie's claim, in contrast, is in no way derived from or dependent upon bankruptcy law; it is a state tort action that exists without regard to any bankruptcy proceeding.
In light of all the foregoing, we disagree with the dissent that there are no "relevant distinction[s]" between Pierce's claim in this case and the claim at issue in Langenkamp. Post, at 2628. We see no reason to treat Vickie's counterclaim any differently from the fraudulent conveyance action in Granfinanciera. 492 U.S., at 56, 109 S.Ct. 2782. Granfinanciera's distinction between actions that seek "to augment the bankruptcy estate" and those that seek "a pro rata share of the bankruptcy res," ibid., reaffirms that Congress may not bypass Article III simply because a proceeding may have some bearing on a bankruptcy case; the question is whether the action at issue stems from the bankruptcy itself or would necessarily be resolved in the claims allowance process. Vickie has failed to demonstrate that her counterclaim falls within one of the "limited circumstances" covered by the public rights exception, particularly given our conclusion that, "even with respect to matters that arguably fall within the scope of the `public rights' doctrine, the presumption is in favor of Art. III courts." Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S., at 69, n. 23, 77, n. 29, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion).
Vickie additionally argues that the Bankruptcy Court's final judgment was constitutional because bankruptcy courts under the 1984 Act are properly deemed "adjuncts" of the district courts. Brief for Petitioner 61-64. We rejected a similar argument in Northern Pipeline, see 458 U.S., at 84-86, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion); id., at 91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment), and our reasoning there holds true today.
To begin, as explained above, it is still the bankruptcy court itself that exercises the essential attributes of judicial power over a matter such as Vickie's counterclaim. See supra, at 2610. The new bankruptcy courts, like the old, do not "ma[k]e only specialized, narrowly confined factual determinations regarding a particularized area of law" or engage in "statutorily channeled factfinding functions." Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S., at 85, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion). Instead, bankruptcy courts under the 1984 Act resolve
In addition, whereas the adjunct agency in Crowell v. Benson "possessed only a limited power to issue compensation orders... [that] could be enforced only by order of the district court," Northern Pipeline, supra, at 85, 102 S.Ct. 2858, a bankruptcy court resolving a counterclaim under 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(C) has the power to enter "appropriate orders and judgments"—including final judgments—subject to review only if a party chooses to appeal, see §§ 157(b)(1), 158(a)-(b). It is thus no less the case here than it was in Northern Pipeline that "[t]he authority—and the responsibility—to make an informed, final determination ... remains with" the bankruptcy judge, not the district court. 458 U.S., at 81, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion) (internal quotation marks omitted). Given that authority, a bankruptcy court can no more be deemed a mere "adjunct" of the district court than a district court can be deemed such an "adjunct" of the court of appeals. We certainly cannot accept the dissent's notion that judges who have the power to enter final, binding orders are the "functional" equivalent of "law clerks and the Judiciary's administrative officials." Post, at 2627. And even were we wrong in this regard, that would only confirm that such judges should not be in the business of entering final judgments in the first place.
It does not affect our analysis that, as Vickie notes, bankruptcy judges under the current Act are appointed by the Article III courts, rather than the President. See Brief for Petitioner 59. If—as we have concluded—the bankruptcy court itself exercises "the essential attributes of judicial power [that] are reserved to Article III courts," Schor, 478 U.S., at 851, 106 S.Ct. 3245 (internal quotation marks omitted), it does not matter who appointed the bankruptcy judge or authorized the judge to render final judgments in such proceedings. The constitutional bar remains. See The Federalist No. 78, at 471 ("Periodical appointments, however regulated, or by whomsoever made, would, in some way or other, be fatal to [a judge's] necessary independence").
Finally, Vickie and her amici predict as a practical matter that restrictions on a bankruptcy court's ability to hear and finally resolve compulsory counterclaims will create significant delays and impose additional costs on the bankruptcy process. See, e.g., Brief for Petitioner 34-36, 57-58; Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 29-30. It goes without saying that "the fact that a given law or procedure is efficient, convenient, and useful in facilitating functions of government, standing alone, will not save it if it is contrary to the Constitution." INS v. Chadha,
In addition, we are not convinced that the practical consequences of such limitations on the authority of bankruptcy courts to enter final judgments are as significant as Vickie and the dissent suggest. See post, at 2630. The dissent asserts that it is important that counterclaims such as Vickie's be resolved "in a bankruptcy court," and that, "to be effective, a single tribunal must have broad authority to restructure [debtor-creditor] relations." Post, at 2628, 2629 (emphasis deleted). But the framework Congress adopted in the 1984 Act already contemplates that certain state law matters in bankruptcy cases will be resolved by judges other than those of the bankruptcy courts. Section
As described above, the current bankruptcy system also requires the district court to review de novo and enter final judgment on any matters that are "related to" the bankruptcy proceedings, § 157(c)(1), and permits the district court to withdraw from the bankruptcy court any referred case, proceeding, or part thereof, § 157(d). Pierce has not argued that the bankruptcy courts "are barred from `hearing' all counterclaims" or proposing findings of fact and conclusions of law on those matters, but rather that it must be the district court that "finally decide[s]" them. Brief for Respondent 61. We do not think the removal of counterclaims such as Vickie's from core bankruptcy jurisdiction meaningfully changes the division of labor in the current statute; we agree with the United States that the question presented here is a "narrow" one. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 23.
If our decision today does not change all that much, then why the fuss? Is there really a threat to the separation of powers where Congress has conferred the judicial power outside Article III only over certain counterclaims in bankruptcy? The short but emphatic answer is yes. A statute may no more lawfully chip away at the authority of the Judicial Branch than it may eliminate it entirely. "Slight encroachments create new boundaries from which legions of power can seek new territory to capture." Reid v. Covert,
* * *
Article III of the Constitution provides that the judicial power of the United States may be vested only in courts whose judges enjoy the protections set forth in that Article. We conclude today that Congress, in one isolated respect, exceeded that limitation in the Bankruptcy Act of 1984. The Bankruptcy Court below lacked the constitutional authority to enter a final judgment on a state law counterclaim that is not resolved in the process of ruling on a creditor's proof of claim. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
Justice SCALIA, concurring.
I agree with the Court's interpretation of our Article III precedents, and I accordingly join its opinion. I adhere to my view, however, that—our contrary precedents notwithstanding—"a matter of public rights ... must at a minimum arise between the government and others," Granfinanciera, S.A. v. Nordberg,
Apart from their sheer numerosity, the more fundamental flaw in the many tests suggested by our jurisprudence is that they have nothing to do with the text or tradition of Article III. For example, Article III gives no indication that state-law claims have preferential entitlement to an Article III judge; nor does it make pertinent the extent to which the area of the law is "particularized." The multifactors relied upon today seem to have entered our jurisprudence almost randomly.
Leaving aside certain adjudications by federal administrative agencies, which are governed (for better or worse) by our landmark decision in Crowell v. Benson,
Justice BREYER, with whom Justice GINSBURG, Justice SOTOMAYOR, and Justice KAGAN, join dissenting.
Pierce Marshall filed a claim in Federal Bankruptcy Court against the estate of Vickie Marshall. His claim asserted that Vickie Marshall had, through her lawyers, accused him of trying to prevent her from obtaining money that his father had wanted her to have; that her accusations violated state defamation law; and that she consequently owed Pierce Marshall damages. Vickie Marshall filed a compulsory counterclaim in which she asserted that Pierce Marshall had unlawfully interfered with her husband's efforts to grant her an inter vivos gift and that he consequently owed her damages.
The Bankruptcy Court adjudicated the claim and the counterclaim. In doing so,
My disagreement with the majority's conclusion stems in part from my disagreement about the way in which it interprets, or at least emphasizes, certain precedents. In my view, the majority overstates the current relevance of statements this Court made in an 1856 case, Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co.,
I shall describe these cases in some detail in order to explain why I believe we should put less weight than does the majority upon the statement in Murray's Lessee and the analysis followed by the Northern Pipeline plurality and instead should apply the approach this Court has applied in Crowell, Thomas, and Schor.
In Murray's Lessee, the Court held that the Constitution permitted an executive official, through summary, nonjudicial proceedings, to attach the assets of a customs collector whose account was deficient. The Court found evidence in common law of "summary method[s] for the recovery of debts due to the crown, and especially those due from receivers of the revenues," 18 How., at 277, and it analogized the Government's summary attachment process to the kind of self-help remedies available to private parties, id., at 283. In the course of its opinion, the Court wrote:
The majority reads the first part of the statement's first sentence as authoritatively defining the boundaries of Article III. Ante, at 2609. I would read the statement in a less absolute way. For one thing, the statement is in effect dictum. For another, it is the remainder of the statement, announcing a distinction between "public rights" and "private rights," that has had the more lasting impact. Later Courts have seized on that distinction when upholding non-Article III adjudication, not when striking it down. See Ex parte Bakelite Corp.,
At the same time, I believe the majority places insufficient weight on Crowell, a seminal case that clarified the scope of the dictum in Murray's Lessee. In that case, the Court considered whether Congress could grant to an Article I administrative agency the power to adjudicate an employee's workers' compensation claim against his employer. The Court assumed that an Article III court would review the agency's decision de novo in respect to questions of law but it would conduct a less searching review (looking to see only if the agency's award was "supported by evidence in the record") in respect to questions of fact. Crowell, 285 U.S., at 48-50, 52 S.Ct. 285. The Court pointed out that the case involved a dispute between private persons (a matter of "private rights") and (with one exception not relevant here) it upheld Congress' delegation of primary factfinding authority to the agency.
Justice Brandeis, dissenting (from a here-irrelvant portion of the Court's holding), wrote that the adjudicatory scheme raised only a due process question: When does due process require decision by an Article III judge? He answered that question by finding constitutional the statute's delegation of adjudicatory authority to an agency. Id., at 87, 52 S.Ct. 285.
Crowell has been hailed as "the greatest of the cases validating administrative adjudication." Bator, The Constitution as Architecture: Legislative and Administrative Courts Under Article III, 65 Ind. L.J. 233, 251 (1990). Yet, in a footnote, the majority distinguishes Crowell as a case in which the Court upheld the delegation of adjudicatory authority to an administrative agency simply because the agency's power to make the "specialized, narrowly confined factual determinations" at issue arising in a "particularized area of law," made the agency a "true `adjunct' of the District Court." Ante, at 2612, n. 6. Were Crowell's holding as narrow as the majority suggests, one could question the validity of Congress' delegation of authority to adjudicate disputes among private parties to other agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Surface Transportation Board, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, thereby resurrecting important legal questions previously thought to have been decided. See 29 U.S.C. § 160; 7 U.S.C. § 18; 49 U.S.C. § 10704; 42 U.S.C. § 3612(b).
The majority, in my view, overemphasizes the precedential effect of the plurality
Three years later, the Court held that Northern Pipeline
Rather than leaning so heavily on the approach taken by the plurality in Northern Pipeline, I would look to this Court's more recent Article III cases Thomas and Schor—cases that commanded a clear majority. In both cases the Court took a more pragmatic approach to the constitutional question. It sought to determine whether, in the particular instance, the challenged delegation of adjudicatory authority posed a genuine and serious threat that one branch of Government sought to aggrandize its own constitutionally delegated authority by encroaching upon a field of authority that the Constitution assigns exclusively to another branch.
In Thomas, the Court focused directly upon the nature of the Article III problem, illustrating how the Court should determine whether a delegation of adjudicatory authority to a non-Article III judge violates the Constitution. The statute in question required pesticide manufacturers to submit to binding arbitration claims for compensation owed for the use by one manufacturer of the data of another to support its federal pesticide registration. After describing Northern Pipeline's holding in the language I have set forth above, supra, at 2624, the Court stated that "practical attention to substance rather than doctrinaire reliance on formal categories should inform application of Article III." Thomas, 473 U.S., at 587, 105 S.Ct. 3325 (emphasis added). It indicated that Article III's requirements could not be "determined" by "the identity of the parties alone," ibid., or by the "private rights"/"public rights" distinction, id., at 585-586, 105 S.Ct. 3325. And it upheld the arbitration provision of the statute.
The Court pointed out that the right in question was created by a federal statute, it "represent[s] a pragmatic solution to the difficult problem of spreading [certain] costs," and the statute "does not preclude review of the arbitration proceeding by an
Most recently, in Schor, the Court described in greater detail how this Court should analyze this kind of Article III question. The question at issue in Schor involved a delegation of authority to an agency to adjudicate a counterclaim. A customer brought before the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) a claim for reparations against his commodity futures broker. The customer noted that his brokerage account showed that he owed the broker money, but he said that the broker's unlawful actions had produced that debit balance, and he sought damages. The broker brought a counterclaim seeking the money that the account showed the customer owed. This Court had to decide whether agency adjudication of such a counterclaim is consistent with Article III.
In doing so, the Court expressly "declined to adopt formalistic and unbending rules." Schor, 478 U.S., at 851, 106 S.Ct. 3245. Rather, it "weighed a number of factors, none of which has been deemed determinative, with an eye to the practical effect that the congressional action will have on the constitutionally assigned role of the federal judiciary." Ibid. Those relevant factors include (1) "the origins and importance of the right to be adjudicated"; (2) "the extent to which the non-Article III forum exercises the range of jurisdiction and powers normally vested only in Article III courts"; (3) the extent to which the delegation nonetheless reserves judicial power for exercise by Article III courts; (4) the presence or "absence of consent to an initial adjudication before a non-Article III tribunal"; and (5) "the concerns that drove Congress to depart from" adjudication in an Article III court. Id., at 849, 851, 106 S.Ct. 3245.
The Court added that where "private rights," rather than "public rights" are involved, the "danger of encroaching on the judicial powers" is greater. Id., at 853-854, 106 S.Ct. 3245 (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, while non-Article III adjudication of "private rights" is not necessarily unconstitutional, the Court's constitutional "examination" of such a scheme must be more "searching." Ibid.
Applying this analysis, the Court upheld the agency's authority to adjudicate the counterclaim. The Court conceded that the adjudication might be of a kind traditionally decided by a court and that the rights at issue were "private," not "public." Id., at 853, 106 S.Ct. 3245. But, the Court said, the CFTC deals only with a "`particularized area of law'"; the decision to invoke the CFTC forum is "left entirely to the parties"; Article III courts can review the agency's findings of fact under "the same `weight of the evidence' standard sustained in Crowell" and review its "legal determinations ... de novo"; and the agency's "counterclaim jurisdiction" was necessary to make "workable" a "reparations procedure," which constitutes an important part of a congressionally enacted "regulatory scheme." Id., at 852-856, 106 S.Ct. 3245. The Court concluded that for these and other reasons "the magnitude of any intrusion on the Judicial Branch can only be termed de minimis." Id., at 856, 106 S.Ct. 3245.
This case law, as applied in Thomas and Schor, requires us to determine pragmatically
Insofar as the majority would apply more formal standards, it simply disregards recent, controlling precedent. Thomas, supra, at 587, 105 S.Ct. 3325 ("[P]ractical attention to substance rather than doctrinaire reliance on formal categories should inform application of Article III"); Schor, supra, at 851, 106 S.Ct. 3245 ("[T]he Court has declined to adopt formalistic and unbending rules" for deciding Article III cases).
Applying Schor's approach here, I conclude that the delegation of adjudicatory authority before us is constitutional. A grant of authority to a bankruptcy court to adjudicate compulsory counterclaims does not violate any constitutional separation-of-powers principle related to Article III.
First, I concede that the nature of the claim to be adjudicated argues against my conclusion. Vickie Marshall's counterclaim—a kind of tort suit—resembles "a suit at the common law." Murray's Lessee, 18 How., at 284. Although not determinative of the question, see Schor, 478 U.S., at 853, 106 S.Ct. 3245, a delegation of authority to a non-Article III judge to adjudicate a claim of that kind poses a heightened risk of encroachment on the Federal Judiciary, id., at 854, 106 S.Ct. 3245.
At the same time the significance of this factor is mitigated here by the fact that bankruptcy courts often decide claims that similarly resemble various common-law actions. Suppose, for example, that ownership of 40 acres of land in the bankruptcy debtor's possession is disputed by a creditor. If that creditor brings a claim in the bankruptcy court, resolution of that dispute requires the bankruptcy court to apply the same state property law that would govern in a state court proceeding. This kind of dispute arises with regularity in bankruptcy proceedings.
Of course, in this instance the state-law question is embedded in a debtor's counterclaim, not a creditor's claim. But the counterclaim is "compulsory." It "arises out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the opposing party's claim." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 13(a); Fed. Rule Bkrtcy. Proc. 7013. Thus, resolution of the counterclaim will often turn on facts identical to, or at least related to, those at issue in a creditor's claim that is undisputedly proper for the bankruptcy court to decide.
Second, the nature of the non-Article III tribunal argues in favor of constitutionality. That is because the tribunal is made up of judges who enjoy considerable protection
Third, the control exercised by Article III judges over bankruptcy proceedings argues in favor of constitutionality. Article III judges control and supervise the bankruptcy court's determinations—at least to the same degree that Article III judges supervised the agency's determinations in Crowell, if not more so. Any party may appeal those determinations to the federal district court, where the federal judge will review all determinations of fact for clear error and will review all determinations of law de novo. Fed. Rule Bkrtcy. Proc. 8013; 10 Collier on Bankruptcy ¶ 8013.04 (16th ed.2011). But for the here-irrelevant matter of what Crowell considered to be special "constitutional" facts, the standard of review for factual findings here ("clearly erroneous") is more stringent than the standard at issue in Crowell (whether the agency's factfinding was "supported by evidence in the record"). 285 U.S., at 48, 52 S.Ct. 285; see Dickinson v. Zurko,
Moreover, in one important respect Article III judges maintain greater control over the bankruptcy court proceedings at issue here than they did over the relevant proceedings in any of the previous cases in which this Court has upheld a delegation of adjudicatory power. The District Court here may "withdraw, in whole or in part, any case or proceeding referred [to the Bankruptcy Court] ... on its own motion or on timely motion of any party, for cause shown." 28 U.S.C. § 157(d); cf. Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S., at 80, n. 31, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion) (contrasting pre-1978 law where "power to withdraw the case from the [bankruptcy] referee" gave district courts "control" over case with the unconstitutional 1978 statute, which provided no such district court authority).
Fourth, the fact that the parties have consented to Bankruptcy Court jurisdiction argues in favor of constitutionality, and strongly so. Pierce Marshall, the counterclaim defendant, is not a stranger to the litigation, forced to appear in Bankruptcy Court against his will. Cf. id., at 91, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment) (suit was litigated in Bankruptcy Court "over [the defendant's] objection"). Rather, he appeared voluntarily in Bankruptcy Court as one of Vickie Marshall's creditors, seeking a favorable resolution of his claim against Vickie Marshall to the detriment of her other creditors.
The Court has held, in a highly analogous context, that this type of consent argues strongly in favor of using ordinary bankruptcy court proceedings. In Granfinanciera, the Court held that when a bankruptcy trustee seeks to void a transfer of assets from the debtor to an individual on the ground that the transfer to that individual constitutes an unlawful "preference," the question of whether the individual has a right to a jury trial "depends upon whether the creditor has submitted a claim against the estate." Id., at 58, 109 S.Ct. 2782. The following year, in Langenkamp v. Culp,
As we have recognized, the jury trial question and the Article III question are highly analogous. See id., at 52-53, 111 S.Ct. 330. And to that extent, Granfinanciera's and Langenkamp's basic reasoning and conclusion apply here: Even when private rights are at issue, non-Article III adjudication may be appropriate when both parties consent. Cf. Northern Pipeline, supra, at 80, n. 31, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion) (noting the importance of consent to bankruptcy jurisdiction). See also Schor, 478 U.S., at 849, 106 S.Ct. 3245 ("[A]bsence of consent to an initial adjudication before a non-Article III tribunal was relied on [in Northern Pipeline] as a significant factor in determining that Article III forbade such adjudication"). The majority argues that Pierce Marshall "did not truly consent" to bankruptcy jurisdiction, ante, at 2614-2615, but filing a proof of claim was sufficient in Langenkamp and Granfinanciera, and there is no relevant distinction between the claims filed in those cases and the claim filed here.
Fifth, the nature and importance of the legislative purpose served by the grant of adjudicatory authority to bankruptcy tribunals argues strongly in favor of constitutionality. Congress' delegation of adjudicatory powers over counterclaims asserted against bankruptcy claimants constitutes an important means of securing a constitutionally authorized end. Article I, § 8, of the Constitution explicitly grants Congress the "Power To ... establish ... uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States." James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that the
Congress established the first Bankruptcy Act in 1800. 2 Stat. 19. From the beginning, the "core" of federal bankruptcy proceedings has been "the restructuring of debtor-creditor relations." Northern Pipeline, supra, at 71, 102 S.Ct. 2858 (plurality opinion). And, to be effective, a single tribunal must have broad authority to restructure those relations, "having jurisdiction of the parties to controversies brought before them," "decid[ing] all matters in dispute," and "decree[ing] complete relief." Katchen v. Landy,
The restructuring process requires a creditor to file a proof of claim in the bankruptcy court. 11 U.S.C. § 501; Fed. Rule Bkrtcy. Proc. 3002(a). In doing so, the creditor "triggers the process of `allowance and disallowance of claims,' thereby subjecting himself to the bankruptcy court's equitable power." Langenkamp, supra, at 44, 111 S.Ct. 330 (quoting Granfinanciera, supra, at 58, 109 S.Ct. 2782). By filing a proof of claim, the creditor agrees to the bankruptcy court's resolution of that claim, and if the creditor wins, the creditor will receive a share of the distribution of the bankruptcy estate. When the bankruptcy estate has a related claim against that creditor, that counterclaim may offset the creditor's claim, or even yield additional damages that augment the estate and may be distributed to the other creditors.
The consequent importance to the total bankruptcy scheme of permitting the trustee in bankruptcy to assert counterclaims against claimants, and resolving those counterclaims in a bankruptcy court, is reflected in the fact that Congress included "counterclaims by the estate against persons filing claims against the estate" on its list of "[c]ore proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(C). And it explains the difference, reflected in this Court's opinions, between a claimant's and a nonclaimant's constitutional right to a jury trial. Compare Granfinanciera, supra, at 58-59, 109 S.Ct. 2782 ("Because petitioners ... have not filed claims against the estate" they retain "their Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury"), with Langenkamp, supra, at 45, 111 S.Ct. 330 ("Respondents filed claims against the bankruptcy estate" and "[c]onsequently, they were not entitled to a jury trial").
Consequently a bankruptcy court's determination of such matters has more than "some bearing on a bankruptcy case." Ante, at 2618 (emphasis deleted). It plays a critical role in Congress' constitutionally based effort to create an efficient, effective federal bankruptcy system. At the least, that is what Congress concluded. We owe deference to that determination, which shows the absence of any legislative or executive motive, intent, purpose, or desire to encroach upon areas that Article III reserves to judges to whom it grants tenure and compensation protections.
Considering these factors together, I conclude that, as in Schor, "the magnitude of any intrusion on the Judicial Branch can only be termed de minimis." 478 U.S., at 856, 106 S.Ct. 3245. I would similarly find the statute before us constitutional.
The majority predicts that as a "practical matter" today's decision "does not change all that much." Ante, at 2619-2620. But I doubt that is so. Consider a typical case: A tenant files for bankruptcy. The landlord files a claim for unpaid rent. The tenant asserts a counterclaim for damages
Why is that a problem? Because these types of disputes arise in bankruptcy court with some frequency. See, e.g., In re CBI Holding Co.,
For these reasons, with respect, I dissent.
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