JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
The only question presented in this case is whether the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit validly created an exception to the doctrine of res judicata. The court held that res judicata does not bar relitigation of an unappealed adverse judgment where, as here, other plaintiffs in similar actions against common defendants successfully appeal the judgments against them. We disagree with the view taken by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and reverse.
In 1976 the United States brought an antitrust action against petitioners, owners of various department stores, alleging that they had violated § 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U. S. C. § 1, by agreeing to fix the retail price of women's clothing sold in northern California. Seven parallel civil actions were subsequently field by private plaintiffs seeking treble damages on behalf of proposed classes of retail purchasers, including that of respondent Moitie in state court (Moitie I) and respondent Brown (Brown I) in the United
Plaintiffs in five of the suits appealed that judgment to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The single counsel representing Moitie and Brown, however, chose not to appeal and instead refiled the two actions in state court, Moitie II and Brown II.
Pending that appeal, this Court on June 11, 1979, decided Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, holding that retail purchasers can suffer an "injury" to their "business or property" as those terms are used in § 4 of the Clayton Act. On June 25, 1979, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the five cases which had been decided with Moitie I and Brown I, the cases that had been appealed, for further proceedings in light of Reiter.
When Moitie II and Brown II finally came before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court reversed the decision of the District Court dismissing the cases. 611 F.2d 1267.
There is little to be added to the doctrine of res judicata as developed in the case law of this Court. A final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 597 (1948); Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352-353 (1877). Nor are the res judicata consequences of a final, unappealed judgment on the merits altered by the fact that the judgment may have been wrong or rested on a legal principle subsequently overruled in another case. Angel v. Bullington, 330 U.S. 183, 187 (1947); Chicot County Drainage District v. Baxter State Bank, 308 U.S. 371 (1940); Wilson's Executor v. Deen, 121 U.S. 525, 534 (1887). As this Court explained in Baltimore S.S. Co. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316, 325 (1927), an "erroneous conclusion" reached by the court in the first suit does not deprive the defendants in the second action "of their right to rely upon the plea of res judicata. . . . A judgment merely voidable because based upon an erroneous view of the law is not open to collateral attack, but can be corrected only by a direct review and not by bringing another action upon the same cause [of action]." We have observed that "[t]he indulgence of a contrary view would result in creating elements of uncertainty and confusion and in undermining the conclusive character of judgments,
In this case, the Court of Appeals conceded that the "strict application of the doctrine of res judicata" required that Brown II be dismissed. By that, the court presumably meant that the "technical elements" of res judicata had been satisfied, namely, that the decision in Brown I was a final judgment on the merits and involved the same claims and the same parties as Brown II.
In Reed v. Allen, supra, this Court addressed the issue presented here. The case involved a dispute over the rights to property left in a will. A won an interpleader action for rents derived from the property and, while an appeal was pending, brought an ejectment action against the rival claimant B. On
This Court's rigorous application of res judicata in Reed, to the point of leaving one party in possession and the other party entitled to the rents, makes clear that this Court recognizes no general equitable doctrine, such as that suggested by the Court of Appeals, which countenances an exception to the finality of a party's failure to appeal merely because his rights are "closely interwoven" with those of another party. Indeed, this case presents even more compelling reasons to apply the doctrine of res judicata than did Reed. Respondents here seek to be the windfall beneficiaries of an appellate reversal procured by other independent parties, who have no interest in respondents' case, not a reversal in interrelated cases procured, as in Reed, by the same affected party. Moreover, in contrast to Reed, where it was unclear why no appeal was taken, it is apparent that respondents here made a
The Court of Appeals also rested its opinion in part on what it viewed as "simple justice." But we do not see the grave injustice which would be done by the application of accepted principles of res judicata. "Simple justice" is achieved when a complex body of law developed over a period of years is evenhandedly applied. The doctrine of res judicata serves vital public interests beyond any individual judge's ad hoc determination of the equities in a particular case. There is simply "no principle of law or equity which sanctions the rejection by a federal court of the salutary principle of res judicata." Heiser v. Woodruff, 327 U.S. 726, 733 (1946). The Court of Appeals' reliance on "public policy" is similarly misplaced. This Court has long recognized that "[p]ublic policy dictates that there be an end of litigation; that those who have contested an issue shall be bound by the result of the contest, and that matters once tried shall be considered forever settled as between the parties." Baldwin v. Traveling Men's Assn., 283 U.S. 522, 525 (1931). We have stressed that "[the] doctrine of res judicata is not a mere matter of practice or procedure inherited from a more technical time than ours. It is a rule of fundamental and substantial justice, `of public policy and of private peace,' which should be cordially regarded and enforced by the courts . . . ." Hart Steel Co. v. Railroad Supply Co., 244 U.S. 294, 299 (1917). The language used by this Court half a century ago is even more compelling in view of today's crowded dockets:
Respondents make no serious effort to defend the decision of the Court of Appeals. They do not ask that the decision below be affirmed. Instead, they conclude that the "the writ of certiorari should be dismissed as improvidently granted." Brief for Respondents 31. In the alternative, they argue that "the district court's dismissal on grounds of res judicata should be reversed, and the district court directed to grant respondent's motion to remand to the California state court." Ibid. In their view, Brown I cannot be considered res judicata as to their state-law claims, since Brown I raised only federal-law claims and Brown II raised additional state-law claims not decided in Brown I, such as unfair competition, fraud, and restitution.
It is unnecessary for this Court to reach that issue. It is enough for our decision here that Brown I is res judicata as to respondents' federal-law claims. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, concurring in the judgment.
While I agree with the result reached in this case, I write separately to state my views on two points.
First, I, for one, would not close the door upon the possibility that there are cases in which the doctrine of res judicata
JUSTICE BRENNAN, dissenting.
In its eagerness to correct the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Court today disregards statutory restrictions on federal-court jurisdiction, and, in the process, confuses rather than clarifies long-established principles of res judicata. I therefore respectfully dissent.
Respondent Floyd R. Brown
Nonetheless, petitioners removed the suit to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, where respondent Brown filed a motion to remand on the ground that his action raised no federal question within the meaning of 28 U. S. C. § 1441 (b). Respondent's motion was denied by the District Court, which stated that "[f]rom start to finish, plaintiffs have essentially alleged violations by defendants of federal antitrust laws." App. 192. The court reasoned that "[a]rtful pleading" by plaintiffs cannot "convert their essentially federal law claims into state law claims," and held that respondent's complaint was properly removed "because [it] concerned federal questions which could have been originally brought in Federal District Court without satisfying any minimum amount in controversy." Ibid. The court then dismissed the action, holding that, under the doctrine of res judicata, Brown II was barred by the adverse decision in an earlier suit in federal court (Brown I) involving "the same parties, the same alleged offenses, and the same time periods." Ibid.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision not to remand, stating that "[t]he court below correctly held that the claims presented were federal in nature." 611 F.2d 1267, 1268 (CA9 1980) (memorandum on denial of reconsideration). However, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's order of dismissal, and remanded for trial.
The provision authorizing removal of actions from state to federal courts on the basis of a federal question
Removability depends solely upon the nature of the plaintiff's complaint: an action may be removed to federal court only if a "right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the United States [constitutes] an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action." Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 112 (1936). An action arising under state law may not be removed solely because a federal right or immunity is raised as a defense. Tennessee v. Union & Planters' Bank, 152 U.S. 454 (1894).
An important corollary is that "the party who brings a suit is master to decide what law he will rely upon and therefore does determine whether he will bring a `suit arising under' the . . . law[s] of the United States" by the allegations in his complaint. The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co., 228 U.S. 22, 25 (1913); accord, Great Northern R. Co. v. Alexander, 246 U.S. 276, 282 (1918). Where the plaintiff's claim might
This corollary is well grounded in principles of federalism. So long as States retain authority to legislate in subject areas in which Congress has legislated without pre-empting the field, and so long as state courts remain the preferred forum for interpretation and enforcement of state law, plaintiffs must be permitted to proceed in state court under state law. It would do violence to state autonomy were defendants able to remove state claims to federal court merely because the plaintiff could have asserted a federal claim based on the same set of facts underlying his state claim. As this Court stated in Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-109 (1941):
The general rule that a plaintiff basing his claim solely on state law thereby avoids removal applies only where state substantive law has not been pre-empted by federal law.
The federal court must therefore scrutinize the complaint in the removed case to determine whether the action, though ostensibly grounded solely on state law, is actually grounded on a claim in which federal law is the exclusive authority. See Sheeran v. General Electric Co., 593 F.2d 93, 96 (CA9), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 868 (1979); North American Phillips Corp. v. Emery Air Freight Corp., 579 F.2d 229, 233-234 (CA2 1978); New York v. Local 144, Hotel Nursing Home and Allied Health Services Union, 410 F.Supp. 225, 226-229 (SDNY 1976).
The Court today nonetheless sustains removal of this action on the ground that "at least some of the claims had a sufficient federal character to support removal." Ante, at 397, n. 2. I do not understand what the Court means by this. Which of the claims are federal in character? Why are the claims federal in character? In my view, they are all predicated solely on California law.
The Court relies on what it calls a "factual finding" by the District Court,
Even assuming that this Court and the lower federal courts have jurisdiction to decide this case, however, I dissent from the Court's disposition of the res judicata issue. Having reached out to assume jurisdiction, the Court inexplicably recoils from deciding the case. The Court finds it "unnecessary" to reach the question of the res judicata effect of Brown I on respondents' "state-law claims." Ante, at 402 (emphasis in original). "It is enough for our decision here," the Court says, "that Brown I is res judicata as to respondents' federal-law claims." Ibid. But respondents raised only state-law claims; respondents did not raise any federal-law claims.
Like JUSTICE BLACKMUN, I would hold that the dismissal of Brown I is res judicata not only as to every matter that was actually litigated, but also as to every ground or theory of recovery that might also have been presented. See ante, p. 402 (opinion concurring in judgment); 1B J. Moore & T. Currier, Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 0.410 , p. 1163 (1980). An unqualified dismissal on the merits of a substantial federal antitrust claim precludes relitigation of the same claim on a state-law theory. Woods Exploration & Producing Co. v. Aluminum Co. of America, 438 F.2d 1286, 1312-1315 (CA5 1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 1047 (1972); Ford Motor Co. v. Superior Court, 35 Cal.App.3d 676, 680, 110 Cal.Rptr. 59, 61-62 (1973); see Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 61.1, Reporter's Note to Illustration 10, Comment e, pp. 178-179 (Tent. Draft No. 5, Mar. 10, 1978). The Court's failure to acknowledge this basic principle can only create doubts and confusion where none were before, and may encourage litigants to split their causes of action, state from federal, in the hope that they might win a second day in court.
I therefore respectfully dissent, and would vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals with instructions to remand to the District Court with instructions to remand to state court.
Admittedly, some courts have not strictly observed the restrictions on removal jurisdiction. See, e. g., In re Carter, 618 F.2d 1093, 1101 (CA5 1980), cert. denied sub nom. Sheet Metal Workers v. Carter, 450 U.S. 949 (1981). 14 C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3722, pp. 564-566 (1976), reports that "occasionally the removal court will seek to determine whether the real nature of the claim is federal, regardless of plaintiff's characterization." (Footnote omitted.) Perusal of the cited decisions, however, reveals that most of them correctly confine this practice to areas of the law pre-empted by federal substantive law.