Justice White, delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the issue whether the federal courts have jurisdiction or should abstain in a case involving alleged torts committed by the former husband of petitioner and his female companion against petitioner's children, when the sole basis for federal jurisdiction is the diversity-ofcitizenship provision of 28 U. S. C. § 1332.
Petitioner Carol Ankenbrandt, a citizen of Missouri, brought this lawsuit on September 26, 1989, on behalf of her daughters L. R. and S. R. against respondents Jon A. Richards and Debra Kesler, citizens of Louisiana, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Alleging federal jurisdiction based on the diversity-ofcitizenship provision of § 1332, Ankenbrandt's complaint sought monetary damages for alleged sexual and physical abuse of the children committed by Richards and Kesler. Richards is the divorced father of the children and Kesler his female companion.
We granted certiorari limited to the following questions: "(1) Is there a domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction? (2) If so, does it permit a district court to abstain from exercising diversity jurisdiction over a tort action for damages?"
The domestic relations exception upon which the courts below relied to decline jurisdiction has been invoked often by the lower federal courts. The seeming authority for doing so originally stemmed from the announcement in Barber v. Barber, 21 How. 582 (1859), that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over suits for divorce or the allowance of alimony. In that case, the Court heard a suit in equity brought by a wife (by her next friend) in Federal District Court pursuant to diversity jurisdiction against her former husband. She sought to enforce a decree from a New York state court, which had granted a divorce and awarded her alimony. The former husband thereupon moved to Wisconsin to place himself beyond the New York courts' jurisdiction so that the divorce decree there could not be enforced against him; he then sued for divorce in a Wisconsin court, representing to that court that his wife had abandoned him and failing to disclose the existence of the New York decree. In a suit brought by the former wife in Wisconsin Federal District Court, the former husband alleged that the court lacked jurisdiction. The court accepted jurisdiction and gave judgment for the divorced wife.
On appeal, it was argued that the District Court lacked jurisdiction on two grounds: first, that there was no diversity of citizenship because although divorced, the wife's citizenship necessarily remained that of her former husband; and second, that the whole subject of divorce and alimony, including a suit to enforce an alimony decree, was exclusively ecclesiastical at the time of the adoption of the Constitution and that the Constitution therefore placed the whole subject of divorce and alimony beyond the jurisdiction of the United States courts. Over the dissent of three Justices, the Court rejected both arguments. After an exhaustive survey of
As a general matter, the dissenters agreed with these statements, but took issue with the Court's holding that the instant action to enforce an alimony decree was within the equity jurisdiction of the federal courts.
The statements disclaiming jurisdiction over divorce and alimony decree suits, though technically dicta, formed the basis for excluding "domestic relations" cases from the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts, a jurisdictional limitation those courts have recognized ever since. The Barber Court, however, cited no authority and did not discuss the foundation for its announcement. Since that time, the Court has dealt only occasionally with the domestic relations limitation on federal-court jurisdiction, and it has never addressed the basis for such a limitation. Because we are unwilling to cast aside an understood rule that has been recognized for nearly
Counsel argued in Barber that the Constitution prohibited federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over domestic relations cases. Brief for Appellant in Barber v. Barber, D. T. 1858, No. 44, pp. 4-5. An examination of Article III, Barber itself, and our cases since Barber makes clear that the Constitution does not exclude domestic relations cases from the jurisdiction otherwise granted by statute to the federal courts.
Article III, § 2, of the Constitution provides in pertinent part:
This section delineates the absolute limits on the federal courts' jurisdiction. But in articulating three different terms to define jurisdiction—"Cases, in Law and Equity," "Cases," and "Controversies"—this provision contains no limitation on subjects of a domestic relations nature. Nor did Barber purport to ground the domestic relations exception in these constitutional limits on federal jurisdiction. The Court's discussion of federal judicial power to hear suits
Subsequent decisions confirm that Barber was not relying on constitutional limits in justifying the exception. In one such case, for instance, the Court stated the "long established rule" that federal courts lack jurisdiction over certain domestic relations matters as having been based on the assumptions that "husband and wife cannot usually be citizens of different States, so long as the marriage relation continues (a rule which has been somewhat relaxed in recent cases), and for the further reason that a suit for divorce in itself involves no pecuniary value." De la Rama v. De la Rama, 201 U.S. 303, 307 (1906). Since Article III contains no monetary limit on suits brought pursuant to federal diversity jurisdiction, De la Rama `s articulation of the "rule" in terms of the statutory requirements for diversity jurisdiction further supports the view that the exception is not grounded in the Constitution.
Moreover, even while citing with approval the Barber language purporting to limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts over domestic relations matters, the Court has heard appeals from territorial courts involving divorce, see, e. g., De la Rama, supra; Simms v. Simms, 175 U.S. 162 (1899), and has upheld the exercise of original jurisdiction by federal courts in the District of Columbia to decide divorce actions, see, e. g., Glidden Co. v. Zdanok , 370 U.S. 530, 581, n. 54 (1962). Thus, even were the statements in De la Rama referring to the statutory prerequisites of diversity jurisdiction alone not persuasive testament to the statutory origins of the rule, by hearing appeals from legislative, or Article I, courts, this Court implicitly has made clear its understanding
That Article III, § 2, does not mandate the exclusion of domestic relations cases from federal-court jurisdiction, however, does not mean that such courts necessarily must retain and exercise jurisdiction over such cases. Other constitutional provisions explain why this is so. Article I, § 8,cl. 9, for example, authorizes Congress "[t]o constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court" and Article III, § 1, states 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 Court's cases state the rule that "if inferior federal courts were created, [Congress was not] required to invest them with all the jurisdiction it was authorized to bestow under Art. III." Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389, 401 (1973).
The Judiciary Act of 1789 provided that "the circuit courts shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several States, of all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity, where the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of costs, the sum or value of five hundred dollars, and. . . an alien is a party, or the suit is between a citizen of the State where the suit is brought, and a citizen of another State. " Act of Sept. 24, 1789, § 11, 1 Stat. 78 (emphasis added). The defining phrase, "all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity," remained a key element of statutory provisions demarcating the terms of diversity jurisdiction until 1948, when Congress amended the diversity jurisdiction provision to eliminate this phrase and replace in its stead the term "all civil actions." 1948 Judicial Code and Judiciary Act, 62 Stat. 930, 28 U. S. C. § 1332.
The Barber majority itself did not expressly refer to the diversity statute's use of the limitation on "suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity." The dissenters in Barber, however, implicitly made such a reference, for they suggested that the federal courts had no power over certain
We have no occasion here to join the historical debate over whether the English court of chancery had jurisdiction to handle certain domestic relations matters, though we note that commentators have found some support for the Barber majority's interpretation.
When Congress amended the diversity statute in 1948 to replace the law/equity distinction with the phrase "all civil actions," we presume Congress did so with full cognizance of the Court's nearly century-long interpretation of the prior statutes, which had construed the statutory diversity jurisdiction to contain an exception for certain domestic relations matters. With respect to the 1948 amendment, the Court has previously stated that "no changes of law or policy are to be presumed from changes of language in the revision unless an intent to make such changes is clearly expressed." Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 227 (1957); see also Finley v. United States, 490 U.S. 545, 554 (1989). With respect to such a longstanding and well-known construction of the diversity statute, and where Congress made substantive changes to the statute in other
In the more than 100 years since this Court laid the seeds for the development of the domestic relations exception, the lower federal courts have applied it in a variety of circumstances. See, e. g., cases cited in n. 1, supra. Many of these applications go well beyond the circumscribed situations posed by Barber and its progeny. Barber itself disclaimed federal jurisdiction over a narrow range of domestic relations issues involving the granting of a divorce and a decree of alimony, see 21 How., at 584, and stated the limits on federalcourt power to intervene prior to the rendering of such orders:
The Barber Court thus did not intend to strip the federal courts of authority to hear cases arising from the domestic
Subsequently, this Court expanded the domestic relations exception to include decrees in child custody cases. In a child custody case brought pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus, for instance, the Court held void a writ issued by a Federal District Court to restore a child to the custody of the father. "As to the right to the control and possession of this child, as it is contested by its father and its grandfather, it is one in regard to which neither the Congress of the United States nor any authority of the United States has any special jurisdiction." In re Burrus, 136 U. S., at 594.
Not only is our conclusion rooted in respect for this longheld understanding, it is also supported by sound policy considerations. Issuance of decrees of this type not infrequently involves retention of jurisdiction by the court and
By concluding, as we do, that the domestic relations exception encompasses only cases involving the issuance of a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree, we necessarily find that the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the District Court's invocation of this exception. This lawsuit in no way seeks such a decree; rather, it alleges that respondents Richards and Kesler committed torts against L. R. and S. R., Ankenbrandt's children by Richards. Federal subjectmatter jurisdiction pursuant to § 1332 thus is proper in this case.
The Court of Appeals, as did the District Court, stated abstention as an alternative ground for its holding. The District Court quoted another federal court to the effect that "`[a]bstention, that doctrine designed to promote federalstate comity, is required when to render a decision would
The courts below cited Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), to support their holdings to abstain in this case. In so doing, the courts clearly erred. Younger itself held that, absent unusual circumstances, a federal court could not interfere with a pending state criminal prosecution. Id., at 54. Though we have extended Younger abstention to the civil context, see, e. g., Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Assn., 457 U.S. 423 (1982); Ohio Civil Rights Comm'n v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc., 477 U.S. 619 (1986); Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1 (1987), we have never applied the notions of comity so critical to Younger `s "Our Federalism" when no state proceeding was pending nor any assertion of important state interests made. In this case, there is no allegation by respondents of any pending state proceedings, and Ankenbrandt contends that such proceedings ended prior to her filing this lawsuit. Absent any pending proceeding in state tribunals, therefore, application by the lower courts of Younger abstention was clearly erroneous.
It is not inconceivable, however, that in certain circumstances, the abstention principles developed in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943), might be relevant in a case involving elements of the domestic relationship even when the parties do not seek divorce, alimony, or child custody. This would be so when a case presents "difficult questions of state law bearing on policy problems of substantial public import whose importance transcends the result in the case
We thus conclude that the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the District Court's rulings to decline jurisdiction based on the domestic relations exception to diversity jurisdiction and to abstain under the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, supra. The exception has no place in a suit such as this one, in which a former spouse sues another on behalf of children alleged to have been abused. Because the allegations in this complaint do not request the District Court to issue a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree, we hold that the
It is so ordered.
Justice Blackmun, concurring in the judgment.
I agree with the Court that the District Court had jurisdiction over petitioner's claims in tort. Moreover, I agree that the federal courts should not entertain claims for divorce, alimony, and child custody. I am unable to agree, however, that the diversity statute contains any "exception" for domestic relations matters. The Court goes to remarkable lengths to craft an exception that is simply not in the statute and is not supported by the case law. In my view, the longstanding, unbroken practice of the federal courts in refusing to hear domestic relations cases is precedent at most for continued discretionary abstention rather than mandatory limits on federal jurisdiction. For these reasons I concur only in the Court's judgment.
The Court holds that the diversity statute contains an "exception" for cases seeking the issuance of a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree. Ante, at 701-704. Yet no such exception appears in the statute. The diversity statute is not ambiguous at all. It extends the jurisdiction of the district courts to "all civil actions" between diverse parties involving the requisite amount in controversy. 28 U. S. C. § 1332 (emphasis added).
This Court has recognized that in the absence of a "clearly expressed" intention to the contrary, the language of the statute itself is ordinarily "conclusive." See, e. g., Consumer Product Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102,
I have great difficulty with the Court's approach. Starting at the most obvious point, I do not see how a language change that, if anything, expands the jurisdictional scope of the statute can be said to constitute evidence of approval of a prior narrow construction.
This leads to my primary concern: the Court's conclusion that Congress understood Barber as an interpretation of the diversity statute. Barber did not express any intent to construe the diversity statute—clearly, Barber "cited no authority and did not discuss the foundation for its announcement" disclaiming jurisdiction over divorce and alimony matters. Ante, at 694. As the Court puts it, it may only be "inferred" that the basis for declining jurisdiction was the diversity statute. Ante, at 699. It is inferred not from anything in the Barber majority opinion. Rather, it is inferred from the comments of a dissenting Justice and the absence of rebuttal by the Barber majority. Ante, at 699.
In any event, at least three subsequent decisions of this Court seriously undermine any inference that Barber `s recognition of a domestic relations "exception" traces to a "common law or equity" limitation of the diversity statute. In Simms v. Simms, 175 U.S. 162 (1899), the Court heard an appeal by a husband from the Supreme Court of the Territory of Arizona affirming the territorial District Court's dismissal of his bill for divorce and its award to his wife of alimony and counsel fees pendente lite. The wife sought dismissal of the appeal to this Court because the suit involved domestic relations. In contrast to Barber, the Court
The second decision undermining the Court's interpretation of Barber is De la Rama v. De la Rama, 201 U.S. 303 (1906), in which the Court took jurisdiction over an appeal
The third decision is Ohio ex rel. Popovici v. Agler, 280 U.S. 379 (1930). In Popovici, a Roumanian vice consul was sued by his wife in an Ohio state court for a divorce and alimony. He defended by claiming that the Ohio state court had no jurisdiction to grant the divorce, because federal statutes granted exclusive jurisdiction to the federal courts of "`all suits and proceedings against . . . consuls or viceconsuls' " and "`all suits against consuls and vice-consuls.' "
I think it implausible to believe that, especially after Popovici, Congress could be said to have accepted this Court's decision in Barber as simply a construction of the diversity statute.
Even assuming the Court today correctly interprets Barber, its extension of any domestic relations "exception" to the diversity statute for child custody matters is not warranted by any known principles of statutory construction. The Court relies on In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586 (1890), in which the Court denied the "jurisdiction" of a Federal District Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus in favor of a father to recover the care and custody of his child from the child's grandfather. That case did not involve the diversity statute, but rather the habeas corpus statute, and the Court expressly declined to address the diversity statute.
To reject the Court's construction of the diversity statute is not, however, necessarily to reject the federal courts' longstanding
The Court is correct that abstention "rarely should be invoked." Ante, at 705. But rarer still—and by far the greater affront to Congress—should be the occasions when this Court invents statutory exceptions that are simply not there. It is one thing for this Court to defer to more than a century of practice unquestioned by Congress. It is quite
Whether or not the domestic relations "exception" is properly grounded in principles of abstention or principles of jurisdiction, I do not believe this case falls within the exception. This case only peripherally involves the subject of "domestic relations." "Domestic relations" actions are loosely classifiable into four categories. The first, or "core," category involves declarations of status, e. g., marriage, annulment, divorce, custody, and paternity. The second, or "semicore," category involves declarations of rights or obligations arising from status (or former status), e. g., alimony, child support, and division of property. The third category consists of secondary suits to enforce declarations of status, rights, or obligations. The final, catchall category covers the suits not directly involving status or obligations arising from status but that nonetheless generally relate to domestic relations matters, e. g., tort suits between family or former family members for sexual abuse, battering, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. None of this Court's prior cases that consider the domestic relations "exception" involves the type of periphery domestic relations claim at issue here.
Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Thomas joins, concurring in the judgment.
This should be an exceedingly easy case.
As I agree that this case does not come within any domestic relations exception that might exist, I concur in the judgment.
Though he acknowledges that our earlier cases invoking the domestic relations exceptions speak in jurisdictional terms, Justice Blackmun nevertheless would reinterpret them to support a special abstention doctrine for such cases. See post, at 713-716 (opinion concurring in judgment). Yet in briefly sketching his vision of how such a doctrine might operate, Justice Blackmun offers no authoritative support for where such an abstention doctrine might be found, no principled reason why we should retroactively concoct an abstention doctrine out of whole cloth to account for federal court practice in existence for 82 years prior to the announcement of the first abstention doctrine in Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941), and no persuasive reason why articulation of such an abstention doctrine offers a sounder way of achieving the same result than our construction of the statute.
"[T]he appellate jurisdiction of this court to review and reverse or affirm the final judgments and decrees of the Supreme Court of a Territory includes those cases, and those cases only, at law or in equity, in which `the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, shall exceed the sum of five thousand dollars.' " 175 U. S., at 167.
See also id., at 166 (citing the Act of Mar. 3, 1885, ch. 355, 23 Stat. 443, limiting appellate jurisdiction from the territorial courts to "any suit at law or in equity").
Like the diversity statute, the federal-question grant of jurisdiction in Article III of the Constitution limits the judicial power in federal-question cases to "Cases, in Law and Equity." Art. III, § 2. Assuming this limitation applies with equal force in the constitutional context as the Court finds today that it does in the statutory context, the Court's decision today casts grave doubts upon Congress' ability to confer federal-question jurisdiction (as under 28 U. S. C. § 1331) on the federal courts in any matters involving divorces, alimony, and child custody.