434 U.S. 59 (1977), 76-1057, Key v. Doyle

Docket Nº:No. 76-1057
Citation:434 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238
Party Name:Key v. Doyle
Case Date:November 14, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 59

434 U.S. 59 (1977)

98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238

Key

v.

Doyle

No. 76-1057

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 14, 1977

Argued October 5, 1977

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

Syllabus

A law applicable only in the District of Columbia is not a "statute of the United States" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1), which provides for this Court's appellate review of final judgments rendered by a State's highest court in which a decision could be had where the validity of a statute of the United States is at issue and the decision is against its validity. Consequently, a decision by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals holding unconstitutional a provision of the District of Columbia Code is not reviewable by direct appeal to this Court, but only by writ of certiorari pursuant to § 1257(3). Pp. 61-68.

Appeal dismissed. Reported below: 365 A.2d 621.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 68.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Sallye Lipscomb French died 20 days after executing a will leaving most of her estate to certain churches in the District of Columbia. Section 18-302 of the D.C.Code (1973) voids

Page 60

religious devises and bequests made within 30 days of death.1 Prevented by this statutory provision from carrying out the terms of the will, appellee Doyle, as executor, sought instructions in the Probate Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Both that court and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held the statute unconstitutional.2 The decedent's heirs and next of kin brought an appeal to this

Page 61

Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1), which provides for review by appeal in cases "where is drawn in question the validity of a . . . statute of the United States and the decision is against its validity."3 We postponed consideration of the question of our appellate jurisdiction to the hearing of the case on the merits. 430 U.S. 929. Because we conclude that a law applicable only in the District of Columbia is not a "statute of the United States" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1), we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Before 1970 the judgments of the trial courts of the District of Columbia were appealable to the United States Court of [98 S.Ct. 282] Appeals.4 Ultimate review in this Court was available under 28 U.S.C. § 1254, which was applicable to all of the 11

Page 62

Federal Courts of Appeals.5 A right of appeal to this Court from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit thus existed only where that court had

Page 63

invalidated a state statute. All other cases, including those challenging the validity of local statutes of the District of Columbia, were reviewable here by writ of certiorari.6

Page 64

[98 S.Ct. 283] The District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 19707 substantially modified the structure and jurisdiction of the courts in the District, but there is no indication that Congress intended these changes to enlarge the right of appeal to this Court from the courts of that system. The aim of the Act was to establish "a Federal-State court system in the District of Columbia analogous to court systems in the several States." H.R.Rep. No. 91-907, p. 35 (1970). The Act provided that cases would no longer have to proceed from the local courts to the United States Court of Appeals, and then to this Court under § 1254. Instead, the judgments of the newly created local Court of Appeals were made directly reviewable here, like the judgments of state courts.8 Accordingly, § 1257, the jurisdictional provision concerning Supreme Court review of state court decisions, was amended to include the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as "the highest court of a State."9

In Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389 (1973), we recognized that the analogy between the local courts of the District and the courts of the States was not perfect. Although Congress had expressly classified the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as a state court, it had not indicated that D.C.Code provisions should be treated as state statutes. Thus, where the District of Columbia courts had upheld a

Page 65

local statute against constitutional attack, we concluded that an appeal as of right would not lie to this Court under § 1257(2), which applies to state court decisions rejecting constitutional challenges to state statutes. Underlying our decision was the long-established principle that counsels a narrow construction of jurisdictional provisions authorizing appeals as of right to this Court, in the absence of clear congressional intent to enlarge the Court's mandatory jurisdiction. 411 U.S. at 396.

The legislative history of the 1970 Act is as unenlightening about the applicability of § 1257(1) as it is about that of § 1257(2). In the Senate Committee hearings on an early version of the Act, there was one brief reference to § 1257:

The Chairman [Senator Tydings]. . . . On page 3, section 11-102 there is a provision relating to appeal:

The highest court of the District of Columbia is the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. For purposes of appeal to the Supreme Court and other purposes of law, it shall be deemed the highest court of the state.

[Emphasis added.]

Now, my question to you is a question raised about that language. Is that sufficiently broad to allow the Supreme Court review by certiorari?

Mr. Kleindienst. We believe so.

The Chairman. As well as appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 12750 [sic]. Because the language, you know, leaves out certiorari. Certiorari is an important vehicle to reach the Supreme Court.

[98 S.Ct. 284]

Mr. Kleindienst. We believe the language covers certiorari but it would be easy to clarify.10

Page 66

Although Senator Tydings seems to have assumed that both the appeal and certiorari provisions of § 1257 would apply to the judgments of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, it is not clear whether he thought the appeal provision of § 1257(1) or that of § 1257(2) would govern. And if he had in mind § 1257(1), he made no reference to possible distinctions between federal statutes of solely local concern and those of broader scope. Nowhere in the legislative history do we find further discussion of this point.

The omission is understandable. The question had not arisen before the 1970 reorganization because § 1257 then applied only to state courts, which seldom if ever confronted federal statutes of wholly local application. Although the courts of the District were accustomed to seeing such federal statutes, the jurisdictional provision that applied to them did not mention "statutes of the United States." Rather, § 1254 divides cases from the courts of appeals into two categories -- those invalidating state statutes and all others.

Although the precise question at issue in this case thus seems to have escaped the attention of Congress, it was clear that a general right of appeal from the District of Columbia courts to this Court on questions concerning the validity of local law did not exist at the time of the 1970 reorganization.11 In the absence of an express provision so ordaining, it cannot be assumed that Congress intended to enlarge this Court's mandatory appellate jurisdiction by simply shifting review of District of Columbia court judgments from § 1254 to § 1257.12

Page 67

Indeed, the purposes of the 1970 Act strongly imply the contrary. As we noted in Palmore, Congress intended

to establish an entirely new court system with functions essentially similar to those of the local courts found in the 50 States of the Union with responsibility for trying and deciding those distinctively local controversies that arise under local law, including local criminal laws having little, if any, impact beyond [98 S.Ct. 285] the local jurisdiction.

411 U.S. at 409.

This Court's mandatory appellate jurisdiction over state court judgments under § 1257 is reserved for cases threatening the supremacy of federal law. When state courts invalidate state statutes on federal grounds, uniformity of national law is not threatened, and there is no automatic right of appeal to

Page 68

this Court. From the analogy of the local D.C. courts to state courts drawn by Congress in the 1970 Act, it follows that no right of appeal should lie to this Court when a local court of the District invalidates a law of exclusively local application.13 From such judgments and from similar state court judgments, there is no appeal to this Court, but only review by writ of certiorari according to the terms of § 1257(3).14

This construction of § 1257(1) neither enlarges nor reduces this Court's mandatory appellate jurisdiction as a result of the 1970 Act. It gives litigants in the courts of the District the same right of review in this Court as is enjoyed by litigants in the courts of the States.

For the reasons expressed in this opinion, the appeal is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.15

It is so ordered.

WHITE, J., dissenting

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and MR. JUSTICE POWELL join, dissenting.

In Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389 (1973), this Court held that provisions of the District of Columbia Code enacted by the United States Congress were not "state laws" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), and that a decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals upholding such provisions was reviewable in this Court only on certiorari. Today, this Court holds that an Act of Congress relating exclusively to the

Page 69

District of Columbia is also not a "statute of the United States" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1). Thus, even where the D.C. Court of Appeals...

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32 practice notes
  • 563 So.2d 64 (Fla. 1990), 73639, Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children v. Zrillic
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court of Florida
    • 31 Mayo 1990
    ...an equal position with religious persons to influence a testator." Estate of French, 365 A.2d 621, 624 (D.C.1976), appeal dismissed, 434 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977). The statute does not protect against overreaching by unscrupulous lawyers, doctors, nurses, housekeeper......
  • 641 F.Supp. 767 (D.N.J. 1986), Civ. 86-562, Randolph v. Lipscher
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit District of New Jersey
    • 25 Agosto 1986
    ...before us today, it is the equivalent of a state supreme court. See Feldman, supra, 460 U.S. at 463-64, 103 S.Ct. at 1305; Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 64, 98 S.Ct. 280, 283, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 [6] The Court left open the possibility that a party could, under federal law, avoid the preclusive eff......
  • 729 F.2d 1469 (D.C. Cir. 1984), 82-1920, Thomas v. Barry
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • 2 Marzo 1984
    ...sphere of the District of Columbia to various federal employees and to the actual structure of the Department of Labor. In Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977), the Supreme Court equated exclusively local provisions of the D.C.Code to laws "enacted by state an......
  • 964 F.2d 1186 (D.C. Cir. 1992), 90-3007, U.S. v. Mills
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • 29 Mayo 1992
    ..."the analogy of the local D.C. courts to state courts drawn by Congress in the 1970 [Court Reform] Act". See Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 68, 98 S.Ct. 280, 285, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977). 8 And we have interpreted the general federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as if D.C. w......
  • Free signup to view additional results
31 cases
  • 563 So.2d 64 (Fla. 1990), 73639, Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children v. Zrillic
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court of Florida
    • 31 Mayo 1990
    ...an equal position with religious persons to influence a testator." Estate of French, 365 A.2d 621, 624 (D.C.1976), appeal dismissed, 434 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977). The statute does not protect against overreaching by unscrupulous lawyers, doctors, nurses, housekeeper......
  • 641 F.Supp. 767 (D.N.J. 1986), Civ. 86-562, Randolph v. Lipscher
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit District of New Jersey
    • 25 Agosto 1986
    ...before us today, it is the equivalent of a state supreme court. See Feldman, supra, 460 U.S. at 463-64, 103 S.Ct. at 1305; Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 64, 98 S.Ct. 280, 283, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 [6] The Court left open the possibility that a party could, under federal law, avoid the preclusive eff......
  • 729 F.2d 1469 (D.C. Cir. 1984), 82-1920, Thomas v. Barry
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • 2 Marzo 1984
    ...sphere of the District of Columbia to various federal employees and to the actual structure of the Department of Labor. In Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977), the Supreme Court equated exclusively local provisions of the D.C.Code to laws "enacted by state an......
  • 964 F.2d 1186 (D.C. Cir. 1992), 90-3007, U.S. v. Mills
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • 29 Mayo 1992
    ..."the analogy of the local D.C. courts to state courts drawn by Congress in the 1970 [Court Reform] Act". See Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 68, 98 S.Ct. 280, 285, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977). 8 And we have interpreted the general federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as if D.C. w......
  • Free signup to view additional results
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