472 U.S. 797 (1985), 84-233, Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts

Docket Nº:No. 84-233
Citation:472 U.S. 797, 105 S.Ct. 2965, 86 L.Ed.2d 628, 53 U.S.L.W. 4879
Party Name:Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts
Case Date:June 26, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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472 U.S. 797 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 2965, 86 L.Ed.2d 628, 53 U.S.L.W. 4879

Phillips Petroleum Co.

v.

Shutts

No. 84-233

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1985

Argued February 25, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF KANSAS

Syllabus

During the 1970's, petitioner produced or purchased natural gas from leased land located in 11 States. Respondents, royalty owners possessing rights to leases from which petitioner produced the gas, brought a class action against petitioner in a Kansas state court, seeking to recover interest on royalty payments that had been delayed by petitioner. The trial court certified a class consisting of 33,000 royalty owners. Respondents provided each class member with a notice by first-class mail describing the action and informing each member that he could appear in person or by counsel, that otherwise he would be represented by respondents, and that class members would be included in the class and bound by the judgment unless they "opted out" of the action by returning a "request for exclusion." The final class consisted of some 28,000 members, who reside in all 50 [105 S.Ct. 2967] States, the District of Columbia, and several foreign countries. Notwithstanding that over 99% of the gas leases in question and some 97% of the plaintiff class members had no apparent connection to Kansas except for the lawsuit, the trial court applied Kansas contract and equity law to every claim, and found petitioner liable for interest on the suspended royalties to all class members. The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed over petitioner's contentions that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevented Kansas from adjudicating the claims of all the class members, and that that Clause and the Full Faith and Credit Clause prohibited application of Kansas law to all of the transactions between petitioner and the class members.

Held:

1. Petitioner has standing to assert the claim that Kansas did not have jurisdiction over the class members who were not Kansas residents and had no connection to Kansas. Whether it wins or loses on the merits, petitioner has a distinct and personal interest in seeing the entire plaintiff class bound by res judicata just as petitioner is bound. The only way petitioner can assure itself of this binding effect is to ascertain that the forum court has jurisdiction over every plaintiff whose claim it seeks to adjudicate, sufficient to support a res judicata defense in a later suit by class members. The alleged injury petitioner would incur if the class action judgment against it became final without binding the plaintiff class is sufficient to give petitioner standing on its own right to raise the jurisdiction claim in this Court. Pp. 803-806.

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2. The Kansas trial court properly asserted personal jurisdiction over the absent plaintiff class members and their claims against petitioner. The Due Process Clause requires notice, an opportunity to appear in person or by counsel, an opportunity to "opt out," and adequate representation. It does not require that absent class members affirmatively "opt in" to the class, rather than be deemed members of the class if they did not "opt out." The procedure followed by Kansas, where a fully descriptive notice is sent by first-class mail to each class member, with an explanation of the right to "opt out," satisfies due process. The interests of the absent plaintiff class members are sufficiently protected by the forum State when those plaintiffs are provided with a request for exclusion that can be returned within a reasonable time to the trial court. Pp. 806-814.

3. The Kansas Supreme Court erred in deciding that the application of Kansas law to all claims would be constitutional. Kansas must have a "significant contact or aggregation of contacts" to the claims asserted by each plaintiff class member in order to ensure that the choice of Kansas law was not arbitrary or unfair. Given Kansas' lack of "interest" in claims unrelated to that State, and the substantive conflict between Kansas law and the law of other States, such as Texas, where some of the leased land in question is located, application of Kansas law to every claim in this case was sufficiently arbitrary and unfair as to exceed constitutional limits. Pp. 814-823.

235 Kan.195, 679 P.2d 1159, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which STEVENS, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 823. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner is a Delaware corporation which has its principal place of business in Oklahoma. During the 1970's it produced or purchased natural gas from leased land located in 11 different States, and sold most of the gas in interstate commerce. Respondents are some 28,000 of the royalty owners possessing rights to the leases from which petitioner produced the gas; they reside in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and several foreign countries. [105 S.Ct. 2968] Respondents brought a class action against petitioner in the Kansas state court, seeking to recover interest on royalty payments which had been delayed by petitioner. They recovered judgment in the trial court, and the Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed the judgment over petitioner's contentions that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevented Kansas from adjudicating the claims of all the respondents, and that the Due Process Clause and the Full Faith and Credit Clause of Article IV of the Constitution prohibited the application of Kansas law to all of the transactions between petitioner and respondents. 235 Kan.195, 679 P.2d 1159 (1984). We granted certiorari to consider these claims. 469 U.S. 879 (1984). We reject petitioner's jurisdictional claim, but sustain its claim regarding the choice of law.

Because petitioner sold the gas to its customers in interstate commerce, it was required to secure approval for price increases from what was then the Federal Power Commission, and is now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Under its regulations, the Federal Power Commission permitted petitioner to propose and collect tentative higher gas prices, subject to final approval by the Commission. If the Commission eventually denied petitioner's proposed price increase or reduced the proposed increase, petitioner would

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have to refund to its customers the difference between the approved price and the higher price charged, plus interest at a rate set by statute. See 18 CFR § 154.102 (1984).

Although petitioner received higher gas prices pending review by the Commission, petitioner suspended any increase in royalties paid to the royalty owners because the higher price could be subject to recoupment by petitioner's customers. Petitioner agreed to pay the higher royalty only if the royalty owners would provide petitioner with a bond or indemnity for the increase, plus interest, in case the price increase was not ultimately approved and a refund was due to the customers. Petitioner set the interest rate on the indemnity agreements at the same interest rate the Commission would have required petitioner to refund to its customers. A small percentage of the royalty owners provided this indemnity and received royalties immediately from the interim price increases; these royalty owners are unimportant to this case.

The remaining royalty owners received no royalty on the unapproved portion of the prices until the Federal Power Commission approval of those prices became final. Royalties on the unapproved portion of the gas price were suspended three times by petitioner, corresponding to its three proposed price increases in the mid-1970's. In three written opinions, the Commission approved all of petitioner's tentative price increases, so petitioner paid to its royalty owners the suspended royalties of $3.7 million in 1976, $4.7 million in 1977, and $2.9 million in 1978. Petitioner paid no interest to the royalty owners although it had the use of the suspended royalty money for a number of years.

Respondents Irl Shutts, Robert Anderson, and Betty Anderson filed suit against petitioner in Kansas state court, seeking interest payments on their suspended royalties which petitioner had possessed pending the Commission's approval of the price increases. Shutts is a resident of Kansas, and the Andersons live in Oklahoma. Shutts and the Andersons

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own gas leases in Oklahoma and Texas. Over petitioner's objection the Kansas trial court granted respondents' motion to certify the suit as a class action under Kansas law. Kan.Stat.Ann. § 60-223 et seq. (1983). The class as certified was comprised of 33,000 royalty owners who had royalties suspended by petitioner. The average claim of each royalty owner for interest on the suspended royalties was $100.

After the class was certified respondents provided each class member with notice through first-class mail. The notice described the action and informed each class member that he could appear in person or by counsel; otherwise each member would be represented by Shutts and the [105 S.Ct. 2969] Andersons, the named plaintiffs. The notices also stated that class members would be included in the class and bound by the judgment unless they "opted out" of the lawsuit by executing and returning a "request for exclusion" that was included with the notice. The final class as certified contained 28, 100 members; 3,400 had "opted out" of the class by returning the request for exclusion, and notice could not be...

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