Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Insurance Company of America

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation128 L.Ed.2d 391,114 S.Ct. 1673,511 U.S. 375
Docket Number93-263
Decision Date16 May 1994
Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

After respondent Guardian Life Insurance Company*n1 terminated petitioner's general agency agreement, petitioner brought suit in California Superior Court alleging various state-law claims. Respondent removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California on the basis of diversity jurisdiction and filed state-law counterclaims. After closing arguments but before the District Judge instructed the jury, the parties arrived at an oral agreement settling all claims and counterclaims, the substance of which they recited, on the record, before the District Judge in chambers. In April 1992, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(ii), the parties executed a Stipulation and Order of Dismissal With Prejudice, dismissing the complaint and cross-complaint. On April 13, the District Judge signed the Stipulation and Order under the notation "It is so ordered." The Stipulation and Order did not reserve jurisdiction in the District Court to enforce the settlement agreement; indeed, it did not so much as refer to the settlement agreement.

Thereafter the parties disagreed on petitioner's obligation to return certain files to respondent under the settlement agreement. On May 21 respondent moved in the District Court to enforce the agreement, which petitioner opposed on the ground, inter alia, that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The District Court entered an enforcement order, asserting an "inherent power" to do so. Order Enforcing Settlement, (ED Cal., Aug. 19, 1992), App. 180. Petitioner appealed, relying solely on his jurisdictional objection. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, quoting its opinion in Wilkinson v. FBI, 922 F.2d 555, 557 (CA9 1991), to the effect that after dismissal of an action pursuant to a settlement agreement, a "'district court has jurisdiction to decide the [enforcement] motion[] under its inherent supervisory power.'" App. to Pet. for Cert. A-5 (Apr. 27, 1993) (unpublished), judgt. order reported at 993 F.2d 883 (1993) (final brackets in original). We granted certiorari, 510 U.S. (1993).

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, see Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. , (1992) (slip op., at 4-5); Bender v. Williamsport Area School Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986), which is not to be expanded by judicial decree, American Fire & Casualty Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6 (1951). It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, Turner v. President of Bank of North-America, 4 Dall. 8, 11 (1799), and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction, McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-183 (1936).

The dismissal in this case issued pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(ii), which provides for dismissal "by filing a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared in the action," and causes that dismissal to be with prejudice if (as here) the stipulation so specifies. Neither the Rule nor any provision of law provides for jurisdiction of the court over disputes arising out of an agreement that produces the stipulation. It must be emphasized that what respondent seeks in this case is enforcement of the settlement agreement, and not merely reopening of the dismissed suit by reason of breach of the agreement that was the basis for dismissal. Some Courts of Appeals have held that the latter can be obtained under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6).*n2 See, e.g., Keeling v. Sheet Metal Workers Int'l Assn., 937 F.2d 408, 410 (CA9 1991); Fairfax Countywide Citizens Assn. v. Fairfax County, 571 F.2d 1299, 1302-1303 (CA4 1978). But see Sawka v. Healtheast, Inc., 989 F.2d 138, 140-141 (CA3 1993) (breach of settlement agreement insufficient reason to set dismissal aside on Rule 60(b)(6) grounds); Harman v. Pauley, 678 F.2d 479, 480-481 (CA4 1982) (Rule 60(b)(6) does not require vacating dismissal order whenever a settlement agreement has been breached). Enforcement of the settlement agreement, however, whether through award of damages or decree of specific performance, is more than just a continuation or renewal of the dismissed suit, and hence requires its own basis for jurisdiction.

Respondent relies upon the doctrine of ancillary jurisdiction, which recognizes federal courts' jurisdiction over some matters (otherwise beyond their competence) that are incidental to other matters properly before them. Respondent appeals to our statement (quoting a then-current treatise on equity) in Julian v. Central Trust Co., 193 U.S. 93 (1904): "A bill filed to continue a former litigation in the same court . . . to obtain and secure the fruits, benefits and advantages of the proceedings and judgment in a former suit in the same court by the same or additional parties . . . or to obtain any equitable relief in regard to, or connected with, or growing out of, any judgment or proceeding at law rendered in the same court, . . . is an ancillary suit." Id., at 113-114 (citing 1 C Bates, Federal Equity Procedure § 97 (1901)).

The doctrine of ancillary jurisdiction can hardly be criticized for being overly rigid or precise, but we think it does not stretch so far as that statement suggests. The expansive language of Julian can be countered by (equally inaccurate) dicta in later cases that provide an excessively limited description of the doctrine. See, e.g., Fulton Nat. Bank of Atlanta v. Hozier, 267 U.S. 276, 280 (1925) ("No controversy can be regarded as dependent or ancillary unless it has direct relation to property or assets actually or constructively drawn into the court's possession or control by the principal suit"). The holding of Julian was not remotely as permissive as its language: jurisdiction was based upon the fact that the court, in a prior decree of foreclosure, had expressly reserved jurisdiction to adjudicate claims against the judicially conveyed property, and to retake and resell the property if claims it found valid were not paid. 193 U.S., at 109-112.

It is to the holdings of our cases, rather than their dicta, that we must attend, and we find none of them that has, for purposes of asserting otherwise nonexistent federal jurisdiction, relied upon a relationship so tenuous as the breach of an agreement that produced the dismissal of an earlier federal suit. Generally speaking, we have asserted ancillary jurisdiction (in the very broad sense in which that term is sometimes used) for two separate, though sometimes related, purposes: (...

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