Oliver v. Trunkline Gas Co.

Decision Date12 May 1986
Docket NumberNo. 85-2323,85-2323
Citation789 F.2d 341
PartiesFred OLIVER, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, Cross-Appellants, v. TRUNKLINE GAS COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

John D. White, Betty Taylor Tauber, Houston, Tex., for defendant-appellant, cross-appellee.

Michael Paul Graham, George F. Goolsby, Houston, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellees, cross-appellants.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before WISDOM, RUBIN, and HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judges.



In January 1972, the parties entered into a contract under which the defendant Trunkline was to purchase the plaintiff producers' natural gas at the maximum rate allowed by law. Under the applicable federal law, the maximum prices that may be charged for gas that is sent out of state differ depending on whether the gas was dedicated to interstate commerce before or after January 1, 1973. At the time the contract was formed, all parties apparently believed that the gas was to be dedicated to the interstate market immediately.

In fact, no gas from these wells left Texas until March 1973, when buyer completed a connection between its interstate pipeline and the producers' wells. Until that time, the sellers' gas was piped to a nearby intrastate pipeline owned by Coastal States Gas Company. During this period, Coastal informally agreed with buyer to receive the sellers' gas and to redeliver an equal amount of gas to buyer at a remote interconnection between Coastal's intrastate pipeline and the buyer's interstate pipeline; because of the layout of the pipes, none of the sellers' gas could actually have entered the buyer's interstate line. To characterize this gas as "dedicated to the interstate market" for this period, one would therefore have to conclude that the exchange agreement between Coastal and Trunkline created a "constructive" interstate flow of gas. During the period in question, the buyer paid the sellers the maximum rates allowed by federal law for gas that had been dedicated to interstate commerce before January 1, 1973.

Realizing that they might be entitled to the higher rates applicable to gas dedicated to interstate commerce after January 1, 1973, the sellers began negotiating with the buyer. In 1983, after negotiations broke down, the sellers sued on the contract in state court. The buyer removed to federal court, where the sellers sought, but were denied, a remand based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. After a bench trial, the district court found that the gas had not been dedicated to interstate commerce until March 1973 and awarded the difference between the maximum rate allowed for such gas and the rate actually collected. The award covered a period beginning four years before suit was filed (the period of limitations for contract actions in Texas). Both parties appeal.


This court can reach the merits of the appeal only if we determine that the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction. Mansfield C. & L.M.R. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 382, 4 S.Ct. 510, 511, 28 L.Ed. 462 (1884). Although the sellers argued to the district court that jurisdiction was lacking both parties now contend that jurisdiction was properly exercised, under 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331 and 1441, because the action was one "arising under" the federal statutes regulating the sale of natural gas. We disagree.

This is a suit on a contract. That contract included a provision according to which the buyer would pay the maximum rate allowed by law. Because maximum rates are fixed by federal law, construction of the contract requires answering a federal-law question that will necessarily dominate the merits portion of this dispute. But the presence of a federal issue, however much it may dominate the case, is insufficient to confer federal-question jurisdiction. On the contrary, such jurisdiction is conferred by statute only when the plaintiff is asserting a right created by federal law. See, e.g., Superior Oil Co. v. Pioneer Corp., 706 F.2d 603, 605-06 (5th Cir.1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1041, 104 S.Ct. 706, 79 L.Ed.2d 171 (1984); Cox v. International Union of Operating Engineers, 672 F.2d 421 (5th Cir.1982). 1 As we pointed out in Superior Oil, the federal statutes imposing "price ceilings do not give the gas producer a federal right to receive a particular price for its gas." 706 F.2d at 606 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original)...

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24 cases
  • Alliance for Clean Coal v. Bayh
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • March 27, 1995
    ...federal court lacks jurisdiction until it has been demonstrated that jurisdiction over the subject matter exists. See Oliver v. Trunkline Gas Co., 789 F.2d 341 (5th Cir.), reh'g denied, 796 F.2d 86 (1986); City of Valparaiso v. Iron Workers Local Union No. 395, 669 F.Supp. 912 (N.D.Ind. 198......
  • Marathon Oil Co. v. Ruhrgas
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • June 22, 1998
    ...jurisdiction, it violates the fundamental constitutional precept of limited federal power. See Oliver v. Trunkline Gas Co., 789 F.2d 341, 343 (5th Cir.1986) (Higginbotham, J.). "Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction by origin and design, implementing a basic principle of our sys......
  • Parish of Plaquemines v. Total Petrochemical & Refining USA, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • December 1, 2014
    ...is that a federal court is without jurisdiction unless “the contrary appears affirmatively from the record.” Oliver v. Trunkline Gas Co., 789 F.2d 341, 343 (5th Cir.1986) (quoting King Bridge Co. v. Otoe County, 120 U.S. 225, 7 S.Ct. 552, 30 L.Ed. 623 (1887) ). The statutory and constitutio......
  • Herman v. Hospital Staffing Services, Inc., 99-2165 DV.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Tennessee
    • July 27, 1999
    ...Motion to Dismiss, at 4). Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time during the proceeding. Oliver v. Trunkline Gas Co., 789 F.2d 341, 343 (5th Cir.1986). A federal court always has the power to determine its own subject matter jurisdiction. United States v. United Mine W......
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1 books & journal articles
  • The Colorado Antitrust Act of 1992
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 04-1993, April 1993
    • Invalid date
    ...§ 44 (1988). Thus, a purely not-for-profit enterprise may not be prosecuted under the FTC Act. See e.g., Oliver v. Trunkline Gas Co., 789 F.2d 341 (5th Cir. 1986). Nonprofit associations are not exempt from federal antitrust scrutiny under the Sherman Act or the Clayton Act. See FTC v. Univ......

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