El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 986

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSouter
Citation119 S.Ct. 1430,526 U.S. 473,143 L.Ed.2d 635
Parties136 F.3d 610, vacated and remanded. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES6 EL PASO NATURAL GAS COMPANY, et al., PETITIONERS v. LAURA NEZTSOSIE et al. ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT [
Docket Number986
Decision Date03 May 1999

526 U.S. 473
119 S.Ct. 1430
143 L.Ed.2d 625

136 F.3d 610, vacated and remanded.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

No. 98 6

EL PASO NATURAL GAS COMPANY, et al., PETITIONERS
v.
LAURA NEZTSOSIE et al.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

May 3, 1999

Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue is whether the judicially created doctrine of tribal court exhaustion, requiring a district court to stay its hand while a tribal court determines its own jurisdiction, should apply in this case, which if brought in a state court would be subject to removal. We think the exhaustion doctrine should not extend so far.

I

With the object of "encourag[ing] the private sector to become involved in the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes," Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Environmental Study Group, Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 63 (1978), Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 68 Stat. 919, a broad scheme of federal regulation and licensing. Because it "soon became apparent that profits from the private exploitation of atomic energy were uncertain and the accompanying risks substantial," Duke Power, supra, at 63, in 1957 Congress amended the AEA with the Price-Anderson Act, 71 Stat. 576. Price-Anderson provided certain federal licensees with a system of private insurance, Government indemnification, and limited liability for claims of "public liability," now defined generally as "any legal liability arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident or precautionary evacuation ." 42 U.S.C. § 2014(w). The Act defines "nuclear incident" as "any occurrence . . . within the United States causing . . . bodily injury, sickness, disease, or death, or loss of or damage to property, or loss of use of property, arising out of or resulting from the radioactive, toxic, explosive, or other hazardous properties of source, special nuclear, or byproduct material . . . ." §2014(q).1

In the wake of the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, suits proliferated in state and federal courts, but because the accident was not an "extraordinary nuclear occurrence," within the meaning of the Act, see §2014(j), there was no mechanism for consolidating the claims in federal court. See S. Rep. No. 100 218, p. 13 (1987). Congress responded in 1988 by amending the Act to grant United States district courts original and removal jurisdiction over all "public liability actions," 102 Stat. 1076, 42 U.S.C. § 2210(n)(2), defined as suits "asserting public liability," §2014(hh), which "shall be deemed to be . . . action[s] arising under" §2210. The Act now provides the mechanics for consolidating such actions, §2210(n)(2), for managing them once consolidated, §2210(n)(3), and for distributing limited compensatory funds, §2210(o).

In 1995, respondents Laura and Arlinda Neztsosie, two members of the Navajo Nation, filed suit in the District Court of the Navajo Nation, Tuba City District, against petitioner El Paso Natural Gas Corporation and one of its subsidiaries, Rare Metals Corporation. The Neztsosies alleged that on the Navajo Nation Reservation, from 1950 to 1965, El Paso and Rare Metals operated open pit uranium mines, which collected water then used by the Neztsosies for a number of things, including drinking. The Neztsosies claimed that, as a result, they suffered severe injuries from exposure to radioactive and other hazardous materials, for which they sought compensatory and punitive damages under Navajo tort law. App. 18a 27a. In 1996, respondent Zonnie Richards, also a member of the Navajo Nation, brought suit for herself and her husband's estate in the District Court of the Navajo Nation, Kayenta District, against defendants including the Vanadium Corporation of America, predecessor by merger of petitioner Cyprus Foote Mineral Company. Richards raised Navajo tort law claims for wrongful death and loss of consortium arising from uranium mining and processing on the Navajo Nation Reservation by VCA and other defendants from the 1940's through the 1960's. 136 F.3d 610, 613 (CA9 1998); App. 39a 60a.

El Paso and Cyprus Foote each filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, seeking to enjoin the Neztsosies and Richards from pursuing their claims in the Tribal Courts. The District Court, citing the tribal court exhaustion doctrine of National Farmers Union Ins. Cos. v. Crow Tribe, 471 U.S. 845 (1985), denied preliminary injunctions "except to the extent" that the Neztsosies and Richards sought relief in the Tribal Courts under the Price-Anderson Act. App. 71a, 73a. The practical consequences of those injunctions were left in the air, however, since the District Court declined to decide whether the Act applied to the claims brought by the Neztsosies and Richards, leaving those determinations to the Tribal Courts in the first instance. Id., at 71a, 73a. Both El Paso and Cyprus Foote appealed.

On the companies' consolidated appeals, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's decisions declining to enjoin the Neztsosies and Richards from pursuing non-Price-Anderson Act claims, as well as the decisions to allow the Tribal Courts to decide in the first instance whether the Neztsosies' and Richards's tribal claims fell within the ambit of the Price-Anderson Act. 136 F.3d, at 617, n. 4, 620. But the Court of Appeals did not rest there. Although neither the Neztsosies nor Richards had appealed the partial injunctions against them, the Ninth Circuit sua sponte addressed those District Court rulings, citing "important comity considerations involved." Id., at 615. The court reversed as to the injunctions, holding that the Act contains no "express jurisdictional prohibition" barring the tribal court from determining its jurisdiction over...

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234 practice notes
  • Rosenruist-Gestao E Servicos v. Virgin Enterprises, No. 06-1588.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 27 Diciembre 2007
    ...raises arguments that seek to alter or modify the judgment below, then a cross-appeal is required. See El Paso Nat. Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 479, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999) ("Absent a cross-appeal, an appellee may urge in support of a decree any matter appearing in th......
  • At & T Corp. v. Coeur D'Alene Tribe, No. 99-35088.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 19 Marzo 2002
    ...true when the tribal court judgment involves the interpretation or application of federal law. See El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 485 n. 7, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999) ("[T]ribal courts, like state courts, can and do decide questions of federal law...."); See......
  • Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. v. United Egg Producers (In re Processed Egg Prods. Antitrust Litig.), MDL No. 2002.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 20 Diciembre 2011
    ...Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. See El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 484 n. 6, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999). 12. In this way, complete preemption could be understood to serve as the recalibration of ......
  • Kerr-Mcgee Corp. v. Farley, No. Civ. 95-0438MVRLP.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 10 Marzo 2000
    ...As grounds for this motion, Kerr-McGee argues that the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in El Paso Natural Gas v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999) has undercut this Court's decision in Kerr-McGee v. Farley, 915 F.Supp. 273, as well as the Tenth Ci......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
235 cases
  • Rosenruist-Gestao E Servicos v. Virgin Enterprises, No. 06-1588.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 27 Diciembre 2007
    ...raises arguments that seek to alter or modify the judgment below, then a cross-appeal is required. See El Paso Nat. Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 479, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999) ("Absent a cross-appeal, an appellee may urge in support of a decree any matter appearing in th......
  • At & T Corp. v. Coeur D'Alene Tribe, No. 99-35088.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 19 Marzo 2002
    ...true when the tribal court judgment involves the interpretation or application of federal law. See El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 485 n. 7, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999) ("[T]ribal courts, like state courts, can and do decide questions of federal law...."); See......
  • Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. v. United Egg Producers (In re Processed Egg Prods. Antitrust Litig.), MDL No. 2002.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 20 Diciembre 2011
    ...Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. See El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 484 n. 6, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999). 12. In this way, complete preemption could be understood to serve as the recalibration of ......
  • Kerr-Mcgee Corp. v. Farley, No. Civ. 95-0438MVRLP.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 10 Marzo 2000
    ...As grounds for this motion, Kerr-McGee argues that the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in El Paso Natural Gas v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473, 119 S.Ct. 1430, 143 L.Ed.2d 635 (1999) has undercut this Court's decision in Kerr-McGee v. Farley, 915 F.Supp. 273, as well as the Tenth Ci......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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