Phillips Petroleum Company v. Texaco, Inc 8212 347

Citation94 S.Ct. 1002,415 U.S. 125,39 L.Ed.2d 209
Decision Date19 February 1974
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
PartiesPHILLIPS PETROLEUM COMPANY v. TEXACO, INC. —347
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

PER CURIAM:

The respondent, Texaco, brought this action against the petitioner, Phillips Petroleum Co., in the Northern District of Oklahoma. The complaint asserted that Texaco had not been compensated for the helium constituent of natural gas sold by Texaco to Phillips. Texaco claimed it was entitled to the reasonable value of this helium in addition to the sums already paid by Phillips for the natural gas under the contract of sale. It is conceded that there is no diversity of citizenship between the parties. Accordingly, Texaco relied, as the basis for federal jurisdiction, on 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a), asserting that its claim '(arose) under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.' Phillips moved to dismiss for want of federal jurisdiction of the subject matter. The District Court granted this motion, and Texaco appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which by a divided vote reversed the District Court's determination that federal jurisdiction was lacking. Phillips seeks certiorari to review the Tenth Circuit's decision and contends that past decisions of this Court make clear that Texaco's claim cannot be said to 'aris(e) under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.'

The substantive claim in this case is an outgrowth of an earlier decision of the Tenth Circuit, Northern Natural Gas Co. v. Grounds, 441 F.2d 704 (1971). That was a federal interpleader action, in which the Court of Appeals held that lessee-producers of natural gas could recover the reasonable value of helium contained in the gas that they produced and sold to pipeline companies, which later extracted and marketed the helium. The essence of the Grounds decision was its rejection of the buyers' contention that the contract price paid for the natural gas was compensation for 'the gas stream in its entirety and, absent an express reservation, (that) the buyer gets the whole stream for such purposes as it may determine.'1 Id., at 720. The Court of Appeals reasoned that, as a result of the Helium Act Amendments of 1960, 74 Stat. 922, which added § 11 (50 U.S.C. § 167i) to the Helium Conservation Act, 43 Stat. 1110 'the Natural Gas Act . . . and the FPC fixed service rates, do not apply' to '(a) sale of the commingled helium as a component of the (natural) gas stream.' 441 F.2d, at 721. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded that 'the reconciliation of the Natural Gas Act and of the 1960 amendments to the Helium Act . . . requires the conclusion that the FPC service rates do not apply to deny recovery for the contained helium' in the natural gas stream sold by the lessee-producers. Id., at 723. (Emphasis added.) The court went on to hold that the lessee-producers could therefore recover 'the reasonable value of the helium content of the processed gas.'

Because of the presence of federal interpleader jurisdiction, the court in Grounds did not consider whether there existed an independent basis for the exercise of federal jurisdiction. Texaco contends that the Court of Appeals in Grounds read the Natural Gas Act and § 11 of the Helium Conservation Act together to imply a federal cause of action for the recovery of the reasonable value of the helium constituent in natural gas. On the other hand, Phillips' position is that Grounds held only that the effect of these federal statutory provisions is to preclude the defense of payment to a quasi-contractual action brought for the recovery of the reasonable value of the helium. Hence, Phillips argues that the federal questions raised in the complaint are not part of Texaco's claim but are merely asserted in anticipation of a probable defense by Phillips.

This Court has repeatedly held that, in order for a claim to arise 'under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States,' ' a right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the United States must be an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action.' Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 112, 57 S.Ct. 96, 97, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936). The federal questions 'must be disclosed upon the face of the complaint, unaided by the answer.' Moreover, 'the complaint itself will not avail as a basis of jurisdiction in so far as it goes beyond a statement of the plaintiff's cause of action and anticipates or replies to a probable defense.' Gully, supra, at 113, 57 S.Ct. at 98. See also Metcalf v. Watertown, 128 U.S. 586, 9 S.Ct. 947, 38 L.Ed. 861 (1888); Tennessee v. Union & Planters' Bank, 152 U.S. 454, 14 S.Ct. 654, 38 L.Ed. 511 (1894); Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 29 S.Ct. 42, 53 L.Ed. 126 (1908); Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74, 34 S.Ct. 724, 58 L.Ed. 1218 (1914); Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum...

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