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Jurisdictional Fellow Travelers

Here is another example: Byron brings his dismissal action against Rossetti under the federal statute, and Rossetti counterclaims against Byron for assault, claiming that at the time of the firing Byron threatened to kill her for firing him. The case now looks like this:

This is a compulsory counterclaim under Rule 13(a), since it arises from the same occurrence as Byron’s claim. However, it is again a state law claim between parties from the same state. If Rossetti sued Byron on this claim alone, the federal court would not have the power to hear it, since nothing in Article III, §2, or the United States Code gives the federal district courts subject matter jurisdiction over state law claims between parties from the same state.

One more frequent example: Burns, from Wyoming, sues Cowper, from Utah, for injuries suffered in an auto accident. Cowper impleads a third driver, Hunt (also from Utah) under Rule 14(a)(1), claiming that Hunt was also negligent and is therefore liable to him for contribution:

Again, this is proper under the Rules; and again, the existence of common issues argues for allowing the third-party claim to be heard with the main claim. But, once again, there is no independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction: Cowper’s claim is a state law claim between two citizens of the same state.


Historically, two doctrines evolved to support jurisdiction over such related claims in federal court. The first, pendent jurisdiction, involved the configuration in the first diagram above, in which the plaintiff asserted a jurisdictionally proper claim against a nondiverse party and added on a related state law claim. In United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966), the Supreme Court established guidelines for the exercise of jurisdiction over such “pendent” claims.

In Gibbs, the plaintiff asserted a federal claim against the defendant under the Labor Management Relations Act and a second claim under state law for interference with contractual relations. Both claims were based on the same dispute, concerning the opening of a particular mine. Because there was no diversity between the parties in Gibbs and the interference claim arose under state law, there was no independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction over the interference claim. Yet the Gibbs Court held that the federal court had pendent jurisdiction over the state law claim because it was joined with the federal labor law claim.

The Court concluded that Article III grants jurisdiction over entire “cases,” not just over particular claims or issues in a case. If a case includes a claim that is jurisdictionally proper under Article III, the argument goes, the court has constitutional power to hear the entire dispute between the parties, not just the claim that is expressly provided for in Article III, §2. Thus, so long as the plaintiff asserts a proper claim based on federal law, diversity, or some other federal ground, the federal court has the power—at least the constitutional power—to hear other claims arising out of the same “common nucleus of operative facts.”[1] In Gibbs, for example, the case was properly before the federal court because the plaintiff asserted a claim under the federal labor laws. The constitutional “case,” however, was broader than the federal claim, encompassing all of Gibbs’s claims arising out of the same nucleus of operative facts, the opening of the new mine.

[1]. Chief Justice Marshall is a little more explicit on the point in Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 22 U.S. 738 (1824):
[W]hen a question to which the judicial power of the Union is extended by the constitution, forms an ingredient of the original cause, it is in the power of congress to give the [federal courts] . . . jurisdiction of that cause, although other questions of fact or of law may be involved in it.

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