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Jurisdictional Fellow Travelers

This holding in Gibbs, that a “case” includes not simply the plaintiff’s jurisdictionally sufficient claims, but all claims that arise from the same set of historical facts, is one of the Court’s most sensible and enduring procedural decisions. Further, it is consistent with the intent of the framers, who would hardly have contemplated that the federal courts would be required to dissect a single dispute and limit their jurisdiction to certain strands of a logically interrelated set of claims. The language of Article III, §2, after all, speaks in terms of “cases” and “controversies,” not of individual theories or causes of action.

While the Gibbs Court concluded that the federal courts had the power to hear claims that arose from the same nucleus of facts as the jurisdictionally proper claim, it did not require the federal court to entertain the related claims. Wisely, the Court provided a second step in the analysis. Once the judge ascertains that he has power to hear the related claim, because it is part of the same “case,” he must then determine whether it makes sense to exercise that jurisdiction. See Gibbs at 726-727. This discretionary decision depends on a variety of factors in each case, such as whether the state law claim predominates, whether it would require the court to decide sensitive or novel issues of state law, whether hearing the claims together might confuse the jury, and whether the federal issues are resolved early in the case, leaving only a state law claim for decision. These factors might lead the court to conclude that, while it had power under the first part of Gibbs to entertain the pendent claim, it should refuse, in its discretion, to do so. If it does decline jurisdiction over the state law claims, and therefore dismisses them, they may then be brought in a separate suit in state court.


The courts evolved a similar approach, under the rubric of ancillary jurisdiction, to deal with cases like those in the last two diagrams above, in which related claims were asserted by defendants or other additional parties after the initial complaint. In Moore v. New York Cotton Exchange, 270 U.S. 593 (1926), the plaintiff sued the defendant under the federal antitrust laws, and the defendant asserted a compulsory counterclaim against the plaintiff under state law. The Court upheld jurisdiction over the state law counterclaim, even though the parties were not diverse and there was no other basis for independent federal jurisdiction over the counterclaim. The Court’s discussion in Moore is terse, but it did emphasize that the counterclaim (like all compulsory counterclaims) arose out of the same transaction as the main claim. Thus, the decision appears to turn, as did Gibbs, on the conclusion that the close connection between the original, jurisdictionally proper claim and the added claim made them part of a single “constitutional case.”

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