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EXXON MOBIL CORP. et al. v. SAUDI BASIC INDUSTRIES CORP., 544 U.S. ---

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EXXON MOBIL CORP. et al. v. SAUDI BASIC INDUSTRIES CORP.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

No. 03-1696.Argued February 23, 2005--Decided March 30, 2005

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, at issue in this case, has been applied by this Court only twice, in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U. S. 413, and in District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U. S. 462. In Rooker, plaintiffs previously defeated in state court filed suit in a Federal District Court alleging that the adverse state-court judgment was unconstitutional and asking that it be declared "null and void." 263 U. S., at 414-415. Noting preliminarily that the state court had acted within its jurisdiction, this Court explained that if the state-court decision was wrong, "that did not make the judgment void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an appropriate and timely appellate proceeding." Id., at 415. Federal district courts, Rooker recognized, are empowered to exercise only original, not appellate, jurisdictions. Id., at 416. Because Congress has empowered this Court alone to exercise appellate authority "to reverse or modify" a state-court judgment, ibid., the Court affirmed a decree dismissing the federal suit for lack of jurisdiction, id., at 415, 417. In Feldman, two plaintiffs brought federal-court actions after the District of Columbia's highest court denied their petitions to waive a court Rule requiring D. C. bar applicants to have graduated from an accredited law school. Recalling Rooker, this Court observed that the District Court lacked authority to review a final judicial determination of the D. C. high court because such review "can be obtained only in this Court." 460 U. S., at 476. Concluding that the D. C. court's proceedings applying the accreditation Rule to the plaintiffs were "judicial in nature," id., at 479-482, this Court ruled that the Federal District Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, id., at 482. However, concluding also that, in promulgating the bar admission Rule, the D. C. court had acted legislatively, not judicially, id., at 485-486, this Court held that 28 U. S. C. §1257 did not bar the District Court from addressing the validity of the Rule itself, so long as the plaintiffs did not seek review of the Rule's application in a particular case, 460 U. S., at 486. Since Feldman, this Court has never applied Rooker-Feldman to dismiss an action for want of jurisdiction. However, the lower federal courts have variously interpreted the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to extend far beyond the contours of the Rooker and Feldman cases, overriding Congress' conferral of federal-court jurisdiction concurrent with jurisdiction exercised by state courts, and superseding the ordinary application of preclusion law under 28 U. S. C. §1738.

In this case, two subsidiaries of petitioner Exxon Mobil Corporation formed joint ventures with respondent Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) to produce polyethylene in Saudi Arabia. When a dispute arose over royalties that SABIC had charged the joint ventures, SABIC preemptively sued the two subsidiaries in a Delaware state court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the royalties were proper. ExxonMobil and the subsidiaries then countersued in the Federal District Court, alleging that SABIC overcharged them. Before the state-court trial, which ultimately yielded a jury verdict of over $400 million for the ExxonMobil subsidiaries, the District Court denied SABIC's motion to dismiss the federal suit. On interlocutory appeal, over eight months after the state-court jury verdict, the Third Circuit, on its own motion, raised the question whether subject-matter jurisdiction over the federal suit failed under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because ExxonMobil's claims had already been litigated in state court. The court did not question the District Court's subject-matter jurisdiction at the suit's outset, but held that federal jurisdiction terminated when the Delaware court entered judgment on the jury verdict.


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