Commentary and analysis of the trio of Supreme Court’s 1992 decisions in Ankenbrandt v. Richards; American Red Cross v. S.G. and A.E.; and Willy v. Coastal Corp. Both Ankenbrandt and American Red Cross deal with who has access to a federal forum. In Ankenbrandt, a litigation involving the historical domestic relations exception to federal court jurisdiction, a unanimous Court held that the plaintiff had properly invoked the federal court’s diversity jurisdiction to hear her tortious injury lawsuit against her former husband. Although upholding federal jurisdiction on this ground, a six Justice majority reaffirmed the existence and vitality of the domestic relations exception to bar those suits from federal diversity jurisdiction. Justice Blackmun wrote a separate concurrence distancing himself from the majority’s conclusions. In American Red Cross, the Court held that the language in the American Red Cross’s congressionally-granted charter conferred a capacity for that entity to sue and be sued in federal court. The court relied on and reaffirmed its holding in Osborn v. The Bank, decided in 1824. Finally, in Willy v. Coastal Corp., an appeal from a Rule 11 sanction imposed on Willy, the Court again reaffirmed that the federal court’s Rule 11 sanctioning power does not transgress the Rules Enabling Act. The Court further held that a court’s final determination of a lack of its own subject matter jurisdiction does not automatically wipe out all proceedings that occurred at a time when the district court had the misapprehension that it had jurisdiction. The interest in courts having its rules obeyed does not disappear upon a subsequent determination that the court was without subject matter jurisdiction.
Linda S. Mullenix, Supreme Court Review: Federal Jurisdiction is Addressed, National Law Journal, Aug. 31, 1992, at S4.