Is the All Writs Act the Caulking Gun for Dual-System Class Action Litigation?


Linda S Mullenix

1 Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases 44


This article previews the issues and arguments in Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. v. Henson, an appeal before the Supreme Court in its 2002-03 Term. The Syngenta Crop Protection appeal presents the Supreme Court with a deceptively simple but extremely important issue relating to the federal courts' ability to protect federal nationwide class action settlements.

Essentially, the Supreme Court must resolve whether the All Writs Act functions to 'caulk up' gaps in federal jurisdiction by permitting the removal of state actions to federal court, to preserve the integrity of a previously-negotiated federal class action settlement. The Court also may address whether there is a concept of federal 'ancillary protective jurisdiction' that would apply to enable the federal courts to exercise jurisdiction to protect a federal class action settlement.

The Syngenta appeal embraces statutory rules and doctrinal principles implicating the federal court's original jurisdiction, supplemental jurisdiction, removal jurisdiction, the All Writs Act, the Anti-Injunction Act, and federalism. The Court's task is to untangle this knotted skein of jurisdictional threads, and to reach a jurisprudentially satisfying resolution of important, but competing federalism concerns.

The appeal is tremendously important because the Court's decision will have impact on the way in which dual-system class actions, particularly class action settlements, will be able to proceed. The case poses interesting problems relating to expansive notions of the jurisdictional reach of federal courts.

As a practical matter, Syngenta presents a clash of the competing interests of certain class action plaintiffs who desire to hold defendants accountable in state courts before local juries, pitted against the interests of the defense bar in achieving global peace through federally-approved class action settlements. The Syngenta appeal presents the often-repeated scenario of defendants who desire nationwide resolution of class action claims to be free of subsequent, repetitive litigation arising from a same set of allegations.

The reality of class action litigation in the United States consists of a litigation landscape in which plaintiffs' attorneys pursue copycat class actions simultaneously in both federal and state courts. The lack of constraints in the dual-court system encourages plaintiffs' attorneys to forum-shop for the courts most favorable to their clients' interests, which are usually well-known advantageous state court venues. Class action defendants, in contrast, typically avail themselves of the federal courts to achieve global nationwide class action settlements, to conclusively end all litigation arising from an alleged wrongdoing. The ability of state class action litigators to continue to litigate against a class action defendant threatens and undermines the ability of federal courts to ever achieve the global resolution of class action litigation.

Essentially, the Supreme Court is confronted with this central dilemma: When a rogue state court litigant wants to continue the class action battle in state court, what may a federal court do to protect its own approved class action settlement? May the federal court hale the state rogue before it, and order the state plaintiff to cease and desist? By what jurisdictional authority may a federal court do this? Both Syngenta and Henson agree that the All Writs Act does not provide a statutory basis for federal court jurisdiction and this should not be an issue in the case.

Rather, the Supreme Court has to determine the more interesting issue whether the All Writs Act functions as a metaphorical 'caulking gun' to fill gaps in dual-court jurisdiction, to permit federal courts to protect their class action settlements against state settlement-wreckers. And, if the caulking gun theory of jurisdiction is unavailing, the Court may consider whether the supplemental jurisdiction statute provides a basis for 'ancillary protective jurisdiction' to enable the federal courts to bring the state litigants before it.

Full Citation

Linda S. Mullenix, Is the All Writs Act the Caulking Gun for Dual-System Class Action Litigation? , 2002-2003 Preview of Supreme Court Cases 44 (Sept. 30, 2002).