Thompson v. Thompson
484 U.S. 174 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thompson v. Thompson, 484 U.S. 174 (1988)

Thompson v. Thompson

No. 86-964

Argued October 6, 1987

Decided January 12, 1988

484 U.S. 174

Syllabus

Under the Parental Kidnaping Prevention Act of 1980 (PKPA or Act), States are required to afford full faith and credit to valid child custody determinations entered by a sister State's courts. When a California state court's award of joint custody to respondent and petitioner over their son became infeasible because of respondent's decision to move to Louisiana, the court granted respondent sole custody pending an investigator's report, whereupon the court intended to make a more studied custody determination. After respondent obtained a Louisiana court order enforcing the California decree and awarding her sole custody, the California court, having received and reviewed the investigator's report, entered an order granting sole custody to petitioner. Without first attempting to enforce the California decree in Louisiana, petitioner filed suit in Federal District Court seeking an order declaring the Louisiana decree invalid and the California decree valid, and enjoining the enforcement of the Louisiana decree. The court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that petitioner had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Held: The PKPA does not provide an implied cause of action in federal court to determine which of two conflicting state custody decisions is valid. The context in which the PKPA was enacted -- the existence of jurisdictional deadlocks among the States in custody cases and a nationwide problem of interstate parental kidnaping -- suggests that Congress' principal aim was to extend the requirements of the Full Faith and Credit Clause to custody determinations, and not to create an entirely new cause of action. The language and placement of the Act reinforce this conclusion, in that the Act is an addendum to, and is therefore clearly intended to have the same operative effect as, the federal full faith and credit statute, the Act's heading is "Full faith and credit given to child custody determinations," and, unlike statutes that explicitly confer a right on a specified class of persons, the Act is addressed to States and to state courts. Moreover, in discussing the congressional rejection of a competing legislative proposal that would have extended the district courts' diversity jurisdiction to custody decree enforcement actions, the PKPA's legislative history provides an unusually clear indication that Congress did not intend the federal courts to play the enforcement role.

Page 484 U. S. 175

The fact that the cause of action petitioner seeks to infer is narrower than the congressionally rejected alternative is not controlling, since the federal courts would still be entangled in traditional state law questions that they have little expertise to resolve. The argument that failure to infer a cause of action would render the PKPA nugatory is also not persuasive, since it is based on the unacceptable presumption that the States are either unable or unwilling to enforce the Act's provisions, and since ultimate review remains available in this Court for truly intractable deadlocks. Pp. 484 U. S. 179-187.

798 F.2d 1547, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but the first full paragraph of Part II of which O'CONNOR, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 484 U. S. 188. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 484 U. S. .

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