ASARCO v. Kadish
490 U.S. 605 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

ASARCO v. Kadish, 490 U.S. 605 (1989)

ASARCO v. Kadish

No. 87-1661

Argued February 27, 1989

Decided May 30, 1989

490 U.S. 605

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARIZONA

Syllabus

Among other things, the New Mexico-Arizona Enabling Act of 1910 granted Arizona certain lands, excluding mineral lands, in trust for the support of public schools, and, in § 28, provided that granted lands cannot be sold or leased except upon compliance with certain conditions regarding advertising, bidding, and appraisal. Arizona incorporated these conditions into Article 10 of its Constitution. After this Court held the original mineral land exclusion inapplicable to lands not known to be mineral at the time of the grant, Wyoming v. United States,255 U. S. 489, Congress passed the Jones Act in 1927, extending the terms of the original grant to encompass all mineral lands. The Enabling Act was also amended in 1936 and 1951 to clarify the procedures for leasing granted lands for specific purposes. The latter amendment expressly extinguished the § 28 restrictions on leases of granted lands for the development of hydrocarbon substances. Arizona's own law governing mineral leases on state lands does not require that the lands be advertised, appraised, or leased for their full appraised value. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 27-234(B). Respondents, individual taxpayers and a state teachers association, brought a state court suit against the State Land Department and others, seeking a declaration that § 27-234(B) is void on the ground that it does not comply with the provisions of § 28 or § 10 of the Arizona Constitution and requesting appropriate injunctive relief. Petitioners, mineral lessees of state school lands, intervened as defendants. The trial court upheld the statute. The State Supreme Court reversed, ruling that § 27-234(B) is "unconstitutional and invalid as it pertains to nonhydrocarbon mineral leases," and remanded the case for the trial court, inter alia, to enter a judgment declaring § 27-234(B) invalid and to consider what further relief might be appropriate.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

155 Ariz. 484, 747 P.2d 1183, affirmed.

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, II-B-2, II-C, III, and IV, concluding that:

1. This Court has jurisdiction to review the decision below. PP. 490 U. S. 610-612, 490 U. S. 617-633.

(a) The Arizona Supreme Court issued a final judgment within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1257, despite the fact that it remanded the case for the trial court to determine appropriate further relief. On remand,

Page 490 U. S. 606

the trial court does not have before it any federal question whether past or current leases are valid, since respondents, on appeal, withdrew their request for an accounting and payment of sums due under past leases. In addition, the trial court's further actions cannot affect the State Supreme Court's ruling that § 27-234(B) is invalid. Thus, the judgment below comes within two of the exceptions to the finality requirement set out in Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn,420 U. S. 469, 420 U. S. 479, 420 U. S. 480: (1) the federal issue is conclusive and the outcome of further proceedings is preordained, and (2) the federal questions that could come to this Court have been adjudicated by the state court, and the remaining issues will not give rise to any further federal question. Pp. 490 U. S. 611-612.

(b) When a state court has issued a judgment interpreting federal law in a case in which the plaintiffs in the original action lacked standing to sue under the principles governing the federal courts, this Court may exercise its jurisdiction on certiorari if the state court judgment causes direct, specific, and concrete injury to the parties who petition for this Court's review, as long as the requisites of an Article III case or controversy are also met. Here, petitioners possess standing to invoke federal court authority, since they have alleged that the decision below poses a serious and immediate threat to their leases' continuing validity, that such injury can be traced to the state court's erroneous interpretation of federal statutes, and that the injury can be redressed by a favorable decision in this Court. Moreover, the requisites of a case or controversy are met, since the parties remain adverse, and the judgment below altered tangible legal rights. It would be inappropriate for this Court to vacate the judgment below on the ground that respondents lacked federal standing when they brought suit initially, and to remand for appropriate proceedings, since such a course would render nugatory the state proceedings and have the effect of imposing federal standing requirements on the state courts whenever they adjudicate federal law issues, whereas established traditions and this Court's decisions recognize that state courts are not bound by Article III, and yet have it within both their power and proper role to render binding judgments on federal law issues, subject only to review by this Court. It would also be inappropriate for this Court simply to order dismissal, leaving petitioners free to bring a declaratory judgment action in federal court raising the same claims, since such a disposition would be likely to defeat the normal preclusive effects of the state court's judgment on the ground that that court's conclusions about federal law were not subject to any federal review. Such a course would also represent an unnecessary partial inroad on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine's construction of § 1257 as barring direct review in lower federal courts of a decision reached by the highest state court, District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460

Page 490 U. S. 607

U.S. 462; Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co.,263 U. S. 413, particularly since petitioners have already presented this Court with a case or controversy justiciable under federal standards. Pp. 490 U. S. 617-624.

(c) The decision below is not based on an adequate and independent state ground that would defeat review of the federal issue by this Court. Although the state court's opinion mentioned the State Constitution several times and directed the trial court to declare § 27-234(B) "unconstitutional," its discussion focused solely on the federal statutes, without ever mentioning the State Constitution apart from the Enabling Act. Moreover, the state court explicitly considered itself bound by this Court's decisions to adopt the plaintiffs' construction, and described Article 10 of the State Constitution as simply a "rescript" of § 28 of the Enabling Act. Thus, the opinion's references to the State Constitution merely reflect a holding which rests on the state court's interpretation of federal law, and do not divorce the state constitutional issue from the federal law questions. Pp. 490 U. S. 624-625.

2. Section 27-234(B) is invalid as to nonhydrocarbon mineral leases, since the sale or lease of mineral lands granted to Arizona under the federal statutes must substantially conform to the mandatory requirements set out in the Enabling Act. Pp. 490 U. S. 625-633.

(a) The grant of all lands under the Enabling Act is conditioned, by the statute's clear and express language, upon the specific requirements for leasing or selling those lands. Petitioners' reliance on Neel v. Barker, 27 N.M. 605, 204 P. 205, for the proposition that, since mineral lands were originally exempt from the 1910 grant, the Enabling Act's provisions do not apply to lands later determined to be mineral in nature, is flawed in two respects. First, Neel did not take into account this Court's decision in Wyoming v. United States, supra, that unknown mineral lands were within the grant. Second, since those lands were within the 1910 grant, they could not be regarded as unburdened by its mandatory conditions. Pp. 490 U. S. 627-628.

(b) The lands granted under the Jones Act are also subject to the Enabling Act conditions. To read that Act's § 1(a) language -- which declares that the grant of mineral lands thereunder "shall be of the same effect as prior grants" of nonmineral lands -- as only assuring that title to the lands passed and vested in the same manner and with the same validity as titles under the Enabling Act would render the language redundant, since the statute subsequently directly addresses the vesting of titles. Instead, that language achieved Congress' objective of extending the 1910 grant to mineral lands and confirming their title to the States. Similarly, § 1(b) -- which states that, though mineral lands may be sold, the rights to mine and remove the minerals themselves may only be leased "as the State legislature may direct" -- is not blanket authority for

Page 490 U. S. 608

States to lease minerals on whatever terms they wish, as long as the leases' proceeds go to the schools. Rather, it authorizes the States to regulate the methods by which mineral leases are made, and to specify necessary or desirable additional terms, as long as the leases comply with the Enabling Act's dispositional requirements. Pp. 490 U. S. 628-631.

(c) The 1936 and 1951 amendments to the Enabling Act confirm that Congress never removed the original conditions contained in the Act. In the amendments, Congress reiterated the formulation that lands could be leased for certain purposes as the state legislature "may direct" and as it "may prescribe." The 1936 Amendment did not alter the application of § 28 to "all lands," and the 1951 Amendment, because it expressly extinguished the § 28 restrictions as to hydrocarbon leases, but not as to other mineral leases, tends to confirm that the original restrictions remain in force as to nonhydrocarbon leases. Pp. 490 U. S. 631-633.

JUSTICE KENNEDY, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE STEVENS, and JUSTICE SCALIA, concluded in Part II-B-1 that the suit would have been dismissed at the outset if federal standing-to-sue rules were to apply, since neither respondent taxpayers nor respondent teachers association, the original plaintiffs, would have satisfied the requirements for bringing suit in federal court. Respondent taxpayers' assertion that § 27-234(B) has "deprived the school trust funds of millions of dollars, thereby resulting in unnecessarily higher taxes," and respondent association's allegations that the section "imposes an adverse economic impact" on its members and that teachers have a special interest in the quality of education in the State, do not assert the kind of particular, direct, and concrete personal injury that is necessary to confer standing to sue in federal courts. Pp. 490 U. S. 612-617.

JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by JUSTICE WHITE, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE BLACKMUN, agreeing that the question whether the state court plaintiffs had Article III standing is irrelevant when it is the defendants below who invoke the federal courts' authority, concluded that it was unnecessary to reach the question of the standing of the plaintiffs below. Pp. 490 U. S. 633-634.

KENNEDY, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part I, in which all participating Members joined, the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts II-A, II-B-2, II-C, III, and IV, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part II-B-l, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 490 U. S. 633. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in=

Page 490 U. S. 609

part, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 490 U. S. 634. O'CONNOR, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part II-B-l.

The ultimate question for our decision is whether Arizona's statute governing mineral leases on state lands is void because it does not conform with the federal laws that originally granted those lands from the United States to Arizona. First, however, there is a difficult question about our own jurisdiction, a matter which touches on essential aspects of the proper relation between state and federal courts.

Page 490 U. S. 610

I

Various individual taxpayers and the Arizona Education Association, which represents approximately 20,000 public school teachers throughout the State, brought suit in Arizona state court, seeking a declaration that the state statute governing mineral leases on state lands, Ariz. Rev.Stat.Ann. § 27-234(B) (Supp.1988), is void, and also seeking appropriate injunctive relief. The state statute was challenged on the ground that it does not comply with the methods Congress required the State to follow before it could lease or sell the lands granted from the United States in the New Mexico-Arizona Enabling Act of 1910, 36 Stat. 557, and which are repeated in the Arizona Constitution. The suit was brought against the Arizona Land Department and others. ASARCO Incorporated and other current mineral lessees of state school lands were permitted to intervene as defendants. Eventually the trial court certified the case as a defendant class action under Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 23. The defendant class consisted of all present and future mineral lessees of state lands.

The trial court upheld the statute on cross-motions for summary judgment, and respondents (the original plaintiffs) appealed. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed over the dissent of one justice, ruling that the statute is "unconstitutional and invalid as it pertains to nonhydrocarbon mineral leases." Kadish v. Arizona State Land Dept., 155 Ariz. 484, 498, 747 P.2d 1183, 1197 (1987). It remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to enter summary judgment for respondents, to enter a judgment declaring § 27-234(B) invalid, and to consider what further relief, if any, might be appropriate.

Various of the mineral lessees filed a petition for certiorari, and we granted review. 488 U.S. 887 (1988).

II

Before we may undertake to consider whether the state legislation authorizing the leases is valid under federal law,

Page 490 U. S. 611

we must rule on whether we have jurisdiction in the case. The parties and amici raise three jurisdictional issues, each of substance. We would be required, of course, to raise these matters on our own initiative if necessary, for our legitimate exercise of judicial power is confined both by statutes and by Article III of the Constitution. The issues here are: first, whether the judgment below is final; second, whether there is standing and an actual case or controversy that permits of a decision in federal court; and third, whether the decision below is unreviewable in this Court because it rests on an adequate and independent state ground.

A

The first jurisdictional question is whether the Arizona Supreme Court issued a final judgment in the case. It granted plaintiffs a declaratory judgment that the state law governing mineral leases is invalid, but then remanded the case for the trial court to determine "just what further relief is appropriate." 155 Ariz., at 498, 747 P.2d at 1197. The Solicitor General, representing the United States as amicus, asserts that the validity of existing leases remains at issue, and that the trial court may yet decide to uphold the leases on the ground that they were made for "true value," and thus are in "substantial conformity" with the provisions of the Enabling Act, § 28, 36 Stat. 574-575, even though the leasing procedures did not comply with every specific requirement in the Act. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 10-14 (hereafter Brief for United States).

If the assertion were correct, the judgment below would not yet be final within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1257, and we would lack jurisdiction in the case. But it is not correct. Respondents originally sought a declaratory judgment that the state law is invalid, an injunction against further leases, and an accounting and payment of sums due under past leases; but they withdrew the last request on appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. See Brief for Appellant in Kadish v. Arizona State Land Dept., CV-86-0238-T, p. 6, n. 3, p. 40.

Page 490 U. S. 612

Thus, on remand, the trial court does not have before it any federal question whether past and current leases are valid because they were made in "substantial conformity" with the terms of the Enabling Act. And, of course, the trial court's further actions cannot affect the Arizona Supreme Court's ruling that § 27-234(B) is invalid. Accordingly, the judgment below comes within two of the exceptions to the finality requirement that were set out in Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn,420 U. S. 469 (1975). Here "the federal issue is conclusive" and "the outcome of further proceedings preordained." Id. at 420 U. S. 479; see also Duquesne Light Co. v. Barasch,488 U. S. 299 (1989). In addition, the "federal questions that could come here have been adjudicated by the State court,'" and the remaining issues, contrary to the Solicitor General's suggestion, will not give rise to any further federal question. Cox, supra, at 420 U. S. 480, quoting Radio Station WOW, Inc. v. Johnson,326 U. S. 120, 326 U. S. 127 (1945).

B

The second jurisdictional issue is of some theoretical import, though infrequent in occurrence. The question is whether, under federal standards, the case was nonjusticiable at its outset because the original plaintiffs lacked standing to sue; and if so, whether we may examine justiciability at this stage because the Arizona courts heard the case and proceeded to judgment, a judgment which causes concrete injury to the parties who seek now for the first time to invoke the authority of the federal courts in the case.

1

The United States contends that the case should be dismissed for lack of standing, since neither respondent taxpayers nor respondent teachers association, who were the original plaintiffs, would have satisfied the requirements for bringing suit in federal court at the outset.

"In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues. "

Page 490 U. S. 613

"Warth v. Seldin,422 U. S. 490, 422 U. S. 498 (1975). Although standing in its outer dimensions is a prudential concept to be shaped by the decisions of the courts as a matter of sound judicial policy and subject to the control of Congress, at its core it becomes a constitutional question; for standing in its most basic aspect can be one of the controlling elements in the definition of a case or controversy under Article III. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc.,454 U. S. 464, 454 U. S. 471-476 (1982); id. at 454 U. S. 490-494 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). The standing of respondents if they had filed suit in federal court at the trial level may be resolved by applying well-settled principles of federal law."

The question whether taxpayers or citizens have a sufficient personal stake to challenge laws of general application where their own injury is not distinct from that suffered in general by other taxpayers or citizens covers old and familiar ground. As an ordinary matter, suits premised on federal taxpayer status are not cognizable in the federal courts because a taxpayer's

"interest in the moneys of the Treasury . . . is shared with millions of others, is comparatively minute and indeterminable; and the effect upon future taxation, of any payments out of the funds, so remote, fluctuating and uncertain, that no basis is afforded for [judicial intervention]."

Frothingham v. Mellon,262 U. S. 447, 262 U. S. 487 (1923) (decided with Massachusetts v. Mellon).

We have indicated that the same conclusion may not hold for municipal taxpayers, if it has been shown that the "peculiar relation of the corporate taxpayer to the [municipal] corporation" makes the taxpayer's interest in the application of municipal revenues "direct and immediate." Frothingham, supra, at 262 U. S. 486-487, citing Crampton v. Zabriskie,101 U. S. 601, 101 U. S. 609 (1880). Yet we have likened state taxpayers to federal taxpayers, and thus we have refused to confer standing upon a state taxpayer absent a showing of "direct injury,"

Page 490 U. S. 614

pecuniary or otherwise. Doremus v. Board of Education of Hawthorne,342 U. S. 429342 U. S. 429, 434 (1952).

No such showing has been made in this case, and respondent taxpayers do not allege any special circumstances or exceptions that would confer standing upon them. Instead, they have simply asserted that the Arizona statute governing mineral leases has "deprived the school trust funds of millions of dollars, thereby resulting in unnecessarily higher taxes." Complaint

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