Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Epstein
516 U.S. 367 (1996)

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No. 94-1809. Argued November 27, 1995-Decided February 27, 1996

A tender offer resulting in petitioner Matsushita Electric Industrial Coo's acquisition of MCA, Inc., a Delaware corporation, precipitated two lawsuits on behalf of MCA's stockholders. While the first, a Delaware class action based purely on state-law claims, was pending, the second suit was filed in a California federal court, alleging that Matsushita's tender offer violated certain Securities and Exchange Commission Rules promulgated under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act). Section 27 of that Act confers exclusive jurisdiction upon the federal courts in such suits. Matsushita prevailed in the federal case, and while that judgment was on appeal, the parties to the state action reached a settlement, agreeing, inter alia, that class members who did not opt out of the class would waive all claims in connection with the tender offer, including those asserted in the California federal action. The Chancery Court approved the agreement, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. Respondents are members of both the state and federal classes who did not opt out of the settlement class. In the instant case, the Ninth Circuit found that the Delaware judgment was not a bar to further prosecution of the federal action under the Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U. S. C. § 1738, and fashioned a test limiting the preclusive force of a state-court settlement judgment to those claims that could "have been extinguished by the issue preclusive effect of an adjudication of the state claims."

Held: The Delaware settlement judgment is entitled to full faith and credit, notwithstanding the fact that it released claims within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. Pp. 373-387.

(a) Section 1738-which directs federal courts to treat a state-court judgment with the same respect that it would receive in the rendering State's courts-is generally applicable in cases in which the state-court judgment incorporates a class-action settlement releasing claims solely within the federal courts' jurisdiction. The judgment of a state court in a class action is plainly the product of a "judicial proceeding" within the meaning of § 1738, and the fact that the judgment might bar litigation of exclusively federal claims does not necessarily make § 1738 inap-


plicable, Marrese v. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 470

(b) Marrese provides the analytical framework for deciding whether the Delaware judgment precludes this exclusively federal action. A federal court must first determine whether the rendering State's law indicates that the claim would be barred from litigation in a court of that State; if so, the federal court must decide whether, as an exception to § 1738, it should refuse to give preclusive effect to the state-court judgment. P. 375.

(c) Delaware Supreme Court cases have provided rules regarding the preclusive force of class-action settlement agreements in subsequent state-court suits and have also spoken to the effect of such judgments in federal court, indicating that when the Chancery Court approves a global release of claims, its settlement judgment will preclude ongoing or future federal-court litigation of any released claims. Thus, it appears that a Delaware court would give this settlement judgment preclusive effect in a subsequent proceeding, notwithstanding the fact that respondents could not have pressed their Exchange Act claims in the Chancery Court. The release in the judgment specifically refers to this lawsuit, the state courts found the settlement fair and the class notice adequate, and respondents acknowledge that they did not opt out of the class. Pp.375-379.

(d) Because it appears that the judgment would be res judicata under Delaware law, this Court must proceed to the second step of the Marrese analysis and ask whether § 27 of the Exchange Act partially repealed § 1738. Any such modification must be implied, but this Court has seldom, if ever, held that a federal statute impliedly repealed § 1738. There is no suggestion in § 27 that Congress meant to contravene the common-law rules of preclusion or to repeal § 1738's express statutory requirement. Nor does § 27 evince any intent to prevent a state-court litigant from voluntarily releasing Exchange Act claims in judicially approved settlements. Assuming that § 27 is intended to serve at least the general purposes of achieving greater uniformity of construction and more effective and expert application of the Exchange Act, a state court threatens neither purpose when it upholds a settlement releasing Exchange Act claims. In addition, other provisions of the Exchange Act suggest that Congress did not intend to create an exception to § 1738 for suits alleging violations of the Act, and precedent supports the conclusion that the concerns underlying the grant of exclusive jurisdiction in § 27 are not undermined by state-court approval of settlements releasing Exchange Act claims. Even when exclusively federal claims are at stake, there is no universal right to litigate such claims in federal court. See, e. g., Allen v. McCurry, 449 U. S. 90, 105. Pp.380-386.

Full Text of Opinion

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