Kline v. Burke Construction Co.
260 U.S. 226 (1922)

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  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Kline v. Burke Construction Co., 260 U.S. 226 (1922)

Kline v. Burke Construction Company

No. 81

Argued October 19, 20, 1922

Decided November 20, 1922

260 U.S. 226

Syllabus

1. Where a federal court has first acquired jurisdiction of the subject matter of a cause, it may enjoin the parties from proceeding in a state court of concurrent jurisdiction where the effect would be to defeat or impair the jurisdiction of the federal court. P. 260 U. S. 229.

2. But where the actions in both causes are in personam, seeking only money judgments, jurisdiction in the one is not affected by the other, and there is no basis for such an injunction. P. 260 U. S. 230.

3. The right of a citizen to prosecute his cause against a citizen of another state in the federal court is not a right granted by the Constitution, and it affords no ground upon which that court may assume jurisdiction to enjoin the defendant from prosecuting a counter-action on the same contract in a state court. P. 233.

271 F. 605 reversed.

Certiorari to a decree of the circuit court of appeals reversing a decree of the district court which denied an

Page 260 U. S. 227

injunction in a dependent suit brought by the present respondent to restrain the petitioners from prosecuting a suit in a state court.

Primary Holding
The court that first receives proper jurisdiction over an in rem case, whether that is a state or a federal court, retains exclusive authority to decide it.
Facts
Burke sued Kline for a breach of contract in a federal court, based on diversity jurisdiction. Kline then sued Burke in an equity action in state court, arguing that Burke had abandoned the same contract that was the basis of the federal court case. Both cases arose from the same events and were based on the same cause of action, but the case in state court included additional parties. After the federal court case resulted in a mistrial, Burke sought an injunction from the federal court against the proceedings in state court. The lower court denied this request, but the intermediate appellate court ruled that the injunction should be issued.

Opinions

Majority

  • George Sutherland (Author)
  • William Howard Taft
  • Joseph McKenna
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
  • Willis Van Devanter
  • Mahlon Pitney
  • James Clark McReynolds
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis

An action based on in rem jurisdiction remains within the exclusive authority of the first court that receives it, while an action based on personal jurisdiction may give rise to multiple cases in multiple jurisdictions. An injunction by a federal court is proper for in rem cases if the federal court has taken jurisdiction before the state court, such that allowing both cases to proceed would cause friction between the court systems. This case is based on personal jurisdiction, however, and the plaintiff seeks money damages rather than equitable relief. There is no constitutionally protected right to bring a federal court case under diversity jurisdiction, so it cannot be infringed by the res judicata effect of a judgment in the state court.

Case Commentary

If state and federal courts were allowed to exercise jurisdiction over claims relating to the same matter, the risk of inconsistent judgments and encouraging forum-shopping would undermine the judicial interests of fairness and finality.

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