1. Where the judgment of a state court rests upon two grounds,
one of which is federal and the other nonfederal in character, the
jurisdiction of this Court fails if the nonfederal ground is
independent of the federal ground and adequate to support the
judgment. P. 296 U. S.
2. Whether the provisions of a contract are nonseverable, so
that, if one be held invalid the others must fall with it, is a
question of general, and not of federal, law. P. 296 U. S.
3. A ruling by a state supreme court that a concededly invalid
arbitration clause in a contract between a motion picture
distributor and an exhibitor (the same clause that was held invalid
as a violation of the Sherman Act in Paramount Famous Corp. v.
United States, 282 U. S. 30
inseparable from the other provisions, and rendered the entire
contract unenforceable, held
a nonfederal ground adequate
to support the judgment without regard to whether the court decided
a federal question in determining the contract invalid also on
another ground. P. 296 U. S.
4. Enterprise Irrigation District v. Canal Co.,
243 U. S. 157
distinguished. P. 296 U. S.
Writ of certiorari to 194 Minn. 654, 260 N.W. 320,
Certiorari, 295 U.S. 730, to review a judgment affirming a
judgment denying recovery in an action for damages for breach of
contract. A writ of certiorari previously granted in this case, 293
U.S. 550, to review an earlier
Page 296 U. S. 208
judgment of the state court, 192 Minn. 212, 255 N.W. 845, was
dismissed as improvidently granted, it appearing that no final
Judgment had been entered, 294 U.S. 696.
MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is an action brought in a Minnesota state court of first
instance by the Film Corporation against Muller to recover damages
for an alleged breach of two contracts by which Muller was licensed
to exhibit certain moving picture films belonging to the
corporation. Muller answered, setting up the invalidity of the
contracts under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It was and is agreed
that these contracts are substantially the same as the one involved
in United States v. Paramount Famous Lasky
Corp., 34 F.2d
, aff'd, 282 U. S. 282
30, that petitioner was one of the defendants in that action, and
that the "arbitration clause," paragraph 18 of each of the
contracts sued upon is the same as that held in that case to be
invalid. In view of the disposition which we are to make of this
writ, it is not necessary to set forth the terms of the arbitration
clause or the other provisions of the contract.
The court of first instance held that each contract sued upon
violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and dismissed the action. In a
supplemental opinion, that court put its decision upon the grounds,
first, that the arbitration plan is so connected with the remainder
of the contract that the entire contract is tainted, and second
that the contract
Page 296 U. S. 209
violates the Sherman Anti-Trust law. The state Supreme Court
affirmed. 192 Minn. 212, 255 N.W. 845. We granted certiorari, 293
U.S. 550, but, when the case was called for argument, it appeared
that no final judgment had been entered, and the writ was dismissed
as improvidently granted. 294 U.S. 696. The case was then remanded
to the state supreme court and, the judgment having been made final
and again affirmed by the state Supreme Court on the authority of
its previous opinion, 194 Minn. 654, 260 N.W. 320, we allowed the
present writ. 295 U.S. 730.
In its opinion, the state supreme court, after a statement of
the case, said (192 Minn. at 214):
"The question presented on this appeal is whether the
arbitration clause is severable from the contract, leaving the
remainder of the contract enforceable or not severable, permeating
and tainting the whole contract with illegality and making it
That court then proceeded to refer to and discuss a number of
decisions of state and federal courts, some of which took the view
that the arbitration clause was severable, and others that it was
not severable, from the remainder of the contract. After reviewing
the opinion and decree of the federal District Court in the
case, the lower court reached the conclusion
that the holding of the federal court was that the entire contract
was illegal, and, upon that view and upon what it conceived to be
the weight of authority, held the arbitration plan was inseparable
from the other provisions of the contract. Whether this conclusion
was right or wrong we need not determine. It is enough that it is
at least not without fair support.
Respondent contends that the question of severability was alone
decided, and that no federal question was determined by the lower
court. This contention petitioner challenges, and asserts that a
federal question was involved and decided. We do not attempt to
settle the dispute,
Page 296 U. S. 210
but, assuming for present purposes only that petitioner's view
is the correct one, the case is controlled by the settled rule
that, where the judgment of a state court rests upon two grounds,
one of which is federal and the other nonfederal in character, our
jurisdiction fails if the nonfederal ground is independent of the
federal ground and adequate to support the judgment. This rule had
become firmly fixed at least as early as Klinger v.
13 Wall. 257, 80 U. S. 263
and has been reiterated in a long line of cases since that time. It
is enough to cite, in addition to the Klinger
following: Enterprise Irrigation District v. Canal Co.,
243 U. S. 157
243 U. S.
-165; Petrie v. Nampa Irrigation District,
248 U. S. 154
248 U. S. 157
McCoy v. Shaw, 277 U. S. 302
Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U. S. 361
Whether the provisions of a contract are nonseverable, so that,
if one be held invalid, the others must fall with it, is clearly a
question of general, and not of federal, law. The invalidity of the
arbitration clause which the present contracts embody is conceded.
It was held invalid by the federal District Court in the
case, and its judgment was affirmed here. The
question therefore was foreclosed, and was not the subject of
controversy in the state courts. In that situation, the primary
question to be determined by the court below was whether the
concededly invalid clause was separable from the other provisions
of the contract. The ruling of the state supreme court that it was
not is sufficient to conclude the case without regard to the
determination, if, in fact, any was made, in respect of the federal
question. It follows that the nonfederal ground is adequate to
sustain the judgment.
The rule announced in Enterprise Irrigation District v.
Canal Co., supra,
and other cases to the effect that our
jurisdiction attaches where the nonfederal ground is so interwoven
with the other as not to be an independent
Page 296 U. S. 211
matter does not apply. The construction put upon the contracts
did not constitute a preliminary step which simply had the effect
of bringing forward for determination the federal question, but was
a decision which automatically took the federal question out of the
case, if otherwise it would be there. The nonfederal question in
respect of the construction of the contracts and the federal
question in respect of their validity under the Anti-Trust Act were
clearly independent of one another. See Allen v. Southern
Pacific R. Co., 173 U. S. 479
173 U. S.
-492. The case, in effect, was disposed of before the
federal question said to be involved was reached. Chouteau v.
Gibson, 111 U. S. 200
Chapman v. Goodnow, 123 U. S. 540
123 U. S. 548
A decision of that question then became unnecessary, and, whether
it was decided or not, our want of jurisdiction is clear.
Writ dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the consideration or decision
of this case.