454 U.S. 1103 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

KEY v. WISE , 454 U.S. 1103 (1981)

454 U.S. 1103

Alf KEY et al.
Louise P. WISE, et al
No. 81-187

Supreme Court of the United States

December 7, 1981

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL and Justice BLACKMUN join, dissenting.

Petitioners, the Keys, brought this action in the District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi against respondents, the Wises and the United States. They sought to quiet title to 451 acres of land in Humphreys County, Miss., over which the United States had acquired two easements from the Wises. The Federal Quiet Title Act 1 vests exclusive original jurisdiction of such suits in the federal district courts and waives the sovereign immunity of the United States only in respect to such suits. The District Court first denied motions of the Wises and the United States to dismiss the suit. This was correct in light of the Act. But the court

Page 454 U.S. 1103 , 1104

then, sua sponte, entered an order of abstention remitting the parties to initiation of an action in the state courts of Mississippi. [Footnote 2] That order was a patent flouting of the congressional mandate pre-empting state court jurisdiction and requiring the District Court to exercise its original and exclusive jurisdiction. Nonetheless, petitioners' motion for reconsideration was denied. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, without filing an opinion, dismissed the appeal and denied petitioners' motion to stay state court proceedings pending appeal.

The Wises brought suit meanwhile against petitioners in Mississippi Chancery Court, which declared title in Wises. While the case was pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court, petitioners sought a writ of mandamus from the Court of Appeals to order the District Court to rescind the abstention order. The application was denied by the Court of Appeals, again without opinion. We denied certiorari sub nom. Key v. Keady, 429 U.S. 1023 (1976). Having failed on their motion to reconsider, on their appeal from the abstention order, and on an extraordinary writ of mandamus, petitioners took the only recourse open to them: They objected to the Chancery Court's exercise of jurisdiction in the Mississippi Supreme Court on the ground that under the Federal Quiet Title Act the United States District Court hadexclusive jurisdiction. The Mississippi Supreme Court rejected petitioners' preemption objection based on the Quiet Title Act on the ground that since the Wises, as plaintiffs in the suit, did not controvert any interest claimed by the United States, the Quiet Title Act was irrelevant to the state court suit. Key v. Wise, 341 So.2d 1326 (1977). [454 U.S. 1103 , 1105]

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