454 U.S. 1157 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court


454 U.S. 1157

Jonez P. SUTHOFF, et al
No. 80-1975

Supreme Court of the United States

January 11, 1982

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 REHNQUIST, dissenting.

Respondents in this case sought to invoke the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1331 and 1343(3). They sought compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees or, in the alternative, the rescission of instruments by which they conveyed certain real property to petitioners. App. to Pet. for Cert. A2. Petitioners filed the customary Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 motions requesting dismissal of the complaint for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The District Judge, a practicing Mississippi lawyer for many years before he took the bench, granted the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction:

Page 454 U.S. 1157 , 1158

"The complaint contains conclusory allegations, but when reduced to the essentials, plaintiffs allege that while they received $100,830. 00 this was not enough; that the land was in fact worth several times this amount; that they were induced to sell by the fraud and deceit of their own attorneys and appraiser; and that the remaining defendants were in a conspiracy to acquire the land for a fraction of its true worth.

"The plaintiffs thus are asserting a classic common law action for the common law tort of fraud and deceit. If the plaintiffs indeed have such a claim it is properly redressable only in the state court. The allegations do not reach Federal Constitutional proportions." Id., at A3.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 637 F.2d 337, reversed the judgment of dismissal:

"The issue before us is narrow: Was the federal court without jurisdiction conferred by Congress to decide the case, on the face of the complaint, under the stringent test enunciated by Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 681-682 [, 775-76], . . . . ( 1946); '[W]here the complaint . . . is so drawn as to seek recovery directly under the Constitution or laws of the United States, the federal court, but for two possible exceptions, . . . must entertain the suit.' (Italics ours.) (The two exceptions are where the federal question 'clearly appears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or where such a claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.' Id.) . . . .

"So tested, the complaint sufficiently states federal claims, and (without intimating as to the merits of the claims) we reverse the district court's dismissal for lack of jurisdiction." 637 F.2d 337, 339 (1981).

Had the Court of Appeals been content to end its opinion at that point, this case would be one among hundreds where busy federal appellate courts decide whether "conclusory [454 U.S. 1157 , 1159]

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