After Leong Chong, a Singapore resident, was accidentally killed
in that country while performing repair work on a ship owned by one
of the respondents, a subsidiary of the other respondent, his
widow, petitioner Chick Kam Choo (hereafter petitioner), also a
Singapore resident, brought suit in Federal District Court alleging
various causes of action, including claims under the general
federal maritime law and the Texas Wrongful Death Statute. In 1980,
the court granted respondents summary judgment on the maritime law
claim, concluding that applicable choice-of-law principles required
that Singapore law, and not the maritime law of the United States,
should apply. The court also dismissed the rest of the case on
federalforum non conveniens
grounds, provided that
respondents submit to the Singapore courts' jurisdiction.
Petitioner then filed suit in the Texas state courts under the
Texas statutes and Singapore law, but the Federal District Court
enjoined petitioner from prosecuting any claims relating to her
husband's death in the state courts. The Court of Appeals affirmed,
rejecting petitioner's contention that the injunction violated the
Anti-Injunction Act (Act), which generally bars federal courts from
enjoining state court proceedings. The court ruled that the
injunction fell within the Act's "relitigation" exception, which
permits a federal court to issue an injunction "to protect or
effectuate its judgments."
Because the District Court's injunction barring
the state court proceedings is broader than is necessary "to
protect or effectuate" that court's 1980 judgment dismissing
petitioner's lawsuit from federal court, this case must be remanded
for the entry of a more narrowly tailored order. Pp. 486 U. S.
(a) An essential prerequisite for applying the Act's
relitigation exception is that the claims or issues which the
federal injunction insulates from state court litigation actually
have been decided by the federal court. This prerequisite is strict
and narrow, requiring an assessment of the precise state of the
record and what the earlier federal order actually
it does not permit a post hoc
judgment as to what the
order was intended
to say. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co.
v. Locomotive Engineers, 398 U. S. 281
Page 486 U. S. 141
(b) Thus, since the 1980 judgment did not resolve the merits of
petitioner's Singapore law claim, the injunction exceeded the Act's
restrictions insofar as it barred the state courts from considering
that claim. The 1980 judgment simply resolved that petitioner's
claims should be dismissed under the federal forum non
doctrine, and did not determine whether the
courts are an appropriate forum for the Singapore
law claim. The Texas courts would apply a significantly different
forum non conveniens
analysis than the federal courts, and
might well consider themselves an appropriate forum, in light of an
"open courts" provision in the State Constitution. The argument
that an independent state forum non conveniens
determination is preempted under the "reverse-Erie
principle of federal maritime law, see, e.g., Offshore
Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.
, 477 U. S.
-223, cannot help respondents, since that preemption
question was not actually litigated and decided by the District
Court. When a state proceeding presents a federal issue, even a
preemption issue, the proper course under the Act is to allow the
state court to resolve the issue. Pp. 486 U. S.
(c) Since petitioner's state law claim was necessarily
adjudicated in the original federal action by the District Court's
choice-of-law ruling that Singapore law controls petitioner's suit,
the injunction, insofar as it barred the state courts from
considering the state law claim, is within the scope of the
relitigation exception, and is permissible under the Act. Pp.
486 U. S.
(d) The fact that an injunction may issue under the Act does not
mean that it must
issue. On remand, the District Court
should decide whether it is appropriate to enter an injunction. P.
486 U. S.
817 F.2d 307, reversed and remanded.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion.
Page 486 U. S. 142
JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns the propriety of an injunction entered by the
United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
The injunction prohibited specified parties from litigating a
certain matter in the Texas state courts. We must determine whether
this injunction is permissible under the Anti-Injunction Act, 28
U.S.C. § 2283, which generally bars federal courts from granting
injunctions to stay proceedings in state courts.
In 1977, Leong Chong, a resident of the Republic of Singapore,
was accidentally killed in that country while performing repair
work on a ship owned by respondent Esso Tankers, Inc., a subsidiary
of respondent Exxon Corporation. Petitioner Chick Kam Choo, also a
resident of Singapore, is Chong's widow. *
In 1978, she
brought suit in the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Texas, presenting claims under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.
§ 688, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. § 761, the
general maritime law of the United States, App. 4, and the Texas
Wrongful Death Statute, Tex.Civ.Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. §§
Respondents moved for summary judgment on the Jones Act and
DOHSA claims, arguing that Chong was not a seaman, which rendered
the Jones Act inapplicable, and that Chong had not died on the
"high seas," but while the ship was in port, which rendered the
DOHSA inapplicable. App. 9-10. Respondents also moved for summary
judgment on the claim involving the general maritime law of the
Page 486 U. S. 143
United States, arguing that, due to the lack of substantial
contacts with the United States, the maritime law of Singapore, not
that of the United States, governed. Id.
at 10 (citing
Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U. S. 571
(1953); Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co.,
358 U. S. 354
(1959)). In addition to seeking summary judgment, respondents moved
for dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens,
arguing that, under the criteria identified in Gulf Oil Corp. v
Gilbert, 330 U. S. 501
(1947), the District Court was not a convenient forum.
In 1980, the District Court, adopting the memorandum and
recommendations of a magistrate, granted respondents' motion for
summary judgment on the Jones Act and DOHSA claims. The court
agreed with respondents that those statutes were inapplicable. App.
29-31, 34. With respect to the general maritime law claim, the
District Court applied factors identified in Lauritzen
Hellenic Lines Ltd. v. Rhoditis, 398 U.
(1970), to the choice-of-law question and
concluded that the "statutory and maritime law of the United States
should not be applied." App. 32. This conclusion led the court to
grant summary judgment on petitioner's general maritime law claim,
as well as to consider whether dismissal of the rest of the case
was warranted under the doctrine offorum non conveniens.
After reviewing the various factors set out in Gilbert,
the court concluded that dismissal was appropriate, and accordingly
granted respondents' motion to dismiss on forum non
grounds, provided respondents submit to the
jurisdiction of the Singapore courts. The Court of Appeals for the
Fifth Circuit affirmed. Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp.,
F.2d 693, cert. denied,
464 U.S. 826 (1983).
Rather than commence litigation in Singapore, however,
petitioner filed suit in the Texas state courts. Although the state
complaint initially included all the claims in the federal
complaint, as well as a claim based on Singapore law, petitioner
later voluntarily dismissed the federal claims. This
Page 486 U. S. 144
left only the Texas state law claim and the Singapore law claim.
Brief for Petitioners 4, n. 4. Respondents briefly
succeeded in removing the case to the District Court on the basis
of diversity of citizenship, but the Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit ultimately held that complete diversity did not exist, and
the case was returned to the District Court with instructions to
remand it to state court. 764 F.2d 1148 (1985).
Respondents then initiated a new action in federal court
requesting an injunction to prevent petitioner and her attorneys,
Benton Musslewhite and Joseph C. Blanks, "from seeking to
relitigate in any state forum the issues finally decided" in the
federal court's 1980 dismissal. App. 93. Petitioner moved to
dismiss, arguing that the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283,
prohibited the issuance of such an injunction. App. 96-98.
Respondents, in turn, moved for summary judgment and a final
at 104-108. The District Court granted
respondents' motion and permanently enjoined petitioner and her
"from prosecuting or commencing any causes of action or claims
against [respondents] in the courts of the State of Texas or any
other state . . . arising out of or related to the alleged wrongful
death of Leong Chong."
Petitioner appealed, reiterating her contention that the
injunction violated the Anti-Injunction Act. A divided panel of the
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected this argument. The
panel majority concluded that the injunction here fell within the
"relitigation" exception to the Act, which permits a federal court
to issue an injunction "to protect or effectuate its judgments."
The majority reasoned that an injunction was necessary to prevent
relitigation of the forum non conveniens
petitioner pointed to no additional factor that made the "Texas
court in Houston a more convenient forum for this litigation than a
United States District Court in Houston." 817 F.2d 307, 312 (1987).
The majority acknowledged that, due to an "open courts" provision
Page 486 U. S. 145
the Texas Constitution, Art. I, § 13, which is reflected in the
Texas Wrongful Death Statute, Tex.Civ.Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. §
71.031 (1986), the state courts may not apply the same, or indeed,
any forum non conveniens
analysis to petitioner's case.
Rather, as the Court of Appeals noted, it is possible that
"Texas has constituted itself the world's forum of final resort,
where suit for personal injury or death may always be filed if
817 F.2d at 314 (footnote omitted). In this maritime context,
however, the Court of Appeals majority concluded that the so-called
" uniformity doctrine, see, e.g.,
Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.
, 477 U. S.
-223 (1986), required that federal forum non
determinations preempt state law. Because the Court
of Appeals found any independent state forum non
inquiry to be preempted, it held that the
injunction was permissible. Chief Judge Clark wrote separately, but
joined this conclusion. 817 F.2d at 325. Judge Reavley dissented,
maintaining that the Texas courts should be allowed to apply their
own open courts forum non conveniens
standard. The dissent
also criticized the majority's "bold new rule of preemption" which
had the effect of "nullify[ing] the Texas open forum law for
admiralty cases." Ibid.
The Court of Appeals' ruling conflicted with a decision of the
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Zipfel v. Halliburton
832 F.2d 1477 (1988), cert. pending sub nom. Crowley
Maritime Corp. v. Zipfel,
No. 87-1122, which held that the
Anti-Injunction Act precluded an injunction in similar
circumstances. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict, 484
U.S. 952 (1987), and now reverse and remand.
The Anti-Injunction Act generally prohibits the federal courts
from interfering with proceedings in the state courts:
"A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to
stay proceedings in a State Court except as expressly
Page 486 U. S. 146
authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its
jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments."
28 U.S.C. § 2283.
The Act, which has existed in some form since 1793, see
Act of Mar. 2, 1793, ch. 22, § 5, 1 Stat. 335, is a necessary
concomitant of the Framers' decision to authorize, and Congress'
decision to implement, a dual system of federal and state courts.
It represents Congress' considered judgment as to how to balance
the tensions inherent in such a system. Prevention of frequent
federal court intervention is important to make the dual system
work effectively. By generally barring such intervention, the Act
"the inevitable friction between the state and federal courts
that ensues from the injunction of state judicial proceedings by a
Vendo Co. v. Lektro-Vend Corp., 433 U.
, 433 U. S.
-631 (1977) (plurality opinion). Due in no small part
to the fundamental constitutional independence of the States,
Congress adopted a general policy under which state proceedings
"should normally be allowed to continue unimpaired by
intervention of the lower federal courts, with relief from error,
if any, through the state appellate courts and ultimately this
Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers,
398 U. S. 281
398 U. S. 287
Congress, however, has permitted injunctions in certain specific
circumstances, namely when expressly authorized by statute,
necessary in aid of the court's jurisdiction, or necessary to
protect or effectuate the court's judgment. These exceptions are
designed to ensure the effectiveness and supremacy of federal law.
But as the Court has recognized, the exceptions are narrow, and are
"not [to] be enlarged by loose statutory construction."
Ibid. See also Clothing Workers v. Richman Brothers
Co., 348 U. S. 511
348 U. S. 514
(1955). Because an injunction staying state proceedings is proper
only if it falls within one of the statutory exceptions,
Atlantic Coast Line, supra,
at 398 U. S.
-287, and because the last of the three exceptions is
the only one even arguably applicable
Page 486 U. S. 147
here, the central question in this case is whether the District
Court's injunction was necessary "to protect or effectuate" the
District Court's 1980 judgment dismissing petitioner's lawsuit from
The relitigation exception was designed to permit a federal
court to prevent state litigation of an issue that previously was
presented to and decided by the federal court. It is founded in the
well recognized concepts of res judicata
estoppel. The proper scope of the exception is perhaps best
illustrated by this Court's decision in Atlantic Coast Line,
That case arose out of a union's decision to picket a railroad.
The railroad immediately sought an injunction from a Federal
District Court to prevent the picketing. The court refused to
enjoin the union, issuing an order in 1967 that concluded, in part,
that the unions were "free to engage in self-help." Id.
398 U. S. 289
The railroad then went to state court, where an injunction was
granted. Two years later, this Court held that the Railway Labor
Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.,
prohibited state court
injunctions such as the one the railroad had obtained. Railroad
Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394 U.
(1969). This decision prompted the union to move
in state court to dissolve the injunction, but the state court
declined to do so. Rather than appeal, however, the union returned
to federal court and obtained an injunction against the enforcement
of the state court injunction. The District Court read its 1967
order as deciding not just that federal law did not authorize an
injunction, but that federal law preempted the State from
interfering with the union's right of self-help by issuing an
injunction. Accordingly, the court concluded that an injunction was
necessary to protect that judgment.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, but this Court reversed, holding
that the federal court injunction was improper even assuming that
the state court's refusal to dissolve its injunction was erroneous.
398 U.S. at 398 U. S. 291
n. 5. After carefully
Page 486 U. S. 148
reviewing the arguments actually presented to the District Court
in the original 1967 litigation and the precise language of the
District Court's order, we rejected the District Court's later
conclusion that its 1967 order had addressed the propriety of an
injunction issued by a state court:
"Based solely on the state of the record when the  order
was entered, we are inclined to believe that the District Court did
not determine whether federal law precluded an injunction based on
state law. Not only was that point never argued to the court, but
there is no language in the order that necessarily implies any
decision on that question."
at 398 U. S.
Thus, as Atlantic Coast Line
makes clear, an essential
prerequisite for applying the relitigation exception is that the
claims or issues which the federal injunction insulates from
litigation in state proceedings actually have been decided by the
federal court. Moreover, Atlantic Coast Line
that this prerequisite is strict and narrow. The Court assessed the
precise state of the record and what the earlier federal order
said; it did not permit the District Court to
render a post hoc
judgment as to what the order was
to say. With these principles in mind, we turn to
the two claims petitioner seeks to litigate in the Texas state
First, petitioner asserts a claim under Singapore law. App. 40.
The District Court did not resolve the merits of this claim in its
1980 order. Rather, the only issue decided by the District Court
was that petitioner's claims should be dismissed under the federal
forum non conveniens
doctrine. Federal forum non
principles simply cannot determine whether Texas
courts, which operate under a broad "open courts" mandate, would
consider themselves an appropriate forum for petitioner's lawsuit.
Tex.Const., Art. I, § 13; Tex.Civ.Prac. & Rem.Code
Ann. § 71.031 (1986). Cf. Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc.,
481 U. S. 1
481 U. S. 11
(1987). Respondents' arguments to the District Court in 1980
Page 486 U. S. 149
this distinction, citing federal cases almost exclusively and
discussing only federal forum non conveniens
App. 10-12, 17-26. Moreover, the Court of Appeals
expressly recognized that the Texas courts would apply a
significantly different forum non conveniens
F.2d at 314. Thus, whether the Texas state
courts are an
appropriate forum for petitioner's Singapore law claims has not yet
been litigated, and an injunction to foreclose consideration of
that issue is not within the relitigation exception.
Respondents seek to avoid this problem by arguing that any
separate state law determination is preempted under the
" principle of federal maritime law. See
generally Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire,
477 U.S. at
477 U. S.
-223; Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart,
253 U. S. 149
(1920); Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.
(1917). Under this view, which was shared by the
Court of Appeals, the only permissible forum non
determination in this maritime context is the one
made by the District Court, and an injunction may properly issue to
prevent the state courts from undertaking any different
The contention that an independent state forum non
determination is preempted by federal maritime law,
however, does little to help respondents unless that preemption
question was itself actually litigated and decided by the District
Court. Since respondents concede that it was not, Tr. of Oral Arg.
32, the relitigation exception cannot apply. As we have previously
"a federal court does not have inherent power to ignore the
limitations of § 2283 and to enjoin state court proceedings merely
because those proceedings interfere with a protected federal right
or invade an area preempted by federal law, even when the
interference is unmistakably clear."
Atlantic Coast Line,
398 U.S. at 398 U. S. 294
See also Clothing Workers v. Richman Brothers Cl.,
348 U. S. 511
(1955). Rather, when a state proceeding presents a federal issue,
even a preemption
Page 486 U. S. 150
issue, the proper course is to seek resolution of that issue by
the state court.
This is the course respondents must follow with respect to the
Singapore law claim. It may be that respondents' reading of the
preemptive force of federal maritime forum non conveniens
determinations is correct. This is a question we need not reach and
on which we express no opinion. We simply hold that respondents
must present their preemption argument to the Texas state courts,
which are presumed competent to resolve federal issues. Cf.
Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc.,
481 U.S. at 481 U. S. 15
Clothing Workers, supra,
at 348 U. S. 518
Accordingly, insofar as the District Court enjoined the state
courts from considering petitioner's
Page 486 U. S. 151
Singapore law claim, the injunction exceeded the restrictions of
the Anti-Injunction Act.
Finally, petitioner asserts a claim under Texas state law. In
contrast to the Singapore law claim, the validity of this claim was
adjudicated in the original federal action. Respondents argued to
the District Court in 1980 that, under applicable choice-of-law
principles, the law of Singapore must control petitioner's suit.
App. 10. The District Court expressly agreed, noting
that only two of the eight relevant factors "point toward American
law," and concluding that the "statutory and maritime law of the
United States should not be applied." Id.
Petitioner seeks to relitigate this issue in state court by arguing
that "there are substantial and/or significant contacts" with the
United States such that "the application of American and Texas law
is mandated." Id.
at 39. Because in its 1980 decision the
District Court decided that Singapore law must control petitioner's
lawsuit, a decision that necessarily precludes the application of
Texas law, an injunction preventing relitigation of that issue in
state court is within the scope of the relitigation exception to
the Anti-Injunction Act. Accordingly, insofar as the District Court
enjoined the state courts from considering petitioner's claim under
the substantive law of Texas, the injunction was permissible.
Because the injunction actually entered by the District Court,
at 118-119, was broader than the limited injunction we
find acceptable, we must reverse the judgment approving a broad
injunction and remand for entry of a more narrowly tailored order.
Of course, the fact that an injunction may issue under the
Anti-Injunction Act does not mean that it must
remand, the District Court should decide whether it is appropriate
to enter an injunction.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed,
and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with
It is so ordered.
* Choo's attorneys, Benton Musslewhite and Joseph C. Blanks,
having been specifically enjoined by the District Court, are also
petitioners before this Court. For convenience, however, we shall
use the term "petitioner" to refer only to Choo.
JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.
I agree with the Court that, as a general matter,
"[f]ederal forum non conveniens
cannot determine whether [state] courts, which operate under a
broad 'open courts' mandate, [will] consider themselves an
for a federal litigant's lawsuit. Ante
at 486 U. S. 148
Consequently, in diversity cases -- for example -- a district
court's dismissal on forum non conveniens
serve as a basis for a later injunction if the plaintiff
subsequently brings the same action in a state court.
But, as the Court recognizes, this case involves the special
area of federal maritime law. Ante
at 486 U. S. 149
In this field, the federal interest in uniformity is so substantial
that a determination that federal law requires that a case be heard
in a foreign forum could possibly preempt any contrary
determination by a State court applying state forum non
law. The Court acknowledges that our precedents may
ultimately support such a conclusion in this case. Ante
486 U. S.
Had the District Court made such a finding here when it
dismissed petitioner's case -- holding that federal maritime law
required that this case be heard in Singapore -- then I
Page 486 U. S. 152
believe that the relitigation exception found in 28 U.S.C. §
2283 would permit the injunction that the District Court later
issued. Contra, Zipfel v. Halliburton Co.,
832 F.2d 1477,
1488 (CA9 1988), cert. pending sub nom. Crowley Maritime Corp.
No. 87-1122. This is true whether or not a finding
of such preemption would have been correct: petitioner's remedy for
an erroneous preemption decision would have been an appeal of the
District Court's dismissal, and not relitigation of the issue in
state court. However, the District Court's terse dismissal order in
this case lacks any express ruling on uniformity or preemption.
App. 34-35. Absent such a holding, the District Court
had no "judgment" on this question which it needed to "protect or
effectuate" by enjoining the subsequent state court litigation.
28 U.S.C. § 2283.
Consequently, I agree with the Court that the relitigation
exception to § 2283 cannot be invoked here, ante
and the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the District
Court's injunction must be reversed in pertinent part.