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Semtek Int'l Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp.

Supreme Court of the United States

December 5, 2000, Argued ; February 27, 2001, Decided

No. 99-1551


 [*499]  [**1023]  [***37]    JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

 This case presents the question whether the claim-preclusive effect of a federal judgment dismissing a diversity action on statute-of-limitations grounds is determined by the law of the State in which the federal court sits.

Petitioner filed a complaint against respondent in California state court, alleging breach of contract and various business torts. Respondent removed the case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California on the basis of diversity of citizenship, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441 (1994 ed. and Supp. IV), and successfully moved to dismiss petitioner's claims as barred by California's 2-year statute of limitations. In its order of dismissal, the District [****6]  Court, adopting language suggested by respondent, dismissed petitioner's claims "in [their] entirety on the merits and with prejudice." App. to Pet. for Cert. 59a. Without contesting the District Court's designation of its dismissal as "on the merits," petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed the District Court's order. 168 F.3d 501 (1999) (table). Petitioner also brought suit against respondent in the State Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, alleging the same causes of action, which were not time barred under Maryland's 3-year statute of limitations.  [**1024]  Respondent sought injunctive relief against this action from the California federal court under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651, and removed the action to the United States District Court for the  [*500]  District of Maryland on federal-question grounds (diversity grounds were not available because Lockheed "is a Maryland citizen," Semtek Int'l Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 988 F. Supp. 913, 914 (1997)). The California federal court denied the relief requested, and the Maryland federal court remanded the case to state court because [****7]  the federal question arose only by way of defense, ibid. Following a hearing, the Maryland state court granted respondent's motion to dismiss on the ground of res judicata. Petitioner then returned to the California federal court and the Ninth Circuit, unsuccessfully moving both courts to amend the former's earlier order so as to indicate that the dismissal was not "on the merits." Petitioner also appealed the Maryland trial court's order of dismissal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed, holding that, regardless of whether California would  [***38]  have accorded claim-preclusive effect to a statute-of-limitations dismissal by one of its own courts, the dismissal by the California federal court barred the complaint filed in Maryland, since the res judicata effect of federal diversity judgments is prescribed by federal law, under which the earlier dismissal was on the merits and claim preclusive. 128 Md. App. 39, 736 A.2d 1104 (1999). After the Maryland Court of Appeals declined to review the case, we granted certiorari. 530 U.S. 1260 (2000).

Petitioner contends that the outcome of this case is controlled by Dupasseur v. Rochereau, 88 U.S. 130, 21 Wall. 130, 135, 22 L. Ed. 588 (1875), [****8]  which held that the res judicata effect of a federal diversity judgment "is such as would belong to judgments of the State courts rendered under similar circumstances," and may not be accorded any "higher sanctity or effect." Since, petitioner argues, the dismissal of an action on statute-of-limitations grounds by a California state court would not be claim preclusive, it follows that the similar dismissal of this diversity action by the California federal court cannot be  [*501]  claim preclusive. While we agree that this would be the result demanded by Dupasseur, the case is not dispositive because it was decided under the Conformity Act of 1872, 17 Stat. 196, which required federal courts to apply the procedural law of the forum State in nonequity cases. That arguably affected the outcome of the case. See Dupasseur, supra, at 135. See also Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 87, Comment a, p. 315 (1980) (hereinafter Restatement) ("Since procedural law largely determines the matters that may be adjudicated in an action, state law had to be considered in ascertaining the effect of a federal judgment").

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531 U.S. 497 *; 121 S. Ct. 1021 **; 149 L. Ed. 2d 32 ***; 2001 U.S. LEXIS 1951 ****; 69 U.S.L.W. 4147; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 1569; 2001 Colo. J. C.A.R. 1046; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 109


Subsequent History: On remand at, Dismissed by, in part Semtek Int'l, Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 2002 Md. Cir. Ct. LEXIS 4 (2002)


Semtek Int'l Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 128 Md. App. 39, 736 A.2d 1104, 1999 Md. App. LEXIS 146 (1999)

Disposition: 128 Md. App. 39, 736 A. 2d 1104, reversed and remanded.


merits, claim-preclusive, judgments, federal court, diversity, courts, state court, federal judgment, cases, state law, statute of limitations, judicata, grounds, dismissal without prejudice, claim preclusion, present case, statute-of-limitations, prescribed, contends

Civil Procedure, Dismissal, Involuntary Dismissals, General Overview, Judgments, Preclusion of Judgments, Res Judicata, Governments, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Voluntary Dismissals, Notice of Dismissal, Dismissal Without Prejudice, Constitutional Law, Relations Among Governments, Full Faith & Credit, Full Faith & Credit, Full Faith & Credit Statutes, Federal & State Interrelationships, Federal Common Law, Preliminary Considerations