LOCATION: Fort Bragg
DOCKET NO.: 80-1556
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 457 US 85 (1982)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1982
Jerome B. Falk, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioners
O. Clayton Lilienstern - on behalf of the Respondents Lummis et al
Rick Harrison - on behalf of Respondents White and Bullock
Facts of the case
Media for Cory v. White
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1982 in Cory v. White
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments next in Cory against the Attorney General of Texas.
Mr. Falk, you may proceed when you are ready.
Jerome B. Falk, Jr.:
Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, though we were here before in California versus Texas, the issues of jurisdiction now presented by this petition were not addressed in any of the brief of the parties, or with the exception of the Eleventh Amendment issue in the concurring opinion.
Indeed, it is fair to say that in the days following the decision in California versus Texas, many of us, myself included, thought that the concurring opinions had pointed the way to a workable and fair procedure for the resolution of the domicile dispute concerning the domicile of Howard Hughes.
However, in the months that followed, numerous procedural and jurisdictional problems not ventillated in California versus Texas became apparent.
I intend to discuss three grounds which preclude, in our view, preclude the district court from exercising jurisdiction in this case.
A central theme of those issues is that Congress has simply never undertaken to fashion a statutory process for the resolution of interstate death tax controversies of this kind.
The court of appeals sought to bend the federal Interpleader Act to that task, but for the three reasons I will discuss, the Act simply will not serve.
Moreover, though I will not separately discuss the issue today of changing venue, the court of appeals use and understanding of the Interpleader Act would produce what we believe is the absurd and unfair result of requiring a state, California in this instance, to litigate its death tax claim for what is an enormous sum of money before a jury of Texas citizens when the issue involves the rival claim of the state of Texas.
We submit that this is, if nothing else, further evidence that Congress could not possibly have intended the Interpleader Act to be used in this fashion.
The first ground of objecting to jurisdiction is, of course, 28 U.S.C. 1251 (a).
Although Congress has in recent years allowed concurrent lower court jurisdiction for most categories of controversies which are within the court's original jurisdiction, one category has remained outside the concurrent jurisdiction mode, and has always been within the court's original and exclusive jurisdiction, namely, controversy among different states.
There is no way to square the maintenance of this action in a district court with the clear command of Congress in Section 1251(a) that only this Court can hear such controversies.
Now, in making that statement I am, of course, mindful that in California versus Texas, the Court declined to permit us to exercise or to invoke the original jurisdiction, and I am also aware that three Justices wrote then that there was not then a justiciable controversy between California and Texas.
As the Court knows, we have now filed a new motion for leave to file an original complaint, and at Pages 28 to 39 of that motion, we endeavor to show that there is indeed a present case or controversy between California and Texas, but that question isn't presented here, and need not be addressed today.
I say that because this case is different from what was before the Court in 1978.
Then Justice Stewart was able to write that each state was free to proceed in its own courts, and each state could obtain, in theory, in its own courts a favorable judgment, without regard to the acts of the other or the proceedings in the courts of the other state.
That is no longer true.
Now that there has been filed an interpleader action, California and Texas must square off as adversaries in a federal district court.
Each must file pleadings answering the claim of the other, and responding to the position of the other, for that is standard interpleader practice, and because the claims are mutually inconsistent, it California wins, Texas must lose, and if Texas wins, California must lose.
Each is enjoined by the district court from proceeding in their respective state courts.
The states are, in short, litigation adversaries in a single lawsuit, and this is therefore now a controversy between states within the meaning of Section 1251, even if one agrees with what was said in the concurring opinions in California versus Texas.
If you were legitimately before the district court in an interpleader action, is it impossible that that court could conclude that under the law of California as well as under the law of Texas, that Mr. Hughes was a domiciliary of both states?
Is that impossible?
Jerome B. Falk, Jr.:
Yes, Justice O'Connor, it is impossible under our law and under the law of the state of Texas, and I believe under the law of every state in the United States, but certainly under the laws of the two states.
An individual may have but one domicile.
Is that constitutionally requisite, do you think?
Jerome B. Falk, Jr.:
No, I don't think so, Justice Brennan.
I think the courts' decisions make clear that states can have other bases for taxation, but in the cases of California and Texas, they do not.