Thompson v. Thompson Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The petitioner-father sought to have the federal district court decide which of two conflicting child custody determinations is valid, and the district court refused to exercise jurisdiction. This appeal ensued.

Facts of the case


Does the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) furnish an implied cause of action in federal court to determine which of two conflicting state custody decisions is valid?


No. The PKPA is an extension of the Full Faith and Credit Clause to custody determinations. In other words, the PKPA requires that a state court enforce a child custody determination of another state if that determination is consistent with the PKPA. In short, a determination is consistent with the PKPA if the issuing state has jurisdiction under local law and one of five conditions, not relevant to the rule of this case, is met. The PKPA only imposes a federal duty on a state court to give full faith and credit to a sister state’s custody determination. However, there is no implied federal cause of action to determine which of two conflicting state custody decrees is valid. Thus, the district court did not err in refusing to exercise jurisdiction over this cause of action.


The Court found that the essential predicate for implication of a private remedy plainly did not exist. None of the factors that guided the inquiry pointed in favor of inferring a private cause of action. Unlike statutes that explicitly conferred a right on a specified class of persons, the PKPA was a mandate directed to state courts to respect the custody decrees of sister states. The legislative history of the PKPA provided unusually clear indication that Congress did not intend the federal courts to play the enforcement role. In sum, the context, language, and history of the PKPA together made out a conclusive case against inferring a cause of action in federal court to determine which of two conflicting state custody decrees was valid. However, ultimate review remained available in the Court for truly intractable jurisdictional deadlocks.

  • Case Brief: 1988
  • Petitioner: Thompson
  • Respondent: Thompson
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 484 US 174 (1988)
Argued: Oct 6, 1987
Decided: Jan 12, 1988