Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 8 (1992)

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Next



Opinion of the Court

after the plaintiff had voluntarily dismissed his action. In the course of our discussion we noted that "[i]t is well established that a federal court may consider collateral issues after an action is no longer pending. . . . [An] imposition of a Rule 11 sanction is not a judgment on the merits of an action. Rather, it requires the determination of a collateral issue: whether the attorney has abused the judicial process, and, if so, what sanction would be appropriate." Id., at 395-396. Such an order implicates no constitutional concern because it "does not signify a district court's assessment of the legal merits of the complaint." Id., at 396. It therefore does not raise the issue of a district court adjudicating the merits of a "case or controversy" over which it lacks jurisdiction.

Petitioner places great weight on our decision in United States Catholic Conference v. Abortion Rights Mobilization, Inc., 487 U. S. 72 (1988), a case involving a civil contempt order entered by the District Court. The contemnors, two nonparty witnesses, refused to comply with a District Court document subpoena. The District Court found them in civil contempt and ordered them to pay a fine of $50,000 per day. The contemnors, as was their right, immediately appealed the contempt order, challenging the District Court's subject-matter jurisdiction. We held that the Court of Appeals was obligated to consider the jurisdictional challenge in full, rather than simply contenting itself with an inquiry into whether the District Court colorably had jurisdiction. We further concluded that if the District Court was found to be lacking subject-matter jurisdiction, that the contempt order would also fall. Focusing on this second part of our decision, petitioner cites Catholic Conference as establishing the proposition that a sanction must fall if imposed when jurisdiction is in fact absent.4

Catholic Conference does not stand for such a broad assertion. A civil contempt order has much different purposes

4 Petitioner does acknowledge certain limited exceptions, see n. 2, supra.

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007