Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 12 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 706 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

if the state courts were given the opportunity to interpret ambiguous state law, see Railroad Comm'n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U. S. 496 (1941); cases raising issues "intimately involved with [the States'] sovereign prerogative," the proper adjudication of which might be impaired by unsettled questions of state law, see Louisiana Power & Light Co. v. City of Thibodaux, 360 U. S. 25, 28 (1959); id., at 31 (Stewart, J., concurring); cases whose resolution by a federal court might unnecessarily interfere with a state system for the collection of taxes, see Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Huffman, 319 U. S. 293 (1943); and cases which are duplicative of a pending state proceeding, see Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S. 800 (1976); Pennsylvania v. Williams, 294 U. S. 176 (1935).

Our longstanding application of these doctrines reflects "the common-law background against which the statutes conferring jurisdiction were enacted," New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U. S. 350, 359 (1989) (NOPSI) (citing Shapiro, Jurisdiction and Discretion, 60 N. Y. U. L. Rev. 543, 570-577 (1985)). And, as the Ninth Circuit correctly indicated, 47 F. 3d, at 354, it has long been established that a federal court has the authority to decline to exercise its jurisdiction when it "is asked to employ its historic powers as a court of equity," Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc. v. McNary, 454 U. S. 100, 120 (1981) (Brennan, J., concurring). This tradition informs our understanding of the jurisdiction Congress has conferred upon the federal courts, and explains the development of our abstention doctrines. In Pullman, for example, we explained the principle underlying our abstention doctrines as follows:

". . . The history of equity jurisdiction is the history of regard for public consequences in employing the extraordinary remedy of the injunction. . . . Few public interests have a higher claim upon the discretion of a federal chancellor than the avoidance of needless friction


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