Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 16 (1996)

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

Opinion of the Court

County of Allegheny was decided the same day as Thibodaux, and like Thibodaux it involved review of a District Court order abstaining from the exercise of diversity jurisdiction over a state law eminent domain action. Unlike in Thibodaux, however, the District Court in County of Allegheny had not merely stayed adjudication of the federal action pending the resolution of an issue in state court, but rather had dismissed the federal action altogether. Based in large measure on this distinction, we reversed the District Court's order. See 360 U. S., at 190; Thibodaux, 360 U. S., at 31 (Stewart, J., concurring) ("In Mashuda, the Court holds that it was error for the District Court to dismiss the complaint" (emphasis added)).

We were careful to note in Thibodaux that the District Court had only stayed the federal suit pending adjudication of the dispute in state court. Unlike the outright dismissal or remand of a federal suit, we held, an order merely staying the action "does not constitute abnegation of judicial duty. On the contrary, it is a wise and productive discharge of it. There is only postponement of decision for its best fruition." Id., at 29. We have thus held that in cases where the relief being sought is equitable in nature or otherwise discretionary, federal courts not only have the power to stay the action based on abstention principles, but can also, in otherwise appropriate circumstances, decline to exercise jurisdiction altogether by either dismissing the suit or remanding it to state court. By contrast, while we have held that federal courts may stay actions for damages based on abstention principles, we have not held that those principles support the outright dismissal or remand of damages actions.

One final line of cases bears mentioning. Though we deal here with our abstention doctrines, we have recognized that federal courts have discretion to dismiss damages actions, in certain narrow circumstances, under the common-law doctrine of forum non conveniens. The seminal case recognizing this authority is Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U. S. 501


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