Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 21 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

Louisiana Power & Light Co. v. City of Thibodaux, 360 U. S. 25 (1959), we have revisited the decision only infrequently in the intervening 50 years. See NOPSI, 491 U. S. 350 (1989).

In NOPSI, our most recent exposition of the Burford doctrine, we again located the power to dismiss based on abstention principles in the discretionary power of a federal court sitting in equity, and we again illustrated the narrow range of circumstances in which Burford can justify the dismissal of a federal action. The issue in NOPSI was pre-emption. A New Orleans utility that had been saddled by a decision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with part of the cost of building and operating a nuclear reactor sought approval of a rate increase from the Council of the City of New Orleans. The council denied the rate increase on the grounds that "a public hearing was necessary to explore 'the legality and prudency' [sic]" of the expenses allocated to the utility under the FERC decision, 491 U. S., at 355, and the utility brought suit in federal court, seeking an injunction against enforcement of the council's order and a declaration that the utility was entitled to a rate increase. The utility claimed that "federal law required the Council to allow it to recover, through an increase in retail rates, its FERC-allocated share of the [cost of the reactor]." Ibid. The federal pre-emption question was the only issue raised in the case; there were no state law claims.

In reversing the District Court's decision to dismiss under Burford, we recognized "the federal courts' discretion in determining whether to grant certain types of relief," 491 U. S., at 359, and we indicated, as we had previously in Alabama Pub. Serv. Comm'n v. Southern R. Co., 341 U. S. 341, 350-351 (1951), that Burford permits "a federal court sitting in equity," 491 U. S., at 361, to dismiss a case only in extraordinary circumstances. We thus indicated that Burford allows a federal court to dismiss a case only if it presents " 'difficult questions of state law bearing on policy problems of substantial public import whose importance transcends the result in

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