El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie, 526 U.S. 473 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 98-6. Argued March 2, 1999—Decided May 3, 1999

As relevant here, the Price-Anderson Act provides certain federal licensees with limited liability for claims of "public liability" arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident, converts such actions into federal claims, grants federal district courts removal jurisdiction over such actions, and provides the mechanics for consolidating the actions and for managing them once consolidated. Respondents filed separate lawsuits in Navajo Tribal Courts, claiming damages for injuries suffered as a result of uranium mining operations. Petitioners, defendants in those suits, each filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking to enjoin respondents from pursuing their tribal-court claims. Citing the tribal-court exhaustion doctrine of National Farmers Union Ins. Cos. v. Crow Tribe, 471 U. S. 845, the District Court denied preliminary injunctions except to the extent that respondents sought relief in the Tribal Courts under the Price-Anderson Act. The practical consequences of the injunctions were left in the air, however, since the District Court left the determinations whether the Act applied to respondents' claims to the Tribal Courts. On petitioners' consolidated appeals, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's decisions not to enjoin respondents from pursuing non-Price-Anderson Act claims and to allow the Tribal Courts to decide whether respondents' claims fell under that Act. Although respondents had not appealed the partial injunctions, the Ninth Circuit, citing important comity considerations, sua sponte reversed them.


1. Because the partial injunctions were not properly before the Court of Appeals, it erred in addressing them. Absent a cross-appeal, an appellee may urge in support of a decree any matter appearing in the record, but may not attack the decree with a view either to enlarging his own rights thereunder or lessening his adversary's rights. United States v. American Railway Express Co., 265 U. S. 425, 435. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged the rule, but took up the unappealed portions of the orders sua sponte because it believed that the prohibition on modifying judgments in favor of a nonappealing party is a "rule of practice" subject to exceptions rather than an unqualified bound on the jurisdiction of appellate courts. This Court need not decide the theoretical status of the rule, for even if it is not strictly jurisdictional, the "comity


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