Burford v. Sun Oil Company/Concurrence Douglas
Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring.
I agree with the opinion of the Court and join in it. But there are observations in the dissenting opinion which impel me to add a few words. If the issues in this case were framed as the dissenting opinion frames them, I would agree that we should reach the merits and not direct a dismissal of the complaint. But the opinion of the Court as I read it does not hold or even fairly imply that 'the enforcement of state rights created by state legislation and affecting state policies is limited to the state courts.' Any such holding would result in a drastic inroad on diversity jurisdiction-a limitation which I agree might be desirable but which Congress not this Court should make. The holding in these cases, however, goes to no such length.
This decision is but an application of the principle expressed in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Williams, 294 U.S. 176, 185, 55 S.Ct. 380, 385, 79 L.Ed. 841, 96 A.L.R. 1166, that 'federal courts of equity should exercise their discretionary power with proper regard for the rightful independence of state governments in carrying out their domestic policy.' That case, like the present one, was in the federal court by the diversity of citizenship route. It involved a receivership of an insolvent Pennsylvania corporation. Though the federal proceeding was first in time, this Court held that the federal court should stay its hand and turn over the assets of the corporation to the state administrative agency charged by state law with the responsibility of supervision and liquidation. In that case federal action would have preempted the field and excluded the assertion of state authority. In these cases the result of federal action would be potentially much more serious in terms of federal-state relations, as the opinion of the Court makes plain.
The Texas statute which governs suits to set aside these orders of the Railroad Commission has been construed by the Texas courts to give to the supervising courts a large measure of control over the administrative process. That control is much greater, for example, than the control exercised by federal Circuit Courts of Appeal over the orders of such agencies as the National Labor Relations Board. The opinion of the Court calls the Railroad Commission and the Texas courts 'working partners'. But as its review of Texas decisions shows the courts may at times be the senior and dominant member of that partnership if they perform the functions which Texas law places on them. The courts do not sit merely to enforce rights based on orders of the state administrative agency. They sit in judgment on that agency. That to me is the crux of the matter. If the federal courts undertook to sit in review, so to speak, of this state administrative agency, they would in effect actively participate in the fashioning of the state's domestic policy. That interference would be a continuing one, as the opinion of the Court points out. Moreover, divided authority would result. Divided authority breeds friction-friction potentially more serious than would have obtained in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Williams, if the administration of the affairs of that insolvent corporation had been left in the federal court to the exclusion of the state administrative agency.
Mr. Justice MURPHY joins in this opinion.