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Exxon Shipping Co. v. Airport Depot Diner, Inc.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21492
Nos. 95-35819, 120 F.3d 166/(9th Cir., 07/14/1997)

The court holds that a district court abused its discretion when it granted declaratory relief to defendants involved in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation in order to preempt a ruling on federal law issues in state court. The declaration served no purpose with respect to most of the parties to the action. And the declaratory relief given to the defendants was superfluous. No declaration should be made unless it serves a useful, practical purpose, or when no beneficial result would follow. Whatever may be the merit of having uniform federal maritime law apply in both state and federal court to all proceedings arising out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the district court abused its discretion in granting declaratory relief to preempt a ruling on these federal law issues by the state court. If the state court erroneously determines a federal question, recourse does not lie to the district court or to the courts of appeals. Jurisdiction to review the judgments of state courts lies exclusively in the U.S. Supreme Court. Contrary to the district judge's view, the federal court has no overriding duty to protect the uniformity of federal maritime law from the rulings of a state court judge; indeed, it has no right to do so. The district judge's confidence in the rightness of his ruling does not justify preempting the power of the state court to decide.

Counsel for Plaintiff
David Oesting
Davis, Wright & Tremaine
550 W. 7th Ave., Ste. 1450, Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 257-5300

Counsel for Defendants
John F. Daum
O'Melveny & Myers
400 S. Hope St., Los Angeles CA 90071
(213) 669-6000

Before Kozinski and Leavy, JJ.