In 1980, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) and the Exxon (now Exxon Mobil Corp.) subsidiaries, Exxon Chemical Arabia, Inc (ECAI) and Mobil Yanbu Petrochemical Company (Yanbu) created two joint venture entities: Yanpet and Kemya. SABIC entered into sublicensing agreements with the two entities under which both were to pay royalties for use of an exclusive gas-phase process to manufacture polyethylene. Nearly twenty years later, Exxon Mobil, Yanbu, and ECAI claimed that SABIC actually charged Yanpet and Kemya more than the amount of royalties actually agreed upon.
In 2000, SABIC sued Yanbu and ECAI in the Delaware Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the joint venture agreements had not been violated and that the royalty charges were correct. Exxon Mobil, Yanbu, and ECAI countersued in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking the converse declaratory judgment. In 2003, the Delaware Superior Court returned a verdict against SABIC. SABIC has appealed the verdict, which is currently pending. Prior to the state court trial, SABIC moved to dismiss Exxon Mobil's federal court action claiming foreign sovereign immunity. The motion was denied and SABIC then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The federal appeals court did not address the sovereign immunity issue but vacated the District Court's orders with instructions for dismissal, finding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred federal subject matter jurisdiction over the claims of Exxon and its subsidiaries because such was previously decided in the state court case. The Supreme Court faces the issue of whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which bars lower federal courts from conducting de facto appellate review of decisions by state courts, may be interpreted to incorporate preclusion principles and deny jurisdiction to federal courts because a pending state-court proceeding presents identical issues, notwithstanding the long-established system of dual federal and state jurisdiction.