pendent party jurisdiction

Pendent party jurisdiction is a form of supplemental jurisdiction codified by 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Pendent party jurisdiction was a doctrine asserting that, if federal jurisdiction exists for a claim, the federal district court has the power to decide not only the federal question involved but also any other questions – whether federal or state in nature – that must be resolved in order to decide the claim

Federal jurisdiction exists for a claim if there is any claim over which a federal court has an independent basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. Federal jurisdiction may exist for a claim if there is either diversity of citizenship or a federal question

History of the Pendent Party Jurisdiction Doctrine:

In Hurn v. Oursler, 289 U.S. 238 (1933), plaintiffs joined three claims in the same complaint: (1) copyright infringement, which dealt with federal law; (2) unfair competition in the authorized use of the same play, which dealt with state law; and (3) unfair competition in an uncopyrighted play, which dealt with state law. The court ruled in Hurn that a federal court may have jurisdiction over a pendent, non-federal (state law) claim so long as both the federal and state claims form a single cause of action. This is otherwise known as the “Hurn Test.” 

The court further found that the claim for unfair competition in the authorized use of the same play (2) constituted the same cause of action as the copyright infringement claim and therefore required a decision on the merits. On the other hand, the court found that the claim for unfair competition in an uncopyrighted play (3) was a separate and distinct cause of action and thereby properly dismissed this claim for lack of jurisdiction. 

Congress codified the holding in Hurn in 28 U.S.C. § 1338(b). However, the court reassessed the holding of Hurn in United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966). There, a plaintiff had sued for damages under the Labor Management Relations Act (a federal claim) and damages from the same unlawful acts under state common law. Both federal and state claims arose from the same circumstance.

In Gibbs, the court came up with two rules:

  • First, the court established the “Gibbs Test,” which states that for a federal district court to exercise pendent party jurisdiction over a state claim, the state and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact. In other words, for the federal district court to rule over a state claim alongside a federal claim, the court must ask whether it is significantly more efficient to try the claims together due to common facts. If so, the district court has the discretion to hear state law claims. The Gibbs Test was subsequently codified by Congress in 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
    • The court cited that federal district courts possessed this authority from Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which states that the relevant unit of judicial business is not a claim but a “case.” Based on Article III, the court found that it is okay to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over multiple claims (e.g. a federal question claim and a state law claim) because the entire action comprises one constitutional “case.” The court also considered policy rationales, such as judicial efficiency, convenience, and fairness.
  • Second, the court established that the federal district court has the discretion to decline to exercise this authority in certain circumstances. There were three factors that courts could look at when deciding to use their discretion to decline jurisdiction: (1) whether federal claims were dismissed early in the proceedings; (2) whether state court is in a better position to entertain the state law claim (for instance, if state law issues predominate the case); and (3) considerations of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to litigants

The last case that the court looked at in the development of pendent-party jurisdiction was Finley v. United States, 490 U.S. 545 (1989). After an airplane crash, the plaintiff sued the United States in a federal district court for negligence in the airport’s operation under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). The plaintiff asserted two non-federal claims, both of which arose from the same “common nucleus of operative facts” as part of the airplane crash, against two defendants involved in the airport’s operation. Here, the court grappled with the issue of whether the district court possesses jurisdiction over two non-federal claims. The court ultimately decided that, even though all three claims shared a common nucleus of operative facts and thereby made up one constitutional “case” under Gibbs, these non-federal claims were nevertheless beyond the district court’s jurisdiction because they were not authorized by § 1346(b). 

Finley was eventually overturned in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, 545 U.S. 546. The court noted in Exxon Mobil Corp. that Congress had overturned Finley by enacting § 1367(a), which codified pendent-party jurisdiction alongside the doctrine of ancillary jurisdiction under the term “supplemental jurisdiction.” 

See also: pendent jurisdiction

[Last updated in April of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]