The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT S. GAWTHROP, III
In my Opinion and Order of April 3, 1992, I raised and addressed, sua sponte, a jurisdictional issue that was neither argued nor pursued by the parties. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, however, yesterday ordered that the issue be briefed by today, for argument tomorrow, thus signaling its concerns on that question. I, too, am constantly mindful of my finite jurisdictional ambit, and I deem it appropriate to revisit the issue in my own right, reassessing and perhaps expatiating upon its treatment in footnote five of my opinion filed five days ago.
As a court of limited jurisdiction, I may, of course, only entertain cases that are properly before a federal court. If a court believes at any time that there could be a defect in its subject matter jurisdiction, the issue must be examined and resolved, whether raised by the parties or the court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); See Capron v. Van Noorden, 6 U.S. 126, 2 L. Ed. 229 (1804). Hence, this memorandum.
The facts leading up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's March 10, 1992, are outlined in that Court's opinion of March 26, 1992; I will review them briefly in order to assess whether that order was adjudicative or non-adjudicative under Blake v. Papadakos, 953 F.2d 68 (3d Cir. 1992). Because the General Assembly of the Commonwealth had yet failed, by the end of 1991, to enact a congressional redistricting bill, several Pennsylvania state legislators brought suit in the Commonwealth Court on January 28, 1992: Mellow v. Mitchell, No. 7 Middle District, Misc. Dkt. 1992. Senior Judge Francis Barry enjoined the operation of all laws relating to the election of candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and of delegates and alternate delegates to the national conventions of 'he two political parties. He also ordered that any person wishing to submit a congressional redistricting plan for consideration by the court do so no later than February 11, 1992. His order provided notice that, if the Legislature failed to act by February 11, 1992, the Commonwealth Court would select a plan in the Legislature's stead.
The Legislature passed no plan, and on February 13, 1992, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court exercised plenary jurisdiction, designating president Judge David W. Craig of the Commonwealth Court as Master to conduct hearings and prepare a report and recommendation of an apportionment plan. Judge Craig filed a report and recommendation on a congressional redistricting plan and an election calendar with the Supreme Court on February 24, 1992. Exceptions were filed to the plan, and the Supreme Court heard oral argument on March 7, 1992. On March 10, 1992, the Supreme Court issued a Per Curiam Order, the order at issue in this case, adopting Judge Craig's Findings, Recommended Decisions, and Form of Order, along with a "Revised Election Calendar." The Court issued an Opinion on March 26, 1992, in which it explained why it chose Judge Craig's redistricting plan over all exceptions. The Court's opinion was silent as to any explanation of the Court's revision of the election calendar, shortening the period allowed for gathering signatures. In fact, the election schedule was not discussed at all, as an issue of concern to anyone. It was presented as something of an administrative aside.
In our system of federalism, a United States District Court does not ordinarily have jurisdiction to review the acts of the highest court of a state. This limitation on federal jurisdiction is known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1257,
a disappointed litigant's sole recourse is appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States on writ of certiorari. To preserve state-federal comity and to prevent the proliferation of collateral attacks on state adjudications, the state supreme court's findings of fact and applications of law to the rights of specific individuals are beyond the reach of the federal district court.
Judicial interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 1257 has, however, consistently reserved the possibility of district court review of a circumscribed class of state supreme court acts-- namely, when the court steps out of its strictly adjudicative role and acts in a non-judicial capacity, as an administrator or legislator. Such situations are admittedly rare. Nevertheless, the United States Supreme Court has recognized, for example, in District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 485-86, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206, 103 S. Ct. 1303 (1983) that promulgation of state bar rules was a non-adjudicative act, and that a general challenge to those rules could be subject to federal district court review.
I note at the outset, that it is questionable whether Rooker-Feldman applies to the case at bar at all. Although the defendants in the state action are the same as the ones at bar, the plaintiffs, here, were not parties to the challenged state court litigation, and the plaintiffs in the state action -- state senators -- are not parties to the case before this court. Since the parties here were not the same parties who received an adverse ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the matter before this court is technically not an appeal from a state court judgment, and thus, review of its constitutionality is not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Richard W. Hochman v. New Jersey Supreme Court, 1990 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 11328, *8 (D.N.J. 1990).
However, assuming, arguendo, that this case could be construed as appeal from a final decision of the state supreme court, the nature of the state supreme court's act becomes determinative. The dichotomy between adjudicative and non-adjudicative acts is not always clear and has been described in various ways. Adjudicative acts are the paradigm of what a court does: apply existing law to specific facts and parties. Non-adjudicative acts are quasi-legislative: promulgating general rules applicable to as-yet-unidentified parties. Adjudicatory acts are specific, often retrospective, and they deal with particular individuals and the delimitation of their rights under existing law. Non-adjudicative acts are general, usually prospective, and delimit the rights of unspecified individuals. The Third Circuit recently described the difference, as follows: "Adjudicative acts involve the application of existing laws to the facts in a particular case," whereas, "administrative/non-adjudicative acts, generally require not the application of existing laws to particular acts but rather 'look[ing] into the future and changing existing conditions by making a new rule to be applied thereafter to all or some part of those subject to its power." Blake, supra, 953 F.2d at 72. In making the distinction between adjudicative and non-adjudicative, "the form of the proceeding is not significant. It is the nature and effect which is controlling." In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561, 567, 89 L. Ed. 1795, 65 S. Ct. 1307 (1945); Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210, 226-227, 53 L. Ed. 150, 29 S. Ct. 67 (1908); Blake, supra, 953 F.2d at 73 (citations omitted).
In Blake, the Third Circuit confirmed again that, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the lower federal courts do have jurisdiction to review non-adjudicative acts of the state supreme court. At issue in Blake were two orders of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Third Circuit deemed the first, issued on December 19, 1990, to be a non-adjudicative act, under the supreme court's supervisory powers, susceptible to review in the United States District Court. However, it deemed the second, the state supreme court's ...