Sutton v. Leib/Concurrence Frankfurter
|Sutton v. Leib by
United States Supreme Court
SUTTON v. LEIB
Argued: Dec. 3, 1951. --- Decided: March 3, 1952
Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, concurring.
This case illustrates what little excuse is left for diversity jurisdiction, certainly since Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188, has curbed the unwarranted freedom of federal courts to fashion rules of local law in defiance of local law. For my Brother REED naturally enough concludes that the turning point of this case is a matter of Illinois law having no relation whatever to the essential functions which federal courts serve, and a matter which is peculiarly ill-suited for determination by a federal court. The issue in this case is whether the obligation imposed by an Illinois divorce decree to pay alimony 'for so long as plaintiff shall remain unmarried' ceases under Illinois law when the plaintiff goes through the form of another marriage ceremony regardless of the binding validity of such a ceremony. Illinois is free to consult solely her own will whether such a provision in a decree relates merely to ceremony or requires a union with a spouse legally free to marry. On that crucial issue, we are told, there is no Illinois law. By what seems to me undesirable judicial administration, the ascertainment for all I know the formulation-of Illinois law is committed to a federal court which in the very nature of things can render only a tentative and indecisive judgment.
Tentative and indecisive, because whatever view the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit takes on this question may be authoritatively supplanted by the only court that can finally settle the issue, namely, the Supreme Court of Illinois. Such a decision from the Illinois Supreme Court can readily be solicited by the plaintiff through the Illinois declaratory judgment procedure. It is precisely the kind of controversy for which the utility of the device of a declaratory judgment has been so fulsomely acclaimed. Instead of availing itself of this modern procedure, the Court makes itself a party to a discord which passeth understanding.
No doubt the Court of Appeals may tentatively answer this question of Illinois law so far as the immediate parties are concerned. But it is not conductive to the interests of law in general that this Court should compel a decision in a federal court which tomorrow or the day after may be definitively contradicted by the State court with the final say. I would remand the case to the Court of Appeals to be held by it until the plaintiff seeks with all deliberate speed a decision on the crucial question of the case in the Illinois courts.
Subject to this qualification, I agree with the opinion of the Court.
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