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Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Manning

This case involves whether the Securities Exchange Act provides for exclusive federal court jurisdiction over lawsuits asserting claims based solely on state law, if the claims also implicate or allege conduct that violates federal law as well. Merrill Lynch, seeking to move a case asserting claims based on New Jersey law to federal court, asserts that the Securities Exchange Act provides for federal jurisdiction over a broader range of cases than the general federal-question jurisdictional statute, 28 U.S.C. 1331. Public Citizen filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff in the case (respondent in the Supreme Court) explaining that the Court has traditionally refrained from giving broad readings to federal-question jurisdictional statutes and generally limits them to cases asserting federal rights of action plus a very narrowly defined set of exceptional cases. Nothing in the Exchange Act’s language suggests that Congress intended to confer jurisdiction more expansively over cases that arise under state law but may implicate violations of federal law as well (even though a federal claim is not actually asserted). Such an interpretation of the Exchange Act, moreover, would be contrary to previous decisions of the Supreme Court interpreting the same or similar statutory language.

On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute does not confer federal jurisdiction more broadly than the general federal jurisdiction statute. The Court’s opinion adopted much of the analysis of our brief and cited a number of other statutes that our brief had called to the Court’s attention.