In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided July 7, 1986

Justice O’Connor, For the Court


Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Schor, 478 U.S. 833 (1986), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held an administrative agency may, in some cases, exert jurisdiction over state-law counterclaims.

Topic: Judicial Power*Court vote: 7–2
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Holding: Congress may grant pendent jurisdiction over state law counterclaims to administrative agencies.
Citation: 478 U.S. 833 Docket: 85–621Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

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JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA or Act), 7 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., empowers the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC or Commission) to entertain state law counterclaims in reparation proceedings and, if so, whether that grant of authority violates Article III of the Constitution.


The CEA broadly prohibits fraudulent and manipulative conduct in connection with commodity futures transactions. In 1974, Congress "overhaul[ed]" the Act in order to institute a more "comprehensive regulatory structure to oversee the volatile and esoteric futures trading complex." H.R.Rep. No. 93-975, p. 1 (1974). See Pub.L. 93-463, 88 Stat. 1389. Congress also determined that the broad regulatory powers of the CEA were most appropriately vested in an agency which would be relatively immune from the "political winds that sweep Washington." H.R.Rep. No. 93-975, at 44, 70. It therefore created an independent agency, the CFTC, and entrusted to it sweeping authority to implement the CEA.

Among the duties assigned to the CFTC was the administration of a reparations procedure through which disgruntled customers of professional commodity brokers could seek redress for the brokers' violations of the Act or CFTC regulations. Thus, § 14 of the CEA, 7 U.S.C. § 18 (1976 ed.), [ Footnote 1 ] provides that any person injured by such violations may apply to the Commission for an order directing the offender to pay reparations to the complainant and may enforce that order in federal district court. Congress intended this administrative procedure to be an "inexpensive and expeditious" alternative to existing fora available to aggrieved customers, namely, the courts and arbitration. S.Rep. No. 95-850, p. 11 (1978). See also 41 Fed.Reg. 3994 (1976) (accompanying CFTC regulations promulgated pursuant to § 14).

In conformance with the congressional goal of promoting efficient dispute resolution, the CFTC promulgated a regulation in 1976 which allows it to adjudicate counterclaims "aris[ing] out of the transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences set forth in the complaint." Id. at 3995, 4002 (codified at 17 CFR § 12.23(b)(2) (1983)). This permissive counterclaim rule leaves the respondent in a reparations proceeding free to seek relief against the reparations complainant in other fora.

The instant dispute arose in February, 1980, when respondents Schor and Mortgage Services of America, Inc., invoked the CFTC's reparations jurisdiction by filing complaints against petitioner ContiCommodity Services, Inc. (Conti), a commodity futures broker, and Richard L. Sandor, a Conti employee. [ Footnote 2 ] Schor had an account with Conti which contained a debit balance because Schor's net futures trading losses and expenses, such as commissions, exceeded the funds deposited in the account. Schor alleged that this debit balance was the result of Conti's numerous violations of the CEA. See App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 85-621, p. 53a.

Before receiving notice that Schor had commenced the reparations proceeding, Conti had filed a diversity action in Federal District Court to recover the debit balance. ContiCommodity Services, Inc. v. Mortgage Services of America, Inc., No. 80-C-1089 (ND Ill., filed Mar. 4, 1980). Schor counterclaimed in this action, reiterating his charges that the debit balance was due to Conti's violations of the CEA. Schor also moved on two separate occasions to dismiss or stay the District Court action, arguing that the continuation of the federal action would be a waste of judicial resources and an undue burden on the litigants in view of the fact that

[t]he reparations proceedings... will fully... resolve and adjudicate all the rights of the parties to this action with respect to the transactions which are the subject matter of this action.

App. 13. See also id. at 19.

Although the District Court declined to stay or dismiss the suit, see id. at 15, 16, Conti voluntarily dismissed the federal court action and presented its debit balance claim by way of a counterclaim in the CFTC reparations proceeding. See id. at 29-32. Conti denied violating the CEA, and instead insisted that the debit balance resulted from Schor's trading, and was therefore a simple debt owed by Schor. Schor v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n, 239 U.S.App.D.C. 159, 162, 740 F.2d 1262, 1265 (1984); App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 85-621, p. 53a.

After discovery, briefing, and a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Schor's reparations proceeding ruled in Conti's favor on both Schor's claims and Conti's counterclaims. After this ruling, Schor for the first time challenged the CFTC's statutory authority to adjudicate Conti's counterclaim. See id. at 62a. The ALJ rejected Schor's challenge, stating himself "bound by agency regulations and published agency policies." Id. at 62a-63a. The Commission declined to review the decision, and allowed it to become final, id. at 50a-52a, at which point Schor filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Prior to oral argument, the Court of Appeals, sua sponte, raised the question whether CFTC could constitutionally adjudicate Conti's counterclaims in light of Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U. S. 50 (1982), in which this Court held that

Congress may not vest in a non-Article III court the power to adjudicate, render final judgment, and issue binding orders in a traditional contract action arising under state law, without consent of the litigants, and subject only to ordinary appellate review.

Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co., 473 U. S. 568, 473 U. S. 584 (1985).

After briefing and argument, the Court of Appeals upheld the CFTC's decision on Schor's claim in most respects, but ordered the dismissal of Conti's counterclaims on the ground that "the CFTC lacks authority (subject matter competence) to adjudicate" common law counterclaims. 239 U.S.App.D.C. at 161, 740 F.2d at 1264. In support of this latter ruling, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the CFTC's exercise of jurisdiction over Conti's common law counterclaim gave rise to "[s]erious constitutional problems" under Northern Pipeline. 239 U.S.App.D.C. at 174, 740 F.2d at 1277. The Court of Appeals therefore concluded that, under well-established principles of statutory construction, the relevant inquiry was whether the CEA was " fairly susceptible' of [an alternative] construction," such that Article III objections, and thus unnecessary constitutional adjudication, could be avoided. Ibid. (quoting Ralpho v. Bell, 186 U.S.App.D.C. 368, 380, 569 F.2d 607, 619 (1977)).

After examining the CEA and its legislative history, the court concluded that Congress had no "clearly expressed" or "explicit" intention to give the CFTC constitutionally questionable jurisdiction over state common law counterclaims. See 239 U.S.App.D.C. at 166, 178, 740 F.2d at 1269, 1281. The Court of Appeals therefore "adopt[ed] the construction of the Act that avoids significant constitutional questions," reading the CEA to authorize the CFTC to adjudicate only those counterclaims alleging violations of the Act or CFTC regulations. Id. at 175, 740 F.2d at 1278. Because Conti's counterclaims did not allege such violations, the Court of Appeals held that the CFTC exceeded its authority in adjudicating those claims, and ordered that the ALJ's decision on the claims be reversed and the claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at 161, 740 F.2d at 1264.

The Court of Appeals denied rehearing en banc by a divided vote. In a dissenting statement, Judge Wald, joined by Judge Starr, urged that rehearing be granted because the panel's holding would

resul[t] in a serious evisceration of a congressionally crafted scheme for compensating victims of Commodity Futures Trading Act... violations

and would, in practical, effect "decimat[e]" the efficacy of this "faster and less expensive alternative forum." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 85-621, p. 71a. This Court granted the CFTC's petition for certiorari, vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 582 -593. 473 U.S. 473 U. S. 568 (1985). We had there ruled that the arbitration scheme established under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. § 136 et seq., does not contravene Article III, and, more generally, held that

Congress, acting for a valid legislative purpose pursuant to its constitutional powers under Article I, may create a seemingly 'private' right that is so closely integrated into a public regulatory scheme as to be a matter appropriate for agency resolution with limited involvement by the Article III judiciary.

473 U.S. at 473 U. S. 593.

On remand, the Court of Appeals reinstated its prior judgment. It reaffirmed its earlier view that Northern Pipeline drew into serious question the Commission's authority to decide debit-balance counterclaims in reparations proceedings; concluded that nothing in Thomas altered that view; and again held that, in light of the constitutional problems posed by the CFTC's adjudication of common law counterclaims, the CEA should be construed to authorize the CFTC to adjudicate only counterclaims arising from violations of the Act or CFTC regulations. See 248 U.S.App.D.C. 155, 157-158, 770 F.2d 211, 213-214 (1985).

We again granted certiorari, 474 U.S. 1018 (1985), and now reverse.


The Court of Appeals was correct in its understanding that "[f]ederal statutes are to be so construed as to avoid serious doubt of their constitutionality." Machinists v. Street, 367 U. S. 740, 367 U. S. 749 (1961). See also NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 440 U. S. 490, 440 U. S. 500 -501 (1979). Where such "serious doubts" arise, a court should determine whether a construction of the statute is "fairly possible" by which the constitutional question can be avoided. Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22 (1932). See also Machinists v. Street, supra, at 367 U. S. 750. It is equally true, however, that this canon of construction does not give a court the prerogative to ignore the legislative will in order to avoid constitutional adjudication;

'[a]lthough this Court will often strain to construe legislation so as to save it against constitutional attack, it must not and will not carry this to the point of perverting the purpose of a statute...' or judicially rewriting it.

Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U. S. 500, 378 U. S. 515 (1964) (quoting Scales v. United States, 367 U. S. 203, 367 U. S. 211 (1961)). See also Heckler v. Mathews, 465 U. S. 728, 465 U. S. 742 -743 (1984).

Assuming that the Court of Appeals correctly discerned a "serious" constitutional problem in the CFTC's adjudication of Conti's counterclaim, we nevertheless believe that the court was mistaken in finding that the CEA could fairly be read to preclude the CFTC's exercise of jurisdiction over that counterclaim. Our examination of the CEA and its legislative history and purpose reveals that Congress plainly intended the CFTC to decide counterclaims asserted by respondents in reparations proceedings, and just as plainly delegated to the CFTC the authority to fashion its counterclaim jurisdiction in the manner the CFTC determined necessary to further the purposes of the reparations program.

Congress' assumption that the CFTC would have the authority to adjudicate counterclaims is evident on the face of the statute. See, e.g., 7 U.S.C. § 18(c) (providing that, before action will be taken on complaints filed by nonresident complainants, a bond must be filed which must cover inter alia, "any reparation award that may be issued by the Commission against the complainant on any counterclaim by respondent") (emphasis added); § 18(d) (" any person for whose benefit [a reparation award] was made" may enforce the judgment in district court) (emphasis added). See also § 18(e) (judicial review available to "any party"). Accordingly, the court below did not seriously contest that Congress intended to authorize the CFTC to adjudicate some counterclaims in reparations proceedings. Rather, the court read into the facially unqualified reference to counterclaim jurisdiction a distinction between counterclaims arising under the Act or CFTC regulations and all other counterclaims. See 239 U.S.App.D.C. at 173, 740 F.2d at 1278. While the court's reading permitted it to avoid a potential Article III problem, it did so only by doing violence to the CEA, for its distinction cannot fairly be drawn from the language or history of the CEA, nor reconciled with the congressional purposes motivating the creation of the reparations proceedings.

We can find no basis in the language of the statute or its legislative history for the distinction posited by the Court of Appeals. Congress empowered the CFTC

to make and promulgate such rules and regulations as, in the judgment of the Commission, are reasonably necessary to effectuate any of the provisions or to accomplish any of the purposes of [the CEA].

7 U.S.C. § 12a(5) (emphasis added). The language of the congressional Report that specifically commented on the scope of the CFTC's authority over counterclaims unambiguously demonstrates that, consistent with the sweeping authority Congress delegated to the CFTC generally, Congress intended to vest in the CFTC the power to define the scope of the counterclaims cognizable in reparations proceedings:

Counterclaims will be recognized in the [reparations] proceedings... on such terms and under such circumstances as the Commission may prescribe by regulation. It is the intent of the Committee that the Commission will promulgate appropriate regulations to implement this section.

H.R.Rep. No. 93-975, p. 23 (1974). Moreover, quite apart from congressional statements of intent, the broad grant of power in § 12a(5) clearly authorizes the promulgation of regulations providing for adjudication of common law counterclaims arising out of the same transaction as a reparations complaint, because such jurisdiction is necessary, if not critical, to accomplish the purposes behind the reparations program.

Reference to the instant controversy illustrates the crippling effect that the Court of Appeals' restrictive reading of the CFTC's counterclaim jurisdiction would have on the efficacy of the reparations remedy. The dispute between Schor and Conti is typical of the disputes adjudicated in reparations proceedings: a customer and a professional commodities broker agree that there is a debit balance in the customer's account, but the customer attributes the deficit to the broker's alleged CEA violations and the broker attributes it to the customer's lack of success in the market. The customer brings a reparations claim; the broker counterclaims for the amount of the debit balance. In the usual case, then, the counterclaim "arises out of precisely the same course of events" as the principal claim, and requires resolution of many of the same disputed factual issues. Friedman v. Dean Witter & Co., [1980-1982 Transfer Binder] CCH Comm.Fut.L.Rep. 21,307, p. 25,538 (1981).

Under the Court of Appeals' approach, the entire dispute may not be resolved in the administrative forum. Consequently, the entire dispute will typically end up in court, for, when the broker files suit to recover the debit balance, the customer will normally be compelled either by compulsory counterclaim rules or by the expense and inconvenience of litigating the same issues in two fora, to forgo his reparations remedy and to litigate his claim in court. See, e.g., App. 13 (Schor's motion to dismiss Conti's federal court action) ("[C]ontinuation of this action, in light of the prior filed reparations proceedings, would be unjust to [Schor] in that it would require [him], at a great cost and expense, to litigate the same issues in two forums. If this action proceeds, defendants will be required pursuant to [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 13(a)] to file a counterclaim in this action setting forth all the claims that they have already filed before the CFTC"). In sum, as Schor himself aptly summarized, to require a bifurcated examination of the single dispute

would be to emasculate, if not destroy, the purposes of the Commodity Exchange Act to provide an efficient and relatively inexpensive forum for the resolution of disputes in futures trading.

Ibid. See also App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 85-621, p. 71a (Wald, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing) ("To bifurcate, as the panel's decision now requires, the main reparations proceeding from counterclaims between the same parties... will realistically mean that the courts, not the agency, will end up dealing with all of these claims. The faster and less expensive alternative forum will be decimated").

As our discuss on makes manifest, the CFTC's long-held position that it has the power to take jurisdiction over counterclaims such as Conti's is eminently reasonable, and well within the scope of its delegated authority. Accordingly, as the CFTC's contemporaneous interpretation of the statute it is entrusted to administer, considerable weight must be accorded the CFTC's position. See Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, 467 U. S. 844 -845 (1984); Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC, 395 U. S. 367, 395 U. S. 380 -381 (1969). The Court of Appeals declined to defer to the CFTC's interpretation because, in its view, the Commission had not maintained a consistent position on the scope of its authority to adjudicate counterclaims, and the question was not one on which a specialized administrative agency, in contrast to a court of general jurisdiction, had superior expertise. 239 U.S.App.D.C. at 176, 740 F.2d at 1279. We find both these reasons insubstantial.

First, the CFTC issued the counterclaim rule currently in force at the time that the reparations program first took effect, and has never altered that rule. The only "inconsistency" identified by the Court of Appeals was a proposed rule, published by the Commission for notice and comment, that would have allowed a narrower class of counterclaims. 40 Fed.Reg. 55666-55667, 55672-55673 (1975). It goes without saying that a proposed regulation does not represent an agency's considered interpretation of its statute, and that an agency is entitled to consider alternative interpretations before settling on the view it considers most sound. Indeed, it would be antithetical to the purposes of the notice and comment provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 553, to tax an agency with "inconsistency" whenever it circulates a proposal that it has not firmly decided to put into effect, and that it subsequently reconsiders in response to public comment.

Second, the Court of Appeals was incorrect to state, on the facts of this case, that the CFTC's expertise was not deserving of deference because of the "statutory interpretation-jurisdictional" nature of the question at issue. 239 U.S.App. D.C. at 176, 740 F.2d at 1279. An agency's expertise is superior to that of a court when a dispute centers on whether a particular regulation is "reasonably necessary to effectuate any of the provisions or to accomplish any of the purposes" of the Act the agency is charged with enforcing; the agency's position, in such circumstances, is therefore due substantial deference.

Such deference is especially warranted here, for Congress has twice amended the CEA since the CFTC declared by regulation that it would exercise jurisdiction over counterclaims arising out of the same transaction as the principal reparations dispute, but has not overruled the CFTC's assertion of jurisdiction. See Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC, supra, at 395 U. S. 380 -381. It is well established that, when Congress revisits a statute giving rise to a longstanding administrative interpretation without pertinent change, the

congressional failure to revise or repeal the agency's interpretation is persuasive evidence that the interpretation is the one intended by Congress.

NLRB v. Bell Aerospace Co., 416 U. S. 267, 416 U. S. 274 -275 (1974) (footnotes omitted). See also FDIC v. Philadelphia Gear Corp., 476 U. S. 426 (1986).

Moreover, we need not, as the Court of Appeals argued, rely simply on congressional "silence" to find approval of the CFTC's position in the subsequent amendments to the CEA, see 239 U.S.App.D.C. at 177, 740 F.2d at 1280. Congress explicitly affirmed the CFTC's authority to dictate the scope of its counterclaim jurisdiction in the 1983 amendments to the Act:

The Commission may promulgate such rules, regulations, and orders as it deems necessary or appropriate for the efficient and expeditious administration of this section. Notwithstanding any other provision of law such rules, regulations, and orders may prescribe, or otherwise condition, without limitation... the nature and scope of... counterclaims,... and all other matters governing proceedings before the Commission under this section.

7 U.S.C. § 18(b). See also H.R.Rep. No. 97-565, pt. 1, p. 55 (1982) ("[T]he reparations program seeks to pass upon the whole controversy surrounding each claim, including counterclaims arising out of the same set of facts"). Where, as here,

Congress has not just kept its silence by refusing to overturn the administrative construction, but has ratified it with positive legislation,

we cannot but deem that construction virtually conclusive. See Red Lion Broadcasting Co.. Inc. v. FCC, supra, at 395 U. S. 380 -381. See also Bell v. New Jersey, 461 U. S. 773, 461 U. S. 785 and n. 12 (1983).

In view of the abundant evidence that Congress both contemplated and authorized the CFTC's assertion of jurisdiction over Conti's common law counterclaim, we conclude that the Court of Appeals' analysis is untenable. The canon of construction that requires courts to avoid unnecessary constitutional adjudication did not empower the Court of Appeals to manufacture a restriction on the CFTC's jurisdiction that was nowhere contemplated by Congress, and to reject plain evidence of congressional intent because that intent was not specifically embodied in a statutory mandate. See Heckler v. Mathews, 465 U.S. at 465 U. S. 742 -743. We therefore are squarely faced with the question whether the CFTC's assumption of jurisdiction over common law counterclaims violates Article III of the Constitution.


Article III, § 1, directs that the

judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,

and provides that these federal courts shall be staffed by judges who hold office during good behavior, and whose compensation shall not be diminished during tenure in office. Schor claims that these provisions prohibit Congress from authorizing the initial adjudication of common law counterclaims by the CFTC, an administrative agency whose adjudicatory officers do not enjoy the tenure and salary protections embodied in Article III.

Although our precedents in this area do not admit of easy synthesis, they do establish that the resolution of claims such as Schor's cannot turn on conclusory reference to the language of Article III. See, e.g., Thomas, 473 U.S. at 473 U. S. 583. Rather, the constitutionality of a given congressional delegation of adjudicative functions to a non-Article III body must be assessed by reference to the purposes underlying the requirements of Article III. See, e.g., id. at 473 U. S. 590 ; Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 64. This inquiry, in turn, is guided by the principle that "practical attention to substance, rather than doctrinaire reliance on formal categories, should inform application of Article III." Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 587. See also Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. at 285 U. S. 53.


Article III, § 1, serves both to protect "the role of the independent judiciary within the constitutional scheme of tripartite government," Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 583, and to safeguard litigants' "right to have claims decided before judges who are free from potential domination by other branches of government." United States v. Will, 449 U. S. 200, 449 U. S. 218 (1980). See also Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 582 -583; Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 58. Although our cases have provided us with little occasion to discuss the nature or significance of this latter safeguard, our prior discussions of Article III, § 1's guarantee of an independent and impartial adjudication by the federal judiciary of matters within the judicial power of the United States intimated that this guarantee serves to protect primarily personal, rather than structural, interests. See, e.g., id. at 458 U. S. 90 (REHNQUIST, J., concurring in judgment) (noting lack of consent to non-Article III jurisdiction); id. at 458 U. S. 95 (WHITE, J., dissenting) (same). See also Currie, Bankruptcy Judges and the Independent Judiciary, 16 Creighton L.Rev. 441, 460, n. 108 (1983) (Article III, § 1, "was designed as a protection for the parties from the risk of legislative or executive pressure on judicial decision"). Cf. Crowell v. Benson, supra, at 285 U. S. 87 (Brandeis, J., dissenting).

Our precedents also demonstrate, however, that Article III does not confer on litigants an absolute right to the plenary consideration of every nature of claim by an Article III court. See, e.g., Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 583 ; Crowell v. Benson, supra. Moreover, as a personal right, Article III's guarantee of an impartial and independent federal adjudication is subject to waiver, just as are other personal constitutional rights that dictate the procedures by which civil and criminal matters must be tried. See, e.g., Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U. S. 238 (1969) (waiver of criminal trial by guilty plea); Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 391 U. S. 158 (1968) (waiver of right to trial by jury in criminal case); Fed.Rule of Civ.Proc. 38(d) (waiver of right to trial by jury in civil cases). Indeed, the relevance of concepts of waiver to Article III challenges is demonstrated by our decision in Northern Pipeline, in which the absence of consent to an initial adjudication before a non-Article III tribunal was relied on as a significant factor in determining that Article III forbade such adjudication. See, e.g., 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 80, n. 31; id. at 91 (REHNQUIST, J., concurring in judgment); id. at 458 U. S. 95 (WHITE, J., dissenting). See also Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 584, 473 U. S. 591. Cf. Kimberly v. Arms, 129 U. S. 512 (1889); Heckers v. Fowler, 2 Wall. 123 (1865).

In the instant cases, Schor indisputably waived any right he may have possessed to the full trial of Conti's counterclaim before an Article III court. Schor expressly demanded that Conti proceed on its counterclaim in the reparations proceeding, rather than before the District Court, see App. 13, 19, and was content to have the entire dispute settled in the forum he had selected until the ALJ ruled against him on all counts; it was only after the ALJ rendered a decision to which he objected that Schor raised any challenge to the CFTC's consideration of Conti's counterclaim.

Even were there no evidence of an express waiver here, Schor's election to forgo his right to proceed in state or federal court on his claim, and his decision to seek relief instead in a CFTC reparations proceeding, constituted an effective waiver. Three years before Schor instituted his reparations action, a private right of action under the CEA was explicitly recognized in the Circuit in which Schor and Conti filed suit in District Court. See Hirk v. Agri-Research Council, Inc., 561 F.2d 96, 103, n. 8 (CA7 1977). See also Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Curran, 456 U. S. 353 (1982) (affirming the existence of a private cause of action under the CEA). Moreover, at the time Schor decided to seek relief before the CFTC, rather than in the federal courts, the CFTC's regulations made clear that it was empowered to adjudicate all counterclaims "aris[ing] out of the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences set forth in the complaint." 41 Fed.Reg. 3995 (1976) (codified in 17 CFR § 12.23(b)(2) (1983)). Thus, Schor had the option of having the common law counterclaim against him adjudicated in a federal Article III court, but, with full knowledge that the CFTC would exercise jurisdiction over that claim, chose to avail himself of the quicker and less expensive procedure Congress had provided him. In such circumstances, it is clear that Schor effectively agreed to an adjudication by the CFTC of the entire controversy by seeking relief in this alternative forum. Cf. McElrath v. United States, 102 U. S. 426, 102 U. S. 440 (1880).


As noted above, our precedents establish that Article III, § 1, not only preserves to litigants their interest in an impartial and independent federal adjudication of claims within the judicial power of the United States, but also serves as "an inseparable element of the constitutional system of checks and balances." Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 58. See also United States v. Will, supra, at 449 U. S. 217. Article III, § 1, safeguards the role of the Judicial Branch in our tripartite system by barring congressional attempts "to transfer jurisdiction [to non-Article III tribunals] for the purpose of emasculating" constitutional courts, National Insurance Co. v. Tidewater Co., 337 U. S. 582, 337 U. S. 644 (1949) (Vinson, C.J., dissenting), and thereby preventing "the encroachment or aggrandizement of one branch at the expense of the other." Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 424 U. S. 122 (1976) (per curiam). See Thomas, 473 U.S. at 473 U. S. 582 -583; Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 57 -58, 458 U. S. 73 -74, 458 U. S. 83, 453 U. S. 86 ; id. at 453 U. S. 98, 453 U. S. 115 -116 (WHITE, J., dissenting). To the extent that this structural principle is implicated in a given case, the parties cannot by consent cure the constitutional difficulty, for the same reason that the parties, by consent, cannot confer on federal courts subject matter jurisdiction beyond the limitations imposed by Article III, § 2. See, e.g., United States v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 226, 303 U. S. 229 (1938). When these Article III limitations are at issue, notions of consent and waiver cannot be dispositive, because the limitations serve institutional interests that the parties cannot be expected to protect.

In determining the extent to which a given congressional decision to authorize the adjudication of Article III business in a non-Article III tribunal impermissibly threatens the institutional integrity of the Judicial Branch, the Court has declined to adopt formalistic and unbending rules. Thomas, 473 U.S. at 473 U. S. 587. Although such rules might lend a greater degree of coherence to this area of the law, they might also unduly constrict Congress' ability to take needed and innovative action pursuant to its Article I powers. Thus, in reviewing Article III challenges, we have weighed a number of factors, none of which has been deemed determinative, with an eye to the practical effect that the congressional action will have on the constitutionally assigned role of the federal judiciary. Id. at 473 U. S. 590. Among the factors upon which we have focused are the extent to which the "essential attributes of judicial power" are reserved to Article III courts, and, conversely, the extent to which the non-Article III forum exercises the range of jurisdiction and powers normally vested only in Article III courts, the origins and importance of the right to be adjudicated, and the concerns that drove Congress to depart from the requirements of Article III. See, e.g., id. at 473 U. S. 587, 437 U. S. 589 -593; Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 84 -86.

An examination of the relative allocation of powers between the CFTC and Article III courts in light of the considerations given prominence in our precedents demonstrates that the congressional scheme does not impermissibly intrude on the province of the judiciary. The CFTC's adjudicatory powers depart from the traditional agency model in just one respect: the CFTC's jurisdiction over common law counterclaims. While wholesale importation of concepts of pendent or ancillary jurisdiction into the agency context may create greater constitutional difficulties, we decline to endorse an absolute prohibition on such jurisdiction out of fear of where some hypothetical "slippery slope" may deposit us. Indeed, the CFTC's exercise of this type of jurisdiction is not without precedent. Thus, in RFC v. Bankers Trust Co., 318 U. S. 163, 318 U. S. 168 -171 (1943), we saw no constitutional difficulty in the initial adjudication of a state law claim by a federal agency, subject to judicial review, when that claim was ancillary to a federal law dispute. Similarly, in Katchen v. Landy, 382 U. S. 323 (1966), this Court upheld a bankruptcy referee's power to hear and decide state law counterclaims against a creditor who filed a claim in bankruptcy when those counterclaims arose out of the same transaction. We reasoned that, as a practical matter, requiring the trustee to commence a plenary action to recover on its counterclaim would be a "meaningless gesture." Id. at 382 U. S. 334.

In the instant cases, we are likewise persuaded that there is little practical reason to find that this single deviation from the agency model is fatal to the congressional scheme. Aside from its authorization of counterclaim jurisdiction, the CEA leaves far more of the "essential attributes of judicial power" to Article III courts than did that portion of the Bankruptcy Act found unconstitutional in Northern Pipeline. The CEA scheme, in fact, hews closely to the agency model approved by the Court in Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22 (1932).

The CFTC, like the agency in Crowell, deals only with a "particularized area of law," Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 85, whereas the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy courts found unconstitutional in Northern Pipeline extended to broadly "all civil proceedings arising under title 11 or arising in or related to cases under title 11." 28 U.S.C. § 1471(b) (quoted in Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 85 ) (emphasis added). CFTC orders, like those of the agency in Crowell, but unlike those of the bankruptcy courts under the 1978 Act, are enforceable only by order of the district court. See 7 U.S.C. § 18(f); Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 85 -86. CFTC orders are also reviewed under the same "weight of the evidence" standard sustained in Crowell, rather than the more deferential standard found lacking in Northern Pipeline. See 7 U.S.C. § 9; Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 85. The legal rulings of the CFTC, like the legal determinations of the agency in Crowell, are subject to de novo review. Finally, the CFTC, unlike the bankruptcy courts under the 1978 Act, does not exercise "all ordinary powers of district courts," and thus may not, for instance, preside over jury trials or issue writs of habeas corpus. 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 85.

Of course, the nature of the claim has significance in our Article III analysis quite apart from the method prescribed for its adjudication. The counterclaim asserted in this litigation is a "private" right for which state law provides the rule of decision. It is therefore a claim of the kind assumed to be at the "core" of matters normally reserved to Article III courts. See, e.g., Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 587 ; Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 70 -71, and n. 25; id. at 458 U. S. 90 (REHNQUIST, J., concurring in judgment). Yet this conclusion does not end our inquiry; just as this Court has rejected any attempt to make determinative for Article III purposes the distinction between public rights and private rights, Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 585 -586, there is no reason inherent in separation of powers principles to accord the state law character of a claim talismanic power in Article III inquiries. See, e.g., Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 68, n. 20; id. at 458 U. S. 98 (WHITE, J., dissenting).

We have explained that

the public rights doctrine reflects simply a pragmatic understanding that, when Congress selects a quasi-judicial method of resolving matters that 'could be conclusively determined by the Executive and Legislative Branches,' the danger of encroaching on the judicial powers

is less than when private rights, which are normally within the purview of the judiciary, are relegated as an initial matter to administrative adjudication. Thomas, 473 U.S. at 473 U. S. 589 (quoting Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 68 ). Similarly, the state law character of a claim is significant for purposes of determining the effect that an initial adjudication of those claims by a non-Article III tribunal will have on the separation of powers, for the simple reason that private common law rights were historically the types of matters subject to resolution by Article III courts. See Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 68, n. 458 U. S. 20, 458 U. S. 84 ; id. at 458 U. S. 90 (REHNQUIST, J., concurring in judgment). The risk that Congress may improperly have encroached on the federal judiciary is obviously magnified when Congress

withdraw[s] from judicial cognizance any matter which, from its nature, is the subject of a suit at the common law, or in equity, or admiralty,

and which therefore has traditionally been tried in Article III courts, and allocates the decision of those matters to a non-Article III forum of its own creation. Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co., 18 How. 272, 59 U. S. 284 (1856). Accordingly, where private, common law rights are at stake, our examination of the congressional attempt to control the manner in which those rights are adjudicated has been searching. See, e.g., Northern Pipeline, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 84 ; id. at 458 U. S. 90 (REHNQUIST, J., concurring in judgment). In this litigation, however, "[l]ooking beyond form to the substance of what" Congress has done, we are persuaded that the congressional authorization of limited CFTC jurisdiction over a narrow class of common law claims as an incident to the CFTC's primary, and unchallenged, adjudicative function does not create a substantial threat to the separation of powers. Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 589.

It is clear that Congress has not attempted to "withdraw from judicial cognizance" the determination of Conti's right to the sum represented by the debit balance in Schor's account. Congress gave the CFTC the authority to adjudicate such matters, but the decision to invoke this forum is left entirely to the parties, and the power of the federal judiciary to take jurisdiction of these matters is unaffected. In such circumstances, separation of powers concerns are diminished, for it seems self-evident that, just as Congress may encourage parties to settle a dispute out of court or resort to arbitration without impermissible incursions on the separation of powers, Congress may make available a quasi-judicial mechanism through which willing parties may, at their option, elect to resolve their differences. This is not to say, of course, that, if Congress created a phalanx of non-Article III tribunals equipped to handle the entire business of the Article III courts without any Article III supervision or control, and, without evidence of valid and specific legislative necessities, the fact that the parties had the election to proceed in their forum of choice would necessarily save the scheme from constitutional attack. See, e.g., Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 73 -74. But this case obviously bears no resemblance to such a scenario, given the degree of judicial control saved to the federal courts, see supra, at 478 U. S. 852 -853, as well as the congressional purpose behind the jurisdictional delegation, the demonstrated need for the delegation, and the limited nature of the delegation.

When Congress authorized the CFTC to adjudicate counterclaims, its primary focus was on making effective a specific and limited federal regulatory scheme, not on allocating jurisdiction among federal tribunals. Congress intended to create an inexpensive and expeditious alternative forum through which customers could enforce the provisions of the CEA against professional brokers. Its decision to endow the CFTC with jurisdiction over such reparations claims is readily understandable, given the perception that the CFTC was relatively immune from political pressures, see H.R.Rep. No. 93-975, pp. 44, 70 (1974), and the obvious expertise that the Commission possesses in applying the CEA and its own regulations. This reparations scheme itself is of unquestioned constitutional validity. See, e.g., Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 589 ; Northern Pipeline, supra, at 458 U. S. 80 -81; Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22 (1932). It was only to ensure the effectiveness of this scheme that Congress authorized the CFTC to assert jurisdiction over common law counterclaims. Indeed, as was explained above, absent the CFTC's exercise of that authority, the purposes of the reparations procedure would have been confounded.

It also bears emphasis that the CFTC's assertion of counterclaim jurisdiction is limited to that which is necessary to make the reparations procedure workable. See 7 U.S.C. § 12a(5). The CFTC adjudication of common law counterclaims is incidental to, and completely dependent upon, adjudication of reparations claims created by federal law, and, in actual fact, is limited to claims arising out of the same transaction or occurrence as the reparations claim.

In such circumstances, the magnitude of any intrusion on the Judicial Branch can only be termed de minimis. Conversely, were we to hold that the Legislative Branch may not permit such limited cognizance of common law counterclaims at the election of the parties, it is clear that we would

defeat the obvious purpose of the legislation to furnish a prompt, continuous, expert and inexpensive method for dealing with a class of questions of fact which are peculiarly suited to examination and determination by an administrative agency specially assigned to that task.

Crowell v. Benson, supra, at 285 U. S. 46. See also Thomas, supra, at 473 U. S. 583 -584. We do not think Article III compels this degree of prophylaxis.

Nor does our decision in Bowsher v. Synar, ante, p. 478 U. S. 714, require a contrary result. Unlike Bowsher, this case raises no question of the aggrandizement of congressional power at the expense of a coordinate branch. Instead, the separation of powers question presented in this litigation is whether Congress impermissibly undermined, without appreciable expansion of its own power, the role of the Judicial Branch. In any case, we have, consistent with Bowsher, looked to a number of factors in evaluating the extent to which the congressional scheme endangers separation of powers principles under the circumstances presented, but have found no genuine threat to those principles to be present in this litigation.

In so doing, we have also been faithful to our Article III precedents, which counsel that bright-line rules cannot effectively be employed to yield broad principles applicable in all Article III inquiries. See, e.g., 473 U. S. 473 U. S. 568 (1985). Rather, due regard must be given in each case to the unique aspects of the congressional plan at issue, and its practical consequences in light of the larger concerns that underlie Article III. We conclude that the limited jurisdiction that the CFTC asserts over state law claims as a necessary incident to the adjudication of federal claims willingly submitted by the parties for initial agency adjudication does not contravene separation of powers principles or Article III.


Schor asserts that Article III, § 1, constrains Congress for reasons of federalism, as well as for reasons of separation of powers. He argues that the state law character of Conti's counterclaim transforms the central question in this litigation from whether Congress has trespassed upon the judicial powers of the Federal Government into whether Congress has invaded the prerogatives of state governments.

At the outset, we note that our prior precedents in this area have dealt only with separation of powers concerns, and have not intimated that principles of federalism impose limits on Congress' ability to delegate adjudicative functions to non-Article III tribunals. This absence of discussion regarding federalism is particularly telling in Northern Pipeline, where the Court based its analysis solely on the separation of powers principles inherent in Article III, despite the fact that the claim sought to be adjudicated in the bankruptcy court was created by state law. See, e.g., 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 57 -60, and n. 11.

Even assuming that principles of federalism are relevant to Article III analysis, however, we are unpersuaded that those principles require the invalidation of the CFTC's counterclaim jurisdiction. The sole fact that Conti's counterclaim is resolved by a federal, rather than a state, tribunal could not be said to unduly impair state interests, for it is established that a federal court could, without constitutional hazard, decide a counterclaim such as the one asserted here under its ancillary jurisdiction, even if an independent jurisdictional basis for it were lacking. See, e.g., Baker v. Gold Seal Liquors, 417 U. S. 467, 417 U. S. 469, n. 1 (1974); Moore v. New York Cotton Exchange, 270 U. S. 593, 270 U. S. 609 (1926). Given that the federal courts can and do exercise ancillary jurisdiction over counterclaims such as the one at issue here, the question becomes whether the fact that a federal agency, rather than a federal Article III court, initially hears the state law claim gives rise to a cognizably greater impairment of principles of federalism.

Schor argues that those Framers opposed to diversity jurisdiction in the federal courts acquiesced in its inclusion in Article III only because they were assured that the federal judiciary would be protected by the tenure and salary provisions of Article III. He concludes, in essence, that, to protect this constitutional compact, Article III should be read to absolutely preclude any adjudication of state law claims by federal decisionmakers that do not enjoy the Article III salary and tenure protections. We are unpersuaded by Schor's novel theory, which suffers from a number of flaws, the most important of which is that Schor identifies no historical support for the critical link he posits between the provisions of Article III that protect the independence of the federal judiciary and those provisions that define the extent of the judiciary's jurisdiction over state law claims.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.


* Together with No. 85-642, ContiCommodity Services, Inc. v. Schor, et al., also on certiorari to the same court

[ Footnote 1 ]

Respondents' suit was governed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act of 1974, Pub.L. 93-463, 88 Stat. 1389. Congress again significantly revised the Act in early 1983. See Futures Trading Act of 1982, Pub.L. 97-444, 96 Stat. 2294. The changes effected by the 1983 amendments that are relevant to CFTC proceedings became effective only as of May, 1983, and therefore do not control in this proceeding. See § 239. 96 Stat. 2327.

[ Footnote 2 ]

Two complaints, relating to separate trading accounts, were filed on behalf of Schor and the mortgage banking company, Mortgage Services of America, Inc., of which Schor was president and 90% shareholder. The complaints contained virtually identical allegations, and were consolidated at the administrative level. The Court of Appeals also consolsidated the two separate petitions for review of the CFTC's final reparation order filed by Schor and Mortgage Services of America, Inc. Because the legal issues involved in the two actions are, for all relevant purposes, identical, we refer to Schor and Mortgage Services of America, Inc., jointly as "Schor," and to ContiCommodity Services, Inc., and Sandor jointly as "Conti."

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