Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether the claim-preclusive effect of a federal
judgment dismissing a diversity action on statute-of-limitations grounds is
determined by the law of the State in which the federal court sits.
Petitioner filed a complaint against respondent in California state court, alleging
inducement of breach of contract and various business torts. Respondent removed
the case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California on
the basis of diversity of citizenship, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441 (1994 ed. and
Supp. IV), and successfully moved to dismiss petitioner's claims as barred by
California's 2-year statute of limitations. In its order of dismissal, the District Court,
adopting language suggested by respondent, dismissed petitioner's claims "in [their]
entirety on the merits and with prejudice." App. to Pet. for Cert. 59a. Without
contesting the District Court's designation of its dismissal as "on the merits,"
petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed
the District Court's order. 168 F.3d 501 (1999) (table). Petitioner also brought
suit against respondent in the State Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland,
alleging the same causes of action, which were not time barred under Maryland's
3-year statute of limitations. Respondent sought injunctive relief against
this action from the California federal court under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. §
1651, and removed the action to the United States District Court for the
District of Maryland on federal-question grounds (diversity grounds were not
available because Lockheed "is a Maryland citizen," Semtek Int'l, Inc. v.
Lockheed Martin Corp., 988 F.Supp. 913, 914 (1997)). The California federal
court denied the relief requested, and the Maryland federal court remanded the
case to state court because the federal question arose only by way of defense,
ibid. Following a hearing, the Maryland state court granted respondent's motion to
dismiss on the ground of res judicata. Petitioner then returned to the California
federal court and the Ninth Circuit, unsuccessfully moving both courts to amend
the former's earlier order so as to indicate that the dismissal was not "on the
merits." Petitioner also appealed the Maryland trial court's order of dismissal to the
Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed,
holding that, regardless of whether California would have accorded
claim-preclusive effect to a statute-of-limitations dismissal by one of its own courts,
the dismissal by the California federal court barred the complaint filed in Maryland,
since the res judicata effect of federal diversity judgments is prescribed by federal
law, under which the earlier dismissal was on the merits and claim preclusive. 128
Md.App. 39, 736 A.2d 1104 (1999). After the Maryland Court of Appeals
declined to review the case, we granted certiorari. 530 U.S. 1260, 120 S.Ct.
2715, 147 L.Ed.2d 981 (2000).
Petitioner contends that the outcome of this case is controlled
by Dupasseur v.
Rochereau, 21 Wall. 130, 135, 22 L.Ed. 588 (1875), which held that the res
judicata effect of a federal diversity judgment "is such as would belong to
judgments of the State courts rendered under similar circumstances," and may not
be accorded any "higher sanctity or effect." Since, petitioner argues, the dismissal
of an action on statute-of-limitations grounds by a California state court would not
be claim preclusive, it follows that the similar dismissal of this diversity action by
the California federal court cannot be claim preclusive. While we agree that
this would be the result demanded by Dupasseur, the case is not dispositive
because it was decided under the Conformity Act of 1872, 17 Stat. 196, which
required federal courts to apply the procedural law of the forum State in nonequity
cases. That arguably affected the outcome of the case. See Dupasseur, supra, at
135. See also Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 87, Comment a, p. 315
(1980) (hereinafter Restatement) ("Since procedural law largely determines the
matters that may be adjudicated in an action, state law had to be considered in
ascertaining the effect of a federal judgment").
Respondent, for its part, contends that the outcome of this case
is controlled by
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), which provides as follows:
"Involuntary Dismissal: Effect Thereof. For failure of the plaintiff
to prosecute or to
comply with these rules or any order of court, a defendant may move for dismissal
of an action or of any claim against the defendant. Unless the court in its order for
dismissal otherwise specifies, a dismissal under this subdivision and any dismissal
not provided for in this rule, other than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, for
improper venue, or for failure to join a party under Rule 19, operates as an
adjudication upon the merits."
Since the dismissal here did not "otherwise specif[y]" (indeed,
it specifically stated
that it was "on the merits"), and did not pertain to the excepted subjects of
jurisdiction, venue, or joinder, it follows, respondent contends, that the dismissal "is
entitled to claim preclusive effect." Brief for Respondent 3-4.
Implicit in this reasoning is the unstated minor premise that all judgments
denominated "on the merits" are entitled to claim-preclusive effect. That premise is
not necessarily valid. The original connotation of an "on the merits" adjudication is
one that actually "pass[es] directly on the substance of [a particular] claim"
before the court. Restatement § 19, Comment a, at 161. That connotation remains
common to every jurisdiction of which we are aware. See ibid. ("The
prototyp[ical] [judgment on the merits is] one in which the merits of [a party's]
claim are in fact adjudicated [for or] against the [party] after trial of the substantive
issues"). And it is, we think, the meaning intended in those many statements to the
effect that a judgment "on the merits" triggers the doctrine of res judicata or claim
preclusion. See, e.g., Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326, n. 5,
99 S.Ct. 645, 58 L.Ed.2d 552 (1979) ("Under the doctrine of res judicata, a
judgment on the merits in a prior suit bars a second suit involving the same parties
or their privies based on the same cause of action"); Goddard v. Security Title
Ins. & Guarantee Co., 14 Cal.2d 47, 51, 92 P.2d 804, 806 (1939) ("[A] final
judgment, rendered upon the merits by a court having jurisdiction of the cause ... is
a complete bar to a new suit between [the parties or their privies] on the same
cause of action" (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).
But over the years the meaning of the term "judgment on the merits"
undergone change," R. Marcus, M. Redish, & E. Sherman, Civil Procedure: A
Modern Approach 1140-1141 (3d ed.2000), and it has come to be applied to
some judgments (such as the one involved here) that do not pass upon the
substantive merits of a claim and hence do not (in many jurisdictions) entail
claim-preclusive effect. Compare, e.g., Western Coal & Mining Co. v. Jones, 27
Cal.2d 819, 826, 167 P.2d 719, 724 (1946), and Koch v. Rodlin Enterprises,
Inc., 223 Cal.App.3d 1591, 1596, 273 Cal.Rptr. 438, 441 (1990), with Plaut v.
Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 228, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 131 L.Ed.2d 328
(1995) (statute of limitations); Goddard, supra, at 50-51, 92 P.2d, at 806-807,
and Allston v. Incorporated Village of Rockville Centre, 25 App.Div.2d 545,
546, 267 N.Y.S.2d 564, 565-566 (1966), with Federated Department Stores,
Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 399, n. 3, 101 S.Ct. 2424, 69 L.Ed.2d 103 (1981)
(demurrer or failure to state a claim). See also Restatement § 19, Comment
a and Reporter's Note; 18 C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice
and Procedure § 4439, pp. 355-358 (1981) (hereinafter Wright & Miller). That is
why the Restatement of Judgments has abandoned the use of the term--"because
of its possibly misleading connotations," Restatement § 19, Comment a, at 161.
In short, it is no longer true that a judgment "on the merits"
is necessarily a
judgment entitled to claim-preclusive effect; and there are a number of reasons for
believing that the phrase "adjudication upon the merits" does not bear that meaning
in Rule 41(b). To begin with, Rule 41(b) sets forth nothing more than a default rule
for determining the import of a dismissal (a dismissal is "upon the merits," with the
three stated exceptions, unless the court "otherwise specifies"). This would be a
highly peculiar context in which to announce a federally prescribed rule on the
complex question of claim preclusion, saying in effect, "All federal dismissals (with
three specified exceptions) preclude suit elsewhere, unless the court otherwise
And even apart from the purely default character of Rule 41(b),
it would be
peculiar to find a rule governing the effect that must be accorded federal judgments
by other courts ensconced in rules governing the internal procedures of the
rendering court itself. Indeed, such a rule would arguably violate the jurisdictional
limitation of the Rules Enabling Act: that the Rules "shall not abridge, enlarge or
modify any substantive right," 28 U.S.C. § 2072(b). Cf. Ortiz v.
Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815, 842, 119 S.Ct. 2295, 144 L.Ed.2d 715
(1999) (adopting a "limiting construction" of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
23(b)(1)(B) in order to "minimiz[e] potential conflict with the Rules Enabling Act,
and [to] avoi[d] serious constitutional concerns"). In the present case, for example,
if California law left petitioner free to sue on this claim in Maryland even after the
California statute of limitations had expired, the federal court's extinguishment of
that right (through Rule 41(b)'s mandated claim-preclusive effect of its
judgment) would seem to violate this limitation.
Moreover, as so interpreted, the Rule would in many cases violate
principle of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78-80, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82
L.Ed. 1188 (1938), by engendering " 'substantial' variations [in outcomes]
between state and federal litigation" which would "[l]ikely ... influence the choice of
a forum," Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 467-468, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d
8 (1965). See also Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 108-110, 65
S.Ct. 1464, 89 L.Ed. 2079 (1945). Cf. Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S.
740, 748-753, 100 S.Ct. 1978, 64 L.Ed.2d 659 (1980). With regard to the
claim-preclusion issue involved in the present case, for example, the traditional rule
is that expiration of the applicable statute of limitations merely bars the remedy and
does not extinguish the substantive right, so that dismissal on that ground does not
have claim-preclusive effect in other jurisdictions with longer, unexpired limitations
periods. See Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §§ 142(2), 143 (1969);
Restatement of Judgments § 49, Comment a (1942). Out-of-state defendants
sued on stale claims in California and in other States adhering to this traditional rule
would systematically remove state-law suits brought against them to federal
court--where, unless otherwise specified, a statute-of- limitations dismissal would
bar suit everywhere.1
Finally, if Rule 41(b) did mean what respondent suggests, we would
relied upon it in our cases recognizing the claim-preclusive effect of federal
judgments in federal-question cases. Yet for over half a century since the
promulgation of Rule 41(b), we have not once done so. See, e.g., Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 488-489, n. 9, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383
(1994); Federated Department Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, supra, at 398;
Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Ill. Foundation, 402 U.S.
313, 324, n. 12, 91 S.Ct. 1434, 28 L.Ed.2d 788 (1971).
We think the key to a more reasonable interpretation of the meaning
"operates as an adjudication upon the merits" in Rule 41(b) is to be found in Rule
41(a), which, in discussing the effect of voluntary dismissal by the plaintiff, makes
clear that an "adjudication upon the merits" is the opposite of a "dismissal without
"Unless otherwise stated in the notice of dismissal or stipulation,
the dismissal is
without prejudice, except that a notice of dismissal operates as an adjudication
upon the merits when filed by a plaintiff who has once dismissed in any court of the
United States or of any state an action based on or including the same claim."
See also 18 Wright & Miller § 4435, at 329, n. 4 ("Both parts of Rule 41 ... use
the phrase 'without prejudice' as a contrast to adjudication on the merits"); 9 id., §
2373, at 396, n. 4 (" '[W]ith prejudice' is an acceptable form of shorthand for 'an
adjudication upon the merits' "). See also Goddard, 14 Cal.2d, at 54, 92
P.2d, at 808 (stating that a dismissal "with prejudice" evinces "[t]he intention of the
court to make [the dismissal] on the merits"). The primary meaning of "dismissal
without prejudice," we think, is dismissal without barring the plaintiff from returning
later, to the same court, with the same underlying claim. That will also ordinarily
(though not always) have the consequence of not barring the claim from other
courts, but its primary meaning relates to the dismissing court itself. Thus, Black's
Law Dictionary (7th ed.1999) defines "dismissed without prejudice" as "removed
from the court's docket in such a way that the plaintiff may refile the same suit on
the same claim," id., at 482, 92 P.2d 804, and defines "dismissal without
prejudice" as "[a] dismissal that does not bar the plaintiff from refiling the
lawsuit within the applicable limitations period," ibid.
We think, then, that the effect of the "adjudication upon the merits"
provision of Rule 41(b)--and, presumably, of the explicit order in the present case
that used the language of that default provision--is simply that, unlike a dismissal
"without prejudice," the dismissal in the present case barred refiling of the same
claim in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. That
is undoubtedly a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient one, for
claim-preclusive effect in other courts.2
Having concluded that the claim-preclusive effect, in Maryland, of this California
federal diversity judgment is dictated neither by Dupasseur v. Rochereau, as
petitioner contends, nor by Rule 41(b), as respondent contends, we turn to
consideration of what determines the issue. Neither the Full Faith and Credit
Clause, U.S. Const., Art. IV, § 1,3 nor the full faith and credit statute, 28
U.S.C. § 1738,4 addresses the question. By their terms they govern
the effects to be given only to state-court judgments (and, in the case of the statute,
to judgments by courts of territories and possessions). And no other federal textual
provision, neither of the Constitution nor of any statute, addresses the
claim-preclusive effect of a judgment in a federal diversity action.
It is also true, however, that no federal textual provision addresses
the claim-preclusive effect of a federal-court judgment in a federal- question case,
yet we have long held that States cannot give those judgments merely whatever
effect they would give their own judgments, but must accord them the effect that
this Court prescribes. See Stoll v. Gottlieb, 305 U.S. 165, 171-172, 59 S.Ct.
134, 83 L.Ed. 104 (1938); Gunter v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 200 U.S.
273, 290-291, 26 S.Ct. 252, 50 L.Ed. 477 (1906); Deposit Bank v.
Frankfort, 191 U.S. 499, 514-515, 24 S.Ct. 154, 48 L.Ed. 276 (1903). The
reasoning of that line of cases suggests, moreover, that even when States are
allowed to give federal judgments (notably, judgments in diversity cases) no more
than the effect accorded to state judgments, that disposition is by direction of this
Court, which has the last word on the claim-preclusive effect of all federal
"It is true that for some purposes and within certain limits it
is only required that the
judgments of the courts of the United States shall be given the same force and
effect as are given the judgments of the courts of the States wherein they are
rendered; but it is equally true that whether a Federal judgment has been given due
force and effect in the state court is a Federal question reviewable by this court,
which will determine for itself whether such judgment has been given due weight or
"When is the state court obliged to give to Federal judgments
only the force and
effect it gives to state court judgments within its own jurisdiction? Such cases are
distinctly pointed out in the opinion of Mr. Justice Bradley in Dupasseur v.
Rochereau [which stated that the case was a diversity case, applying state law
under state procedure]." Ibid.
In other words, in Dupasseur the State was allowed (indeed, required)
to give a
federal diversity judgment no more effect than it would accord one of its own
judgments only because reference to state law was the federal rule that this
Court deemed appropriate. In short, federal common law governs the claim-
preclusive effect of a dismissal by a federal court sitting in diversity. See generally
R. Fallon, D. Meltzer, & D. Shapiro, Hart and Wechsler's The Federal Courts and
the Federal System 1473 (4th ed.1996); Degnan, Federalized Res Judicata, 85
Yale L.J. 741 (1976).
It is left to us, then, to determine the appropriate federal rule.
the sea change that has occurred in the background law since Dupasseur was
decided--not only repeal of the Conformity Act but also the watershed decision of
this Court in Erie--we think the result decreed by Dupasseur continues to be
correct for diversity cases. Since state, rather than federal, substantive law is at
issue there is no need for a uniform federal rule. And indeed, nationwide uniformity
in the substance of the matter is better served by having the same claim-preclusive
rule (the state rule) apply whether the dismissal has been ordered by a state or a
federal court. This is, it seems to us, a classic case for adopting, as the federally
prescribed rule of decision, the law that would be applied by state courts in the
State in which the federal diversity court sits. See Gasperini v. Center for
Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 429-431, 116 S.Ct. 2211, 135 L.Ed.2d 659
(1996); Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S., at 752-753, 100 S.Ct. 1978;
Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co. of America, 350 U.S. 198, 202-205, 76 S.Ct.
273, 100 L.Ed. 199 (1956); Palmer v. Hoffman, 318 U.S. 109, 117, 63 S.Ct.
477, 87 L.Ed. 645 (1943); Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S.
487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941); Cities Service Oil Co. v.
Dunlap, 308 U.S. 208, 212, 60 S.Ct. 201, 84 L.Ed. 196 (1939). As we have
alluded to above, any other rule would produce the sort of "forum-shopping ... and
... inequitable administration of the laws" that Erie seeks to avoid, Hanna,
380 U.S., at 468, 85 S.Ct. 1136, since filing in, or removing to, federal court
would be encouraged by the divergent effects that the litigants would anticipate
from likely grounds of dismissal. See Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S., at
109-110, 65 S.Ct. 1464.
This federal reference to state law will not obtain, of course,
in situations in which
the state law is incompatible with federal interests. If, for example, state law did
not accord claim-preclusive effect to dismissals for willful violation of
discovery orders, federal courts' interest in the integrity of their own processes
might justify a contrary federal rule. No such conflict with potential federal interests
exists in the present case. Dismissal of this state cause of action was decreed by
the California federal court only because the California statute of limitations so
required; and there is no conceivable federal interest in giving that time bar more
effect in other courts than the California courts themselves would impose.
Because the claim-preclusive effect of the California federal court's
dismissal "upon the merits" of petitioner's action on statute-of- limitations grounds
is governed by a federal rule that in turn incorporates California's law of claim
preclusion (the content of which we do not pass upon today), the Maryland Court
of Special Appeals erred in holding that the dismissal necessarily precluded the
bringing of this action in the Maryland courts. The judgment is reversed, and the
case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
1. Rule 41(b), interpreted as a preclusion-establishing
not have the two effects described in the preceding paragraphs--
arguable violation of the Rules Enabling Act and incompatibility with
Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed.
1188 (1938)--if the court's failure to specify an
other-than-on-the-merits dismissal were subject to reversal on appeal
whenever it would alter the rule of claim preclusion applied by the
State in which the federal court sits. No one suggests that this is the
rule, and we are aware of no case that applies it.
2. We do not decide whether, in a diversity case, a
"dismissal upon the merits" (in the sense we have described), under
circumstances where a state court would decree only a "dismissal
without prejudice," abridges a "substantive right" and thus exceeds
the authorization of the Rules Enabling Act. We think the situation will
present itself more rarely than would the arguable violation of the Act
that would ensue from interpreting Rule 41(b) as a rule of claim
preclusion; and if it is a violation, can be more easily dealt with on
3. Article IV, § 1, provides as follows:
"Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts,
Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the
Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such
Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect
4. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1738 provides in relevant
part as follows:
"The records and judicial proceedings of any court of any ... State,
Territory or Possession ... shall have the same full faith and credit in
every court within the United States and its Territories and
Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State,
Territory or Possession from which they are taken."