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).
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
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.
[Rest of case to be discussed later.]