The Supreme Court, ruling in a case arising from soaring increases in uranium prices between 1973 and mid-1975, yesterday curbed the power of a state court to prevent a litigant from pursuing a remedy in a federal court.
The unsigned, 8-to-0 opinion was a victory for the General Atomic Co. a supplier of uranium to various electric utilities that south to overturn an injunction against federal litigation issued by New Mexico District Judge Edwin L. Felter last year.
The dissenting justice, William H. Rehnquist, wanted to affirm a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that Felter was empowered to enjoin GAC from filing a federal lawsuit against United Nuclear Corp. UNC mines and mills uranium and makes re-load fuel assemblies for nuclear reactors.
UNC stopped deliveries of uranium to GAC after the price per pound increased more than fivefold in about two years. It had held steady at about $7 for six years. UNC also sought a court judment freeing it of its obligations to GAC under a 1973 contract.
GAC, owned by Gulf Oil Co. and Scallop Nuclear, Inc., then went into federal court seeking an order binding UNC and four utilities to observe the contract. That effort failed. But federal court involvement continued when three of the untilities initiated suits of their own against GAC.
In the furry of actions that followed and that brought an initial phase of the dispute to the Supreme Court last year, Felter issued the injunction.
The state supreme court upheld the injunction with the argument that it would prevent "harassment" by GAC of UNC. But the U.S. Supreme Court said that in seeking relief in federal court, GAC simply was trying to defend itself against the utilities.