Controversies Between Citizens of Different States

The records of the Federal Convention are silent on why the Framers included controversies between citizens of different states among the judicial power of the United States,1106 but Congress has given “diversity jurisdiction” in one form or another to the federal courts since the Judiciary Act of 1789.1107 The traditional explanation remains that offered by Chief Justice Marshall. “However true the fact may be, that the tribunals of the states will administer justice as impartially as those of the nation, to parties of every description, it is not less true that the Constitution itself either entertains apprehensions on this subject, or views with such indulgence the possible fears and apprehensions of suitors, that it has established national tribunals for the decision of controversies between aliens and a citizen, or between citizens of different states.”1108 Other explanations have been offered and controverted,1109 but diversity cases constitute a large bulk of cases on the dockets of the federal courts today, though serious proposals for restricting access to federal courts in such cases have been before Congress for some time.1110 The essential difficulty with this type of jurisdiction is that it requires federal judges to decide issues of local import on the basis of their reading of how state judges would decide them, an oftentimes laborious process, which detracts from the time and labor needed to resolve issues of federal import.

The Meaning of “State” and the District of Columbia Problem.

In Hepburn v. Ellzey,1111 Chief Justice Marshall for the Court confined the meaning of the word “state” as used in the Constitution to “the members of the American confederacy” and ruled that a citizen of the District of Columbia could not sue a citizen of Virginia on the basis of diversity of citizenship. Marshall noted that it was “extraordinary that the courts of the United States, which are open to aliens, and to the citizens of every state in the union, should be closed upon them. But this is a subject for legislative, not for judicial consideration.”1112 The same rule was subsequently applied to citizens of the territories of the United States.1113

Whether the Chief Justice had in mind a constitutional amendment or a statute when he spoke of legislative consideration remains unclear. Not until 1940, however, did Congress attempt to meet the problem by statutorily conferring on federal district courts jurisdiction of civil actions, not involving federal questions, “between citizens of different States, or citizens of the District of Columbia, the Territory of Hawaii, or Alaska and any State or Territory.”1114 In National Mutual Ins. Co. v. Tidewater Transfer Co.,1115 this act was upheld in a five-to-four decision but for widely divergent reasons by a coalition of Justices. Two Justices thought that Chief Justice Marshall’s 1804 decision should be overruled, but the other seven Justices disagreed; however, three of the seven thought the statute could be sustained under Congress’s power to enact legislation for the inhabitants of the District of Columbia, but the remaining four plus the other two rejected this theory. The statute was upheld because a total of five Justices voted to sustain it, although of the two theories relied on, seven Justices rejected one and six the other. The result, attributable to “conflicting minorities in combination,”1116 means that Hepburn v. Ellzey is still good law insofar as it holds that the District of Columbia is not a state, but is overruled insofar as it holds that District citizens may not use federal diversity jurisdiction.1117

Citizenship of Natural Persons.

For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, state citizenship is determined by the concept of domicile1118 rather than of mere residence.1119 That is, while the Court’s definition has varied throughout the cases,1120 a person is a citizen of the state in which he has his true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment and to which he intends to return whenever he is absent from it.1121 Acts may disclose intention more clearly and decisively than declarations.1122 One may change his domicile in an instant by taking up residence in the new place and by intending to remain there indefinitely and one may obtain the benefit of diversity jurisdiction by so changing for that reason alone,1123 provided the change is more than a temporary expedient.1124

If the plaintiff and the defendant are citizens of different states, diversity jurisdiction exists regardless of the state in which suit is brought.1125 Chief Justice Marshall early established that in multi-party litigation, there must be complete diversity, that is, that no party on one side could be a citizen of any state of which any party on the other side was a citizen.1126 It has now apparently been decided that this requirement flows from the statute on diversity rather than from the constitutional grant and that therefore minimal diversity is sufficient.1127 The Court has also placed some issues beyond litigation in federal courts in diversity cases, apparently solely on policy grounds.1128

Citizenship of Corporations.

In Bank of the United States v. Deveaux,1129 Chief Justice Marshall declared: “That invisible, intangible, and artificial being, that mere legal entity, a corporation aggregate, is certainly not a citizen; and consequently cannot sue or be sued in the courts of the United States, unless the rights of the members, in this respect, can be exercised in their corporate name.” Nevertheless, the Court upheld diversity jurisdiction in the case because the members of the bank as a corporation were citizens of one state and Deveaux was a citizen of another. The holding that corporations were citizens of the states where their stockholders lived was reaffirmed a generation later,1130 but pressures were building for change. While corporations were assuming an ever more prominent economic role, the Strawbridge rule, which foreclosed diversity suits if any plaintiff had common citizenship with any defendant,1131 was working to close the doors of the federal courts to corporations with stockholders in many states.

Deveaux was overruled in 1844, when, after elaborate argument, a divided Court held that “a corporation created by and doing business in a particular state, is to be deemed to all intents and purposes as a person, although an artificial person, an inhabitant of the same state, for the purposes of its incorporation, capable of being treated as a citizen of that state, as much as a natural person.”1132 Ten years later, the Court abandoned this rationale, but it achieved the same result by “indulg[ing] in the fiction that, although a corporation was not itself a citizen for diversity purposes, its shareholders would be conclusively presumed citizens of the incorporating State.”1133 “State of incorporation” remained the guiding rule for determining the place of corporate citizenship until Congress amended the jurisdictional statute in 1958. Concern over growing dockets and companies incorporating in states of convenience then led to a dual citizenship rule whereby “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.”1134 The right of foreign corporations to resort to federal courts in diversity is not one that the states may condition as a qualification for doing business in the state.1135

Unincorporated associations, such as partnerships, joint stock companies, labor unions, governing boards of institutions, and the like, do not enjoy the same privilege as a corporation; the actual citizenship of each of its members must be considered in determining whether diversity exists.1136

Manufactured Diversity.

A litigant who, because of diver- sity of citizenship, can choose whether to sue in state or federal court, will properly consider where the advantages and disadvantages balance, and if diversity is lacking, a litigant who perceives the balance to favor the federal forum will sometimes attempt to create diversity. In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress exempted from diversity jurisdiction suits on choses of action in favor of an assignee unless the suit could have been brought in federal court if no assignment had been made.1137 One could create diversity by a bona fide change of domicile even with the sole motive of creating domicile.1138 Similarly, one could create diversity, or defeat it, by choosing a personal representative of the requisite citizenship.1139 Most attempts to manufacture or create diversity have involved corporations. A corporation cannot get into federal court by transferring its claim to a subsidiary incorporated in another state,1140 and for a time the Supreme Court tended to look askance at collusory incorporations and the creation of dummy corporations for purposes of creating diversity.1141 But, in Black & White Taxicab & Transfer Co. v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab & Transfer Co.,1142 it became highly important to the plaintiff company to bring its suit in federal court rather than in a state court. Thus, Black & White, a Kentucky corporation, dissolved itself and obtained a charter as a Tennessee corporation; the only change made was the state of incorporation, the name, officers, shareholders, and location of the business remaining the same. A majority of the Court, over a strong dissent by Justice Holmes,1143 saw no collusion and upheld diversity, meaning that the company won whereas it would have lost had it sued in the state court. Black & White Taxicab probably more than anything led to a reexamination of the decision on the choice of law to be applied in diversity litigation.

The Law Applied in Diversity Cases.

By virtue of § 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789,1144 state law expressed in constitutional and statutory form was regularly applied in federal courts in diversity actions to govern the disposition of such cases. But, in Swift v. Tyson,1145 Justice Story for the Court ruled that state court decisions were not laws within the meaning of § 34 and though entitled to respect were not binding on federal judges, except with regard to matters of a “local nature,” such as statutes and interpretations thereof pertaining to real estate and other immovables, in contrast to questions of general commercial law as to which the answers were dependent not on “the decisions of the local tribunals, but in the general principles and doctrines of commercial jurisprudence.”1146 The course of decision over the period of almost one hundred years was toward an expansion of the areas in which federal judges were free to construct a federal common law and a concomitant contraction of the definition of “local” laws.1147 Although dissatisfaction with Swift v. Tyson was almost always present, within and without the Court,1148 it was the Court’s decision in Black & White Taxicab & Transfer Co. v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab & Transfer Co.1149 that brought disagreement to the strongest point and perhaps precipitated the overruling of Swift v. Tyson in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins.1150

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Erie decision. It announces no technical doctrine of procedure or jurisdiction, but goes to the heart of the relations between the Federal Government and the states, and returns to the states a power that had for nearly a century been exercised by the federal government.”1151 Erie was remarkable in a number of ways aside from the doctrine it announced. It reversed a 96-year-old precedent, which counsel had specifically not questioned; it reached a constitutional decision when a statutory interpretation was available though perhaps less desirable; and it marked the only time in United States constitutional history when the Court has held that it had undertaken an unconstitutional action.1152

Tompkins was injured by defendant’s train while he was walking along the tracks. He was a citizen of Pennsylvania, and the railroad was incorporated in New York. Had he sued in a Pennsylvania court, state decisional law was to the effect that, because he was a trespasser, the defendant owned him only a duty not to injure him through wanton or willful misconduct;1153 the general federal law treated him as a licensee who could recover for negligence. Tompkins sued and recovered in federal court in New York and the railroad presented the issue to the Supreme Court as one covered by “local” law within the meaning of Swift v. Tyson. Justice Brandeis for himself and four other Justices, however, chose to overrule the early case.

First, it was argued that Tyson had failed to bring about uniformity of decision and that its application discriminated against citizens of a state by noncitizens. Justice Brandeis cited recent researches1154 indicating that § 34 of the 1789 Act included court decisions in the phrase “laws of the several States.” “If only a question of statutory construction were involved we should not be prepared to abandon a doctrine so widely applied throughout nearly a century. But the unconstitutionality of the course pursued has now been made clear, and compels us to do so.”1155 For a number of reasons, it would not have been wise to have overruled Tyson on the basis of arguable new discoveries.1156

Second, the decision turned on the lack of power vested in Congress to prescribe rules for federal courts in state cases. “There is no federal general common law. Congress has no power to declare substantive rules of common law applicable in a State whether they be local in their nature or ‘general,’ be they commercial law or a part of the law of torts. No clause in the Constitution purports to confer such a power upon the federal courts.”1157 But having said this, Justice Brandeis made it clear that the unconstitutional assumption of power had been made not by Congress but by the Court itself. “[W]e do not hold unconstitutional § 34 of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789 or any other Act of Congress. We merely declare that in applying the doctrine this Court and the lower courts have invaded rights which in our opinion are reserved by the Constitution to the several States.”1158

Third, the rule of Erie replacing Tyson is that “[e]xcept in matters governed by the Federal Constitution or by Acts of Congress, the law to be applied in any case is the law of the State. Whether the law of the State shall be declared by its Legislature in a statute or by its highest court in a decision is not a matter of federal concern.”1159

Since 1938, the effect of Erie has first increased and then diminished, as the nature of the problems presented changed. Thus, the Court at first indicated that not only were the decisions of the highest court of a state binding on a federal diversity court, but also decisions of intermediate appellate courts1160 and courts of first instance,1161 even where the decisions bound no other state judge except as they were persuasive on their merits. It has now retreated from this position, concluding that federal judges are to give careful consideration to lower state court decisions and to old, perhaps outmoded decisions, but that they must find for themselves the state law if the state’s highest court has not spoken definitively within a period that would raise no questions about the continued viability of the decision.1162 In the event of a state supreme court reversal of an earlier decision, the federal courts are, of course, bound by the later decision, and a judgment of a federal district court, correct when rendered, must be reversed on appeal if the state’s highest court in the meantime has changed the applicable law.1163 In diversity cases that present conflicts of law problems, the Court has reiterated that the district court is to apply the law of the state in which it sits, so that in a case in State A in which the law of State B is applicable, perhaps because a contract was made there or a tort was committed there, the federal court is to apply State A’s conception of State B’s law.1164

The greatest difficulty in applying the Erie doctrine has been in cases in which issues of procedure were important.1165 The process was initiated in 1945 when the Court held that a state statute of limitations, which would have barred suit in state court, would bar it in federal court, although as a matter of federal law the case still could have been brought in federal court.1166 The Court regarded the substance-procedure distinction as immaterial. “[S]ince a federal court adjudicating a state-created right solely because of the diversity of citizenship of the parties is for that purpose, in effect, only another court of the State, it cannot afford recovery if the right to recover is made unavailable by the State nor can it substantially affect the enforcement of the right as given by the State.”1167 The standard to be applied was compelled by the “intent” of Erie, which “was to insure that, in all cases where a federal court is exercising jurisdiction solely because of the diversity of citizenship of the parties, the outcome of the litigation in the federal court should be substantially the same, so far as legal rules determine the outcome of a litigation, as it would be if tried in a State court.”1168 The Court’s application of this standard created substantial doubt that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure had any validity in diversity cases.1169

But, in two later cases, the Court contracted the application of Erie in matters governed by the Federal Rules. Thus, in the earlier case, the Court said that “outcome” was no longer the sole determinant and countervailing considerations expressed in federal policy on the conduct of federal trials should be considered; a state rule making it a question for the judge rather than a jury of a particular defense in a tort action had to yield to a federal policy enunciated through the Seventh Amendment of favoring juries.1170 Some confusion has been injected into consideration of which law to apply— state or federal—in the absence of a federal statute or a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.1171 In an action for damages, the federal courts were faced with the issue of the application either of a state statute, which gave the appellate division of the state courts the authority to determine if an award is excessive or inadequate if it deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation, or of a federal judicially created practice of review of awards as so exorbitant that it shocked the conscience of the court. The Court determined that the state statute was both substantive and procedural, which would result in substantial variations between state and federal damage awards depending whether the state or the federal approach was applied; it then followed the mode of analysis exemplified by those cases emphasizing the importance of federal courts reaching the same outcome as would the state courts,1172 rather than what had been the prevailing standard, in which the Court balanced state and federal interests to determine which law to apply.1173 Emphasis upon either approach to considerations of applying state or federal law reflects a continuing difficulty of accommodating “the constitutional power of the states to regulate the relations among their citizens . . . [and] the constitutional power of the Federal Government to determine how its courts are to be operated.”1174 Additional decisions will be required to determine which approach, if either, prevails. The latter ruling simplified the matter greatly. Erie is not to be the proper test when the question is the application of one of the Rules of Civil Procedure; if the rule is valid when measured against the Enabling Act and the Constitution, it is to be applied regardless of state law to the contrary.1175

Although it seems clear that Erie applies in nondiversity cases in which the source of the right sued upon is state law,1176 it is equally clear that Erie is not applicable always in diversity cases whether the nature of the issue be substantive or procedural. Thus, it may be that there is an overriding federal interest which compels national uniformity of rules, such as a case in which the issue is the appropriate rule for determining the liability of a bank which had guaranteed a forged federal check,1177 in which the issue is the appropriate rule for determining whether a tortfeasor is liable to the United States for hospitalization of a soldier and loss of his services1178 and in which the issue is the appropriate rule for determining the validity of a defense raised by a federal officer sued for having libeled one in the course of his official duties.1179 In such cases, when the issue is found to be controlled by federal law, common or otherwise, the result is binding on state courts as well as on federal.1180 Despite, then, Justice Brandeis’ assurance that there is no “federal general common law,” there is a common law existing and developing in the federal courts, even in diversity cases, which will sometimes control decision.1181

Footnotes

1106
Friendly, The Historic Basis of Diversity Jurisdiction, 41 HARV. L. REV. 483 (1928). [Back to text]
1107
1 Stat. 78, 11. The statute also created alienage jurisdiction of suits between a citizen of a state and an alien. See Holt, The Origins of Alienage Jurisdiction, 14 OKLA. CITY L. REV. 547 (1989). Early versions of the statute conferred diversity jurisdiction only when the suit was between a citizen of the state in which the suit was brought and a citizen of another state. The Act of March 3, 1875, § 1. 18 Stat. 470, first established the language in the present statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), merely requiring diverse citizenship, so that a citizen of Maryland could sue a citizen of Delaware in federal court in New Jersey. The statute also sets a threshold amount at controversy for jurisdiction to attach; the jurisdictional amount was as low as $3,000 in 1958, but set at $75,000 in 1996. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332 (1969), held that in a class action in diversity the individual claims could not be aggregated to meet the jurisdictional amount. Zahn v. International Paper Co., 414 U.S. 291 (1974), extended Snyder in holding that even though the named plaintiffs had claims of more than $10,000, the extant jurisdictional amount, they could not represent a class in which many of the members had claims for less than $10,000. A separate provision on diversity and class actions sets the jurisdictional amount at $5 million. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). [Back to text]
1108
Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, 9 U.S. (5 Cr.) 61, 87 (1809). [Back to text]
1109
Summarized and discussed in C. WRIGHT, HANDBOOK OF THE LAW OF FEDERAL COURTS 23 (4th ed. 1983); AMERICAN LAW INSTITUTE, STUDY OF THE DIVISION OF JURISDICTION BETWEEN STATE AND FEDERAL COURTS 99–110, 458–464 (1969). [Back to text]
1110
The principal proposals are those of the American Law Institute. Id. at 123–34. [Back to text]
1111
6 U.S. (2 Cr.) 445 (1805). [Back to text]
1112
6 U.S. at 453. [Back to text]
1113
City of New Orleans v. Winter, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 91 (1816). [Back to text]
1114
54 Stat. 143 (1940), as revised, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). [Back to text]
1115
337 U.S. 582 (1948). [Back to text]
1116
337 U.S. at 655 (Justice Frankfurter dissenting). [Back to text]
1117
The statute’s provision allowing citizens of Puerto Rico to sue in diversity was sustained in Americana of Puerto Rico v. Kaplus, 368 F.2d 431 (3d Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 943 (1967), under Congress’s power to make rules and regulations for United States territories. Cf. Examining Bd. v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 580–597 (1976) (discussing congressional acts with respect to Puerto Rico). [Back to text]
1118
Chicago & N.W.R.R. v. Ohle, 117 U.S. 123 (1886). [Back to text]
1119
Sun Printing & Pub. Ass’n v. Edwards, 194 U.S. 377 (1904). [Back to text]
1120
Knox v. Greenleaf, 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 360 (1802); Shelton v. Tiffin, 47 U.S. (6 How.) 163 (1848); Williamson v. Osenton, 232 U.S. 619 (1914). [Back to text]
1121
Stine v. Moore, 213 F.2d 446, 448 (5th Cir. 1954). [Back to text]
1122
Shelton v. Tiffin, 47 U.S. (6 How.) 163 (1848). [Back to text]
1123
Williamson v. Osenton, 232 U.S. 619 (1914). [Back to text]
1124
Jones v. League, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 76 (1855). [Back to text]
1125
28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). [Back to text]
1126
Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. (3 Cr.) 267 (1806). [Back to text]
1127
In State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523, 530–31 (1967), holding that congressional provision in the interpleader statute of minimal diversity, 28 U.S.C. § 1335(a)(1), was valid, the Court said of Strawbridge, “Chief Justice Marshall there purported to construe only ‘The words of the act of Congress,’ not the Constitution itself. And in a variety of contexts this Court and the lower courts have concluded that Article III poses no obstacle to the legislative extension of federal jurisdiction, founded on diversity, so long as any two adverse parties are not co-citizens.” Of course, the diversity jurisdictional statute not having been changed, complete diversity of citizenship, outside the interpleader situation, is still required. In class actions, only the citizenship of the named representatives is considered and other members of the class can be citizens of the same state as one or more of the parties on the other side. Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur v. Cauble, 255 U.S. 356 (1921); Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332, 340 (1969). [Back to text]
1128
In domestic relations cases and probate matters, the federal courts will not act, though diversity exists. Barber v. Barber, 62 U.S. (21 How.) 582 (1858); Ex parte Burrus, 136 U.S. 586 (1890); In re Broderick’s Will, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 503 (1875). These cases merely enunciated the rule, without justifying it; when the Court squarely faced the issue quite recently, it adhered to the rule, citing justifications. Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689 (1992). [Back to text]
1129
9 U.S. (5 Cr.) 61, 86 (1809). [Back to text]
1130
Commercial & Railroad Bank v. Slocomb, 39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 60 (1840). [Back to text]
1131
Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. (3 Cr.) 267 (1806). [Back to text]
1132
Louisville, C. & C.R.R. v. Letson, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 497, 558 (1844). [Back to text]
1133
United Steelworkers v. R.H. Bouligny, Inc., 382 U.S. 145, 148 (1965), citing Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R., 57 U.S. (16 How.) 314 (1854). See Muller v. Dows, 94 U.S. 444 (1877); St. Louis & S.F. Ry. v. James, 161 U.S. 545 (1896); Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185, 189 (1990). [Back to text]
1134
28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). In Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. ___, No. 08–1107, slip op. (2010), the Court recounted the development of the rules on corporate jurisdictional citizenship in deciding that a corporation’s “principal place of business” under the statute is its “nerve center,” the place where the corporation’s officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities. The jurisdictional statute additionally deems the place of an insured’s citizenship as an additional place of citizenship of an insurer being sued in a direct action case. [Back to text]
1135
In Terral v. Burke Constr. Co., 257 U.S. 529 (1922), the Court resolved two conflicting lines of cases and voided a state statute that required the cancellation of the license of a foreign corporation to do business in the state upon notice that the corporation had removed a case to a federal court. [Back to text]
1136
Chapman v. Barney, 129 U.S. 677 (1889); Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Co. v. Jones, 177 U.S. 449 (1900); Thomas v. Board of Trustees, 195 U.S. 207 (1904); United Steelworkers v. R.H. Bouligny, Inc., 382 U.S. 145 (1965); Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185 (1990). But compare People of Puerto Rico v. Russell & Co., 288 U.S. 476 (1933), distinguished in Carden, 494 U.S. at 189–190, and Navarro Savings Ass’n v. Lee, 446 U.S. 458 (1980), distinguished in Carden, 494 U.S. at 191–192. [Back to text]
1137
Ch. XIX, § 11, 1 Stat. 78, sustained in Turner v. Bank of North America, 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 8 (1799), and Sheldon v. Sill, 49 U.S. (8 How.) 441 (1850). The present statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1359, provides that no jurisdiction exists in a civil action “in which any party, by assignment or otherwise, has been improperly or collusively made or joined to invoke the jurisdiction of such court.” See Kramer v. Caribbean Mills, 394 U.S. 823 (1969). [Back to text]
1138
Williamson v. Osenton, 232 U.S. 619 (1914); Morris v. Gilmer, 129 U.S. 315 (1889). [Back to text]
1139
Mecom v. Fitzsimmons Drilling Co., 284 U.S. 183 (1931). [Back to text]
1140
Miller & Lux v. East Side Canal & Irrigation Co., 211 U.S. 293 (1908). [Back to text]
1141
E.g., Southern Realty Co. v. Walker, 211 U.S. 603 (1909). [Back to text]
1142
276 U.S. 518 (1928). [Back to text]
1143
276 U.S. at 532 (joined by Justices Brandeis and Stone). Justice Holmes here presented his view that Swift v. Tyson, 41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 1 (1842), had been wrongly decided, but he preferred not to overrule it, merely “not allow it to spread . . . into new fields.” 276 U.S. at 535. [Back to text]
1144
The section provided that “the laws of the several states, except where the constitution, treaties, or statutes of the United States shall otherwise require or provide, shall be regarded as rules of decision in trials at common law in the courts of the United States in cases where they apply.” 1 Stat. 92. With only insubstantial changes, the section now appears as 28 U.S.C. § 1652. For a concise review of the entire issue, see C. WRIGHT, HANDBOOK OF THE LAW OF FEDERAL COURTS ch. 9 (4th ed. 1983). [Back to text]
1145
41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 1 (1842). The issue in the case was whether a pre-existing debt was good consideration for an indorsement of a bill of exchange so that the endorsee would be a holder in due course. [Back to text]
1146
41 U.S. at 19. The Justice concluded this portion of the opinion: “The law respecting negotiable instruments may be truly declared in the language of Cicero, adopted by Lord Mansfield in Luke v. Lyde, 2 Burr. R. 883, 887, to be in great measure, not the law of a single country only, but of the commercial world. Nun eritalia lex Romae, alia Athenis; alia munc, alia posthac, sed et apud omnes gentes, et omni tempore una eademque lex obtenebit.” Id. The thought that the same law should prevail in Rome as in Athens was used by Justice Story in DeLovio v. Boit, 7 Fed. Cas. 418, 443 (No. 3776) (C.C.D. Mass. 1815). For a modern use, see United States v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ., 372 F.2d 836 (5th Cir. 1966); 380 F.2d 385, 398 (5th Cir. 1967) (dissenting opinion). [Back to text]
1147
The expansions included Lane v. Vick, 44 U.S. (3 How.) 464 (1845) (wills); City of Chicago v. Robbins, 67 U.S. (2 Bl.) 418 (1862), and Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. Baugh, 149 U.S. 368 (1893) (torts); Yates v. City of Milwaukee, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 497 (1870) (real estate titles and rights of riparian owners); Kuhn v. Fairmont Coal Co., 215 U.S. 349 (1910) (mineral conveyances); Rowan v. Runnels, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 134 (1847) (contracts); Lake Shore & M.S. Ry. v. Prentice, 147 U.S. 101 (1893). It was strongly contended that uniformity, the goal of Justice Story’s formulation, was not being achieved, in great part because state courts followed their own rules of decision even when prior federal decisions were contrary. Frankfurter, Distribution of Judicial Power Between Federal and State Courts, 13 CORNELL L.Q. 499, 529 n.150 (1928). Moreover, the Court held that, although state court interpretations of state statutes or constitutions were to be followed, federal courts could ignore them if they conflicted with earlier federal constructions of the same statute or constitutional provision, Rowan v. Runnels, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 134 (1847), or if they had been rendered after the case had been tried in federal court, Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U.S. 20 (1883), thus promoting lack of uniformity. See also Gelpcke v. City of Debuque, 68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 175 (1865); Williamson v. Berry, 49 U.S. (8 How.) 495 (1850); Pease v. Peck, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 595 (1856); Watson v. Tarpley, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 517 (1856). [Back to text]
1148
Extensions of the scope of Tyson frequently were rendered by a divided Court over the strong protests of dissenters. E.g., Gelpcke v. City of Debuque, 68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 175 (1865); Lane v. Vick, 44 U.S. (3 How.) 463 (1845); Kuhn v. Fairmont Coal Co., 215 U.S. 349 (1910). In Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Baugh, 149 U.S. 368, 401–04 (1893), Justice Field dissented in an opinion in which he expressed the view that Supreme Court disregarding of state court decisions was unconstitutional, a view endorsed by Justice Holmes in Black & White Taxicab & Transfer Co. v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab & Transfer Co., 276 U.S. 518, 533 (1928) (dissenting opinion), and adopted by the Court in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Numerous proposals were introduced in Congress to change the rule. [Back to text]
1149
276 U.S. 518 (1928). B. & W. had contracted with a railroad to provide exclusive taxi service at its station. B. & Y. began operating taxis at the same station and B. & W. wanted to enjoin the operation, but it was a settled rule by judicial decision in Kentucky courts that such exclusive contracts were contrary to public policy and were unenforceable in court. Therefore, B. & W. dissolved itself in Kentucky and reincorporated in Tennessee, solely in order to create diversity of citizenship and enable itself to sue in federal court. It was successful and the Supreme Court ruled that diversity was present and that the injunction should issue. In Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 293 U.S. 335 (1934), the Court, in an opinion by Justice Cardozo, appeared to retreat somewhat from its extensions of Tyson, holding that state law should be applied, through a “benign and prudent comity,” in a case “balanced with doubt,” a concept first used by Justice Bradley in Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U.S. 20 (1883). [Back to text]
1150
304 U.S. 64 (1938). Judge Friendly has written: “Having served as the Justice’s [Brandeis’] law clerk the year Black & White Taxicab & Transfer Co. v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab & Transfer Co. came before the Court, I have little doubt he was waiting for an opportunity to give Swift v. Tyson the happy dispatch he thought it deserved.” H. FRIENDLY, BENCHMARKS 20 (1967). [Back to text]
1151
C. WRIGHT, HANDBOOK OF THE LAW OF FEDERAL COURTS 355 (4th ed. 1983). See Judge Friendly’s exposition, In Praise of Erie—And of the New Federal Common Law, in H. FRIENDLY, BENCHMARKS 155 (1967). [Back to text]
1152
304 U.S. at 157–64, 171 n.71. [Back to text]
1153
This result was obtained in retrial in federal court on the basis of Pennsylvania law. Tompkins v. Erie Railroad Co., 98 F.2d 49 (3d Cir. 1938), cert. denied, 305 U.S. 637 (1938). [Back to text]
1154
Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 72–73 (1938), citing Warren, New Light on the History of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789, 37 HARV. L. REV. 49 84–88 (1923). See C. WRIGHT, HANDBOOK OF THE LAW OF FEDERAL COURTS 353 (4th ed. 1983). [Back to text]
1155
304 U.S. at 77–78 (footnote citations omitted). [Back to text]
1156
Congress had re-enacted § 34 as § 721 of the Revised Statutes, citing Swift v. Tyson in its annotation, thus presumably accepting the gloss placed on the words by that ruling. But note that Justice Brandeis did not think even the re-enacted statute was unconstitutional. 304 U.S. at 79–80. See H. FRIENDLY, BENCHMARKS 161–163 (1967). Perhaps a more compelling reason of policy was that stated by Justice Frankfurter rejecting for the Court a claim that the general grant of federal question jurisdiction to the federal courts in 1875 made maritime suits cognizable on the law side of the federal courts. “Petitioner now asks us to hold that no student of the jurisdiction of the federal courts or of admiralty, no judge, and none of the learned and alert members of the admiralty bar were able, for seventy-five years, to discern the drastic change now asserted to have been contrived in admiralty jurisdiction by the Act of 1875. In light of such impressive testimony from the past the claim of a sudden discovery of a hidden latent meaning in an old technical phrase is surely suspect.” “The history of archeology is replete with the unearthing of riches buried for centuries. Our legal history does not, however, offer a single archeological discovery of new, revolutionary meaning in reading an old judiciary enactment. [Here, the Justice footnotes: ‘For reasons that would take us too far afield to discuss, Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, is no exception.’] The presumption is powerful that such a far-reaching, dislocating construction as petitioner would now have us find in the Act of 1875 was not uncovered by judges, lawyers or scholars for seventy-five years because it is not there.” Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 370–371 (1959). [Back to text]
1157
304 U.S. at 78. Justice Brandeis does not argue the constitutional issue and does not cite either provisions of the Constitution or precedent beyond the views of Justices Holmes and Field. Id. at 78–79. Justice Reed thought that Article III and the Necessary and Proper Clause might contain authority. Id. at 91–92 (Justice Reed concurring in the result). For a formulation of the constitutional argument in favor of the Brandeis position, see H. FRIENDLY, BENCHMARKS 167–171 (1967). See also Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co. of America, 350 U.S. 198, 202, 208 (1956); Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471–472 (1965). [Back to text]
1158
304 U.S. at 79–80. [Back to text]
1159
304 U.S. at 78. Erie applies in equity as well as in law. Ruhlin v. New York Life Ins. Co., 304 U.S. 202 (1938). [Back to text]
1160
West v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 311 U.S. 223 (1940); Six Companies of California v. Joint Highway District, 311 U.S. 180 (1940); Stoner v. New York Life Ins. Co., 311 U.S. 464 (1940). [Back to text]
1161
Fidelity Union Trust Co. v. Field, 311 U.S. 169 (1940). [Back to text]
1162
King v. Order of Commercial Travelers of America, 333 U.S. 153 (1948); Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co. of America, 350 U.S. 198, 205 (1956) (1910 decision must be followed in absence of confusion in state decisions since there were “no developing line of authorities that cast a shadow over established ones, no dicta, doubts or ambiguities . . . , no legislative development that promises to undermine the judicial rule”). See also Commissioner v. Estate of Bosch, 387 U.S. 456, 465 (1967). [Back to text]
1163
Vanderbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538 (1941); Huddleston v. Dwyer, 322 U.S. 232 (1944); Nolan v. Transocean Air Lines, 365 U.S. 293 (1961). [Back to text]
1164
Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Manufacturing Co., 313 U.S. 487 (1941); Griffin v. McCoach, 313 U.S. 498 (1941); Wells v. Simonds Abrasive Co., 345 U.S. 514 (1953); Nolan v. Transocean Air Lines, 365 U.S. 293 (1961). [Back to text]
1165
Interestingly enough, 1938 marked what seemed to be a switching of positions vis-a-vis federal and state courts of substantive law and procedural law. Under Tyson, federal courts in diversity actions were free to formulate a federal common law, while they were required by the Conformity Act, § 5, 17 Stat. 196 (1872), to conform their procedure to that of the state in which the court sat. Erie then ruled that state substantive law was to control in federal court diversity actions, while by implication matters of procedure in federal court were subject to congressional governance. Congress authorized the Court to promulgate rules of civil procedure, 48 Stat. 1064 (1934), which it did in 1938, a few months after Erie was decided. 302 U.S. 783. [Back to text]
1166
Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99 (1945). [Back to text]
1167
326 U.S. at 108–09. [Back to text]
1168
326 U.S. at 109. [Back to text]
1169
Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541 (1949) (state rule making unsuccessful plaintiffs liable for all expenses and requiring security for such expenses as a condition of proceeding applicable in federal court); Woods v. Interstate Realty Co., 337 U.S. 535 (1949) (state statute barring foreign corporation not qualified to do business in the state applies in federal court); Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co., 337 U.S. 530 (1949) (state rule determinative when an action is begun for purposes of statute of limitations applicable in federal court although a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure states a different rule). [Back to text]
1170
Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Elec. Coop., 356 U.S. 525 (1958). [Back to text]
1171
Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415 (1996). The decision was five-to-four, so that the precedent may or may not be stable for future application. [Back to text]
1172
E.g., Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99 (1945). [Back to text]
1173
E.g., Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Elec. Coop., 356 U.S. 525 (1958). [Back to text]
1174
19 C. WRIGHT, A. MILLER & E. COOPER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 4511, at 311 (2d ed. 1996). [Back to text]
1175
Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460 (1965). [Back to text]
1176
Maternally Yours v. Your Maternity Shop, 234 F.2d 538, 540 n.1 (2d Cir. 1956). The contrary view was implied in Levinson v. Deupree, 345 U.S. 648, 651 (1953), and by Justice Jackson in D’Oench, Duhme & Co. v. FDIC, 315 U.S. 447, 466–67, 471–72 (1942) (concurring opinion). See Wichita Royalty Co. v. City National Bank, 306 U.S. 103 (1939). [Back to text]
1177
Clearfield Trust Co. v. United States, 318 U.S. 363 (1943). See also National Metropolitan Bank v. United States, 323 U.S. 454 (1945); D’Oench, Duhme & Co. v. FDIC, 315 U.S. 447 (1942); United States v. Standard Rice Co., 323 U.S. 106 (1944); United States v. Acri, 348 U.S. 211 (1955); Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275 (1958); Bank of America Nat’l Trust & Savings Ass’n v. Parnell, 352 U.S. 29 (1956). But see United States v. Yazell, 382 U.S. 341 (1966). But see O’Melveny & Myers v. FDIC, 512 U.S. 79 (1994). [Back to text]
1178
United States v. Standard Oil Co., 332 U.S. 301 (1947). Federal law applies in maritime tort cases brought on the “law side” of the federal courts in diversity cases. Pope & Talbot v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406 (1953). [Back to text]
1179
Howard v. Lyons, 360 U.S. 593 (1959). Matters concerned with our foreign relations also are governed by federal law in diversity. Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, 376 U.S. 398 (1964). Federal common law also governs a government contractor defense in certain cases. Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988). [Back to text]
1180
Free v. Bland, 369 U.S. 663 (1962); Yiatchos v. Yiatchos, 376 U.S. 306 (1964). [Back to text]
1181
The quoted Brandeis phrase is in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). On the same day Erie was decided, the Court, in an opinion by Justice Brandeis, held that the issue of apportionment of the waters of an interstate stream between two states “is a question of ‘federal common law.’ ” Hinderlider v. La Plata River & Cherry Creek Ditch Co., 304 U.S. 92, 110 (1938). On the matter, see Illinois v. City of Milwaukee, 406 U.S. 91 (1972). [Back to text]