Fraternal Benefit Society: Member Relationship.

The same principle applies to the relationship that is formed when one takes out a policy in a “fraternal benefit society.” Thus, in Royal Arcanum v. Green,125 in which a fraternal insurance association chartered under the laws of Massachusetts had been sued in the courts of New York by a citizen of the latter state on a contract of insurance made in that state, the Court held that the defendant company was entitled under the full faith and credit clause to have the case determined in accordance with the laws of Massachusetts and its own constitution and by-laws as these had been construed by the Massachusetts courts.

Nor has the Court manifested any disposition to depart from this rule. In Sovereign Camp v. Bolin,126 it declared that a state in which a certificate of life membership of a foreign fraternal benefit association is issued, which construes and enforces the certificate according to its own law rather than according to the law of the state in which the association is domiciled, denies full faith and credit to the association’s charter embodied in the status of the domiciliary state as interpreted by the latter’s court. “The beneficiary certificate was not a mere contract to be construed and enforced according to the laws of the State where it was delivered. Entry into membership of an incorporated beneficiary society is more than a contract; it is entering into a complex and abiding relation and the rights of membership are governed by the law of the State of incorporation. [Hence] another State, wherein the certificate of membership was issued, cannot attach to membership rights against the society which are refused by the law of domicile.” Consistent with that, the Court also held, in Order of Travelers v. Wolfe,127 that South Dakota, in a suit brought therein by an Ohio citizen against an Ohio benefit society, must give effect to a provision of the constitution of the society prohibiting the bringing of an action on a claim more than six months after disallowance by the society, notwithstanding that South Dakota’s period of limitation was six years and that its own statutes voided contract stipulations limiting the time within which rights may be enforced. Objecting to these results, Justice Black dissented on the ground that fraternal insurance companies are not entitled, either by the language of the Constitution, or by the nature of their enterprise, to such unique constitutional protection.

Footnotes

125
237 U.S. 531 (1915), followed in Modern Woodmen v. Mixer, 267 U.S. 544 (1925). [Back to text]
126
305 U.S. 66, 75, 79 (1938). [Back to text]
127
331 U.S. 586, 588–89, 637 (1947). [Back to text]