ArtIV.S2.C1.11 Access to Courts and Privileges and Immunities Clause

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1:

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

The right to sue and defend in the courts is one of the highest and most essential privileges of citizenship and must be allowed by each state to the citizens of all other states to the same extent that it is allowed to its own citizens.1 The constitutional requirement is satisfied if nonresidents are given access to the state’s courts upon terms that, in themselves, are reasonable and adequate for enforcing any rights they may have, even though they may not be precisely the same as those accorded to resident citizens.2

On this basis, the Supreme Court upheld a state statute of limitations that prevented a nonresident from suing in the state’s courts after expiration of the time for suit in the place where the cause of action arose.3 The Court also upheld a statute that suspended its operation as to resident plaintiffs, but not as to nonresidents, during the defendant’s absence from the state.4 A state law making it discretionary for courts to entertain an action by a nonresident of the state against a foreign corporation doing business in the state was sustained because it applied equally to citizens and noncitizens residing out of the state.5 A statute permitting a suit in the state’s courts for wrongful death occurring outside the state, only if the decedent was a resident of the state, was sustained because it operated equally upon representatives of the deceased whether citizens or noncitizens.6 Being nondiscriminatory, a Uniform Reciprocal State Law to secure the attendance of witnesses from within or without a state in criminal proceedings does not violate this Clause.7

Chambers v. Balt. & Ohio R.R., 207 U.S. 142, 148 (1907); McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry., 292 U.S. 230, 233 (1934); see also Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 n.12 (2002) (noting that the Supreme Court has at various times grounded “the right of access to courts” in the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment). back
Can. N. Ry. v. Eggen, 252 U.S. 553 (1920). back
Id. at 563. back
Chemung Canal Bank v. Lowery, 93 U.S. 72, 76 (1876). back
Douglas v. N.Y., New Haven & Hartford R.R., 279 U.S. 377 (1929). back
Chambers, 207 U.S. 142. back
New York v. O’Neill, 359 U.S. 1 (1959). back