February 19, 2016

Hanna v. Plumer | Case Brief - 380 U.S. 460, 85 S.Ct. 1136 (1965) - United States Supreme Court

FACTS: Petitioner (OH) filed a complaint in the District court of MA claiming damages in excess of $10K for personal injuries resulting from a car crash in SC, allegedly caused by the negligence of Louise Plumer Osgood (a MA citizen deceased at the time of filing).  Respondent, Mrs. Osgood's executor (also an MA citizen) was named as defendant.  On Feb. 8 service was made by leaving copies of the summons with respondent's wife according to Rule 4d1.  Respondent answered on Feb. 26 alleging action was brought contrary to MA General Laws; "an executor or administrator shall not be held to answer." (515)

HISTORY: District Court granted motion for summary judgment concluding adequacy should be measured by $9.  Court of Appeals affirmed concluding conflict was a substantive rather than procedural matter.

ISSUE: In a civil action involving diversity of citizenship shall service of process be made according to state procedure or Rule 4d(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?

HOLDING: Federal

RATIONALE: The broad command or Erie was for federal courts to apply state substantive law and federal procedural law.  Erie has 2 aims:

1) discourage forum shopping

2) avoid inequitable administration of the laws

The Erie rule has never been invoked to void federal rules.  Erie based itself on there not being a federal rule to cover the point in dispute so it used state law.  "To hold... a federal rule must cease to function if it alters the mode of enforcing state-created rights would be to "disembowel" constitutional and congressional power.

CONCURRING: The scheme of the Constitution envisions allocation where "state law governing primary private activity" prevails.