Hanna v. Plumer

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Hanna v. Plumer
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation 380 U.S. 460
Date decided

Facts: Plaintiff filed suit in District Court for the District of Massachusetts against executor of Louis Plumer Osgood. Mrs. Osgood's negligence allegedly caused an auto accident in South Carolina. Service was made by giving summons and the complaint to the executor's wife at their home while the executor was away. Mass. state law says that an action must be delivered into the hands of the executor of an estate. Federal Rules of Procedure says that the service can be left at the dwelling house with someone of suitable age and discretion. Thus, if state law is followed, service was okay. If federal laws of procedure are followed, service didn't qualify and case is dismissed.

Procedural History: District Ct. held, in light of York, that the state law should be controlling because it would affect the outcome of the case if federal law were used. Appellate Ct. Affirmed.

Issue: If the choice of law is procedural issue but affects the outcome, should the federal law or state law be followed?

Arguments: Rule is procedural, so Fed. law governs. OR, Choice of law affects outcome, so state law applies.

Holding: Issue is a procedural question, so the choice of law should be federal.

Reasons: Policy behind Erie and York was to keep federal judicial power within the limits proscribed by the Rules Enabling Act and the Constitution. Federal Rules of Procedure are within those limits. The laws governing service upon the defendant are procedural ones, so they fall within the limits of the Rules Enabling Act and the Constitution.

Judgment: Reversed.

Comments: The concurring opinion stated that the court majority opinion oversimplified the question - "a reasonable man could characterize any duly adopted federal rule as 'procedural,' the court . . . would have it apply no matter how seriously it frustrated a State's substantive regulation of the primary conduct and affairs of its citizens."