Erie Railroad v. Tompkins

304 U.S. 64 (1938)

Yeazell, pp. 265-270


Facts: Tompkins got his arm lopped off in a train accident.He sued the railroad in the Southern District of New York to try to take advantage of the rule of Swift v. Tyson, which said that federal court didnít have to use state common law to decide cases.


Procedural Posture: Tompkins won at trial and the railroad appealed to the Second Circuit, arguing that Pennsylvania law, which would have been more favorable to the defendant, should have been applied.The Second Circuit upheld the verdict for Tompkins, refusing to interpret Pennsylvania law.The Supreme Court granted certiorari because they wanted to strike down Swift.


Issue: Can federal courts ignore state law when deciding diversity cases?


Rule: NEW RULE!!!Federal courts must follow and apply both state statutes and state case law in deciding cases unless the case is governed by federal statutes or the United States Constitution.


Analysis: Brandeis and the Court attack Swift on several fronts:


1.     Swift relied on a bogus interpretation of the Rules of Decision Act, as proven by Chuck Warren.

2.     Swift has had disastrously unfair results in practice.

3.     Swift is unconstitutional because it usurps part of the power that the Constitution left to the states to make their own laws (statutes and case law).


Conclusion: Swift is overturned.The present case is remanded to the Second Circuit for them to determine how Pennsylvania law would apply to the situation.


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