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WELLS v. SIMONDS ABRASIVE CO.

decided: May 18, 1953.

WELLS, ADMINISTRATRIX
v.
SIMONDS ABRASIVE CO.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Minton; Clark took not part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: VINSON

[ 345 U.S. Page 515]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Cheek Wells was killed in Alabama when a grinding wheel with which he was working burst. The wheel had been manufactured by the respondent, a corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. The administratrix of the estate of Cheek Wells brought an action for damages in the federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after one year, but within two years, after the death. Jurisdiction was based upon diversity of citizenship.

The section of the Alabama Code*fn1 upon which petitioner predicated her action for wrongful death provided that action ". . . must be brought within two years from and after the death . . . ." The respondent moved for summary judgment on the ground the Pennsylvania

[ 345 U.S. Page 516]

     wrongful death statute required suit to be commenced within one year.*fn2 In an opinion*fn3 on that motion, the district judge found that the Pennsylvania statute, which was analogous to the Alabama statute, had a one-year limitation. He further found that the Pennsylvania conflict of laws rule called for the application of its own limitation rather than that of the place of the accident. Deeming himself bound by the Pennsylvania conflicts rule, he ordered summary judgment for the respondent. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed.*fn4

We granted certiorari*fn5 limited to the question whether this Pennsylvania conflicts rule violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause*fn6 of the Federal Constitution.

The states are free to adopt such rules of conflict of laws as they choose, Kryger v. Wilson, 242 U.S. 171 (1916), subject to the Full Faith and Credit Clause and other constitutional restrictions. The Full Faith and Credit Clause does not compel a state to adopt any particular set of rules of conflict of laws; it merely sets certain minimum requirements which each state must observe when asked to apply the law of a sister state.

Long ago, we held that applying the statute of limitations of the forum to a foreign substantive right did not deny full faith and credit, McElmoyle v. Cohen, 13 Pet. 312 (1839); Townsend v. Jemison, 9 How. 407 (1850); Bacon v. Howard, 20 How. 22 (1857). Recently we referred to ". . . the well-established principle of conflict

[ 345 U.S. Page 517]

     of laws that 'If action is barred by the statute of limitations of the forum, no action can be maintained though action is not barred in the state where the cause of action arose.' Restatement, Conflict of Laws ยง 603 (1934)." Order of United Commercial Travelers v. Wolfe, 331 U.S. 586, 607 (1947).*fn7

The rule that the limitations of the forum apply (which this Court has said meets the requirements of full faith and credit) is the usual conflicts rule of the states.*fn8 However, there have been divergent views when a foreign statutory right unknown to the common law has a period of limitation included in the section creating the right. The Alabama statute here involved creates such a right and contains a built-in limitation. The view is held in some jurisdictions that such a limitation is so intimately connected with the right that it must be enforced in the forum state along with the substantive right.*fn9

We are not concerned with the reasons which have led some states for their own purposes to adopt the foreign limitation, instead of their own, in such a situation. The question here is whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause compels them to do so. Our prevailing rule is that the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not compel the forum state to use the period of limitation of a foreign state.

[ 345 U.S. Page 518]

     We see no reason in the present situation to graft an exception onto it. Differences based upon whether the foreign right was known to the common law or upon the arrangement of the code of the foreign state are too unsubstantial to form the basis for constitutional distinctions under the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

We agree with the respondent that Engel v. Davenport, 271 U.S. 33 (1926), has no application here. It presented an entirely different problem. Congress had given a statutory cause of action to seamen for certain personal injuries, placing concurrent jurisdiction in the state and federal courts. In Engel, supra, the two-year federal limitation rather than the one-year California limitation for similar actions was held controlling in an action brought in the California courts. Once it was decided that the intention of Congress was that the two-year limitation was meant to apply in both federal and state courts under our Federal Constitution, that was the supreme law of the land.*fn10

Our decisions in Hughes v. Fetter, 341 U.S. 609 (1951), and First National Bank v. United Air Lines, 342 U.S. 396 (1952), do not call for a change in the well-established rule that the forum state is permitted to apply its own period of limitation. The crucial factor in those two cases was that the forum laid an uneven hand on causes of action arising within ...


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