Brief Fact Summary.
Hanna, who had been involved in an auto accident, brought an action in federal court, based on diversity, against Plumer, executor of the estate of the individual who was involved in the auto accident with Hanna. The district court granted Plumer’s motion for summary judgment because service was not effected in accordance with state law. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
If there is no conflicting state procedure, based on the federal Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. 2072, then Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4, designed to control service of process in diversity actions, should be applied; the Rules Enabling Act and the Erie doctrine both roughly say that federal courts apply state substantive law and federal procedural law in diversity cases; Erie casts no doubt on the power of Congress to proscribe “housekeeping” rules for federal courts, even where they differ from comparable state rules.
The Court found a second, more fundamental flaw in defendant's argument: the incorrect assumption that the rule of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins constitutes the appropriate test of the validity and therefore the applicability of a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.View Full Point of Law
Hanna was involved in an auto accident with Osgood. She brought a personal injury action in federal court against Plumer, executor of the Osgood’s estate. Jurisdiction was based on diversity of citizenship. Plumer moved for summary judgment, alleging that service was not effective in accordance with state (Massachusetts) law. The district court granted summary judgment in Plumer’s favor. On appeal, Hanna argued that service of process in a diversity action was governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
In this civil action based on diversity jurisdiction, was the method of service of process governed by state or federal procedural rules?
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d)(1) governed the procedure for effecting service in this case.
Justice Harlan concurred in the result, but stated that the proper approach in determining whether to apply a state or federal rule was to determine whether the choice of the rule would substantially affect “those primary decisions respecting human conduct which our constitutional system leaves to state regulation.”
Holding that a federal procedural rule must cease to function whenever it alters the mode of enforcement of state created rights would “disembowel” either the federal constitutional grant of power over federal procedure or Congress’s attempt to exercise that power in the Rules Enabling Act; the Erie doctrine was a reaction to forum shopping and unfairness that would result if litigation reached different results because a lawsuit was brought in a federal (as opposed to state) court.