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Bradford Electric Light Co. v. Clapper

    Brief Fact Summary
    Bradford Electric Light Co. (Defendant) argued that New Hampshire was bound to give effect to a defense existing under the law of Vermont, where both it and Clapper (Plaintiff) were domiciled.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    When the litigants in a suit live in a state different than the forum and that state provides a defense to the cause of action, the forum state is required to allow the defense to be raised.

    Facts
    Clapper (Plaintiff) was an employee of Bradford Electric Light Co. (Defendant); both parties were domiciled in Vermont.  While working on a power line just beyond the state line in New Hampshire, Clapper was killed.  Clapper’s estate administrator (Plaintiff) filed an action in New Hampshire.  Defendant tried to raise the defense of exclusivity of workers’ compensation as a defense available under Vermont law and expressly applicable extraterritorially.  The trial court applied New Hampshire law, which did not provide for the exclusive remedy defense.  A jury awarded $4,000, and Defendant appealed, arguing that both parties were domiciled in Vermont and, therefore, Vermont’s defense should have been applied.  The Supreme Court granted review.

    Issue
    When the litigants in a suit live in a state different than the forum and that state provides a defense to the cause of action, is the forum state required to allow the defense to be raised?

    Held

    (Brandeis, J.)  Yes.  When the litigants in a suit live in a state different than the forum and that state provides a defense to the cause of action, the forum state is required to allow the defense to be raised.  The Full Faith and Credit Clause prohibits the forum state from granting rights to a litigant greater than the litigant would be given by the state of his domicile.  To hold otherwise would seriously weaken the ability of states to enact effective legislation, as such laws could be circumvented by bringing lawsuits elsewhere.  And so, when a state creates a defense to a suit and both parties in a litigation are citizens of that state, the forum must provide that defense, whether or not the forum’s substantive law provides the defense.  This is the case here.  Reversed and remanded.

     

    Discussion

    The rule enunciated by the Court may not have been ironclad.  In a brief passage that could be characterized as dicta, the Court noted that the defense put forth did not violate the pubic policy of New Hampshire.  The implication would appear to be that a defense that did violate the public policy of New Hampshire might not have to be allowed.


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