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Loucks v. Standard Oil Co. of New York

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Loucks was killed in Massachusetts when he was run down by an employee of Standard Oil (Defendant).  His administrator (Plaintiff) brought a wrongful death suit in New York based on the Massachusetts wrongful death statute.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A right of action created by the law of a neighboring state is enforceable in any other state unless the law is penal in the international sense or enforcement of the right would violate the strong public policy of the forum.

    Facts.

    Loucks was killed when a negligent driver employed by Standard Oil (Defendant) ran him down.  The accident took place in Massachusetts, but he was a resident of New York, and his administrator (Plaintiff) brought a suit for wrongful death in New York.  The suit was based on the Massachusetts wrongful death statute, which provided a minimum recovery of $500 and a maximum recovery of $10,000 with the amount of damages awarded to be based on the degree of fault of the defendant.  Standard Oil (Defendant) moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the Massachusetts Statute was penal in nature and therefore unenforceable in New York.

    Issue.

    May a right created by statute in one state be enforceable in another state if the enforcement of the right would not violate the public policy of the forum and the underlying statute is not penal in nature?

    Held.

    (Cardozo, J.)  Yes.  One state’s penal laws are not enforceable in any other state.  Whether a statute is penal depends on the type of liability it creates.  Where the penalty is awarded to the state or a member of the public is suing in the interest of the whole community to right a public wrong, the statute and/or recovery is penal.  While this statute is penal in the sense that damages are awarded on the basis of the defendant’s conduct rather than the plaintiff’s measure of damages, the right to recover is private and therefore the statute is not penal in the international sense.  The public policy of New York is not violated by the enforcement of the right, as New York recognizes the right of survivors to recover for wrongful death.  The fact that the Massachusetts Statute is different in the way it is enforced does not make the Massachusetts Statute wrong.  The forum may refuse to enforce a right based on a foreign statute only where enforcement would violate an express strong public policy of the forum.  That is not the case here and since the Statute is not penal in the international sense, there is no bar to its being enforced in New York.  Judgment reversed and order of the Special Term affirmed.

    Discussion.

    Note that the forum has much wider latitude in applying its own public policy to deny relief where the original action is being brought and where it is not a suit on a judgment obtained somewhere else.


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