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Walton v. Arabian American Oil Co.

    Brief Fact Summary
    Walton (Plaintiff) was a resident of Arkansas who was injured in Saudi Arabia when he was hit by a truck owned and operated by Arabian American Oil (Defendant), a Delaware corporation.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    Courts are not required to take judicial notice of foreign law when it is neither pled nor proved, but may not apply its own law to a foreign tort on the unsupported basis that the country where the accident took place is “uncivilized.â€

    Facts.
    Walton (Plaintiff), a resident of Arkansas, was traveling by car in Saudi Arabia when he was struck by a truck owned and operated by Arabian American Oil (Defendant), a Delaware corporation.  Walton (Plaintiff) brought suit in federal district court in New York.  At trial, Plaintiff did not plead or offer to prove Arabian “law†on torts.  Neither did Arabian American (Defendant).  The trial judge refused to take judicial notice of Arabian “law†on his own motion and refused dismissal of the suit.

    Issue
    May a court decide a tort suit, based on an injury sustained in a foreign country, based on the law of the forum, where neither party pleads or proves the applicable foreign law?

    Held
    (Frank, J.)  No.  A court may not decide a tort suit, based on an injury sustained in a foreign country, based on the law of the forum, where neither party pleads or proves the applicable foreign law.  Since this case is in federal court on diversity jurisdiction, the New York conflict of laws rule is applicable and it holds that the law of the place of the tort is controlling.  While New York procedures allow a judge to take judicial notice of foreign law even though neither party proves it, the judge would be abusing his discretion if he were to take notice of a foreign system of laws unfamiliar to our own.  Walton (Plaintiff) claims that the facts of the incident establish liability under the most “rudimentary†principle of tort law.  But there can be no “rudimentary†elements of negligence in the sense they are universally recognized and without proof of Saudi law no decision should have been rendered.  New York law requires the plaintiff to go forward to establish the foreign law, which he intentionally failed to do.  Lastly, Plaintiff argues that Saudi Arabia has no system of laws and that these types of claims are decided at the whim of a dictatorial monarch.  The claim that a foreign country is uncivilized or has no system of laws that a civilized country would recognize as adequate must be supported by substantial proof before it will be accepted.  The majority of the court feels that since Walton (Plaintiff) deliberately refused to prove Saudi law, his complaint should be dismissed.  Affirmed.

    Discussion
    Historically, the presumption was that courts did not know foreign law and if a party wanted to rely on foreign law, the party must prove it as an issue of fact to the jury.  In modern days, the tendency is to view the recognition of foreign law as an issue for the judge.


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