Conflict Of Laws Rules

The power of a state to determine the limits of the jurisdiction of its courts and the character of the controversies which shall be heard in them is subject to the restrictions imposed by the Federal Constitution.  The Contract Clause, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and the Privileges or Immunities Clause, restrict the freedom of a state to deny access to its courts howsoever much it may regard such withdrawal of jurisdiction the adjective law of the state, or the exercise of its right to regulate the practice and procedure of its courts.  A state cannot escape its constitutional obligations by the simple device of denying jurisdiction in such cases to courts otherwise competent[i].  The Full Faith and Credit Clause—Article IV, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution—provides that the various states must recognize legislative acts, public records, and judicial decisions of the other states within the United States.

Subject to the above constitutional restrictions, states are free to adopt such rules of conflict of laws that they choose.  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[ii].  Every state is empowered under the United States Constitution to establish laws, through both its judicial and its legislative arms, which are controlling upon its inhabitants and domestic affairs.  When there is a demand in the domestic forum that the operation of domestic laws be replaced by the statute of another state, the domestic forum is not bound, apart from the Full Faith and Credit Clause, to yield to the demand.  The law of neither state can, by its own force, determine the choice of law for the other[iii.]

In order to resolve the issue of conflict of laws, the court initially considers if contacts with a state are sufficient to make application of that state’s laws consistent with due process, provided such contacts are not too slight and casual.  Under the provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act which renders the United States liable for the torts of its employees, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant “in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred”.  Where more than one state has sufficiently substantial contact with multi-state activity, the forum state, by analysis of the interests possessed by the states involved, can constitutionally apply to the decision of the case, the law of one or another state having a sufficient interest in the multi-state activity; consequently, a state court may apply either the law of the place where the injury occurred or the law of the place where the negligence occurred[iv].

[i] Angel v. Bullington, 330 U.S. 183 (U.S. 1947)

[ii] Crider v. Zurich Ins. Co., 380 U.S. 39 (U.S. 1965)

[iii] Pink v. A. A. A. Highway Express, Inc., 314 U.S. 201 (U.S. 1941)

[iv] Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1962)


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