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Justin McCallon

I. Heading
Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817,
82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938)

II. Statement of the Case

III. Facts
Tompkins brought a lawsuit in federal court in New York
under diversity of citizenship jurisdiction against the
Erie Railroad for personal injuries sustained due to
negligence. Tompkins had been walking along the railroad
tracks in Pennsylvania when he was hit by an open railcar
door. Under Pennsylvania law, where the accident occurred,
the railroad owed no duty to Tompkins. But this was the
"law" according to the Pennsylvania courts. There was no
statute of the state legislature declaring the law. In the
federal courts, the law is that the railroad has a duty to

IV. Procedural History and Outcome

A federal court jury awarded Tompkins damages. The Court
of Appeals affirmed the verdict.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded.

V. Issue
Does the law of the several states applied by the federal
courts as rules of decision in civil cases include all the
decisional or common law of the states?

VI. Holding
Yes, on substantive law matters.

VII. Reasoning
According to scholarly research, Swift misinterpreted s34
of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789. The construction
given to it by the court was erroneous; the purpose of the
section was merely to make certain that, in all matters
except those in which some federal law is controlling, the
federal courts exercising jurisdiction in diversity of
citizenship cases would apply as their rules of decision
the law of the State, unwritten as well as written.

In applying the doctrine of Swift, there were political and

social defects. The impossibility of discovering a
satisfactory line of demarcation between the province of
general law and that of local law developed a new well of
Justin McCallon

uncertainties. In attempting to promote uniformity of the

law throughout the US, the doctrine had prevented
uniformity in the administration of the law of the State.

Except in matters governed by the Federal Constitution or

by Acts of Congress, the law to be applied in any case is
the law of the State. Whether the law of the State shall
be declared by its Legislature in a statute or by its
highest court in a decision is not a matter of federal
concern. There is no general federal common law and no
clause in the Constitution purports to confer such power
upon the federal courts. The only authority is the State,
and the voice adopted by the State as its own, whether it
be of its Legislature or of its Supreme Court should utter
the last word. In applying s34 of the Federal Judiciary
Act of 1789, the Courts (in applying Swift) have invaded
rights reserved by the Constitution to the several States.

VIII. Concurrence – Reed

The laws of the states include in their meaning the
decisions of the local tribunes.

The law between procedural and substantive law is hazy but

no one doubts federal power over procedure.