Over the years, some of the most controversial and most influential cases in American court history have been conflict law cases. While some of the best known cases have been disputes between state laws that conflicted, the Supreme Court of the United States has made several rulings that have impacted how conflict law cases could be interpreted and used. Let’s take a look at these historical ruling and the lasting impact they have made in the field of conflict law.
In the five main case rulings by the Supreme Court, the justices cited the Constitution as creating a limitation in the way that a state can apply their law to a different state. In all five rulings, the justices found in favor of state’s rights in the sense that one state can remain sovereign over other states that have stricter laws.
In a case from 1930, the Supreme Court ruled that a law passed in Texas that stated that any contract made in the state of Texas had to have a two year statue of limitations. The case saw a circumstance where a Texas resident signed a contract with a firm from New York State. The Texas resident felt that the contract was broken and sought legal remedy, but the Supreme Court ruled with the New York firm who felt it couldn’t be held responsible for a rule in Texas.
In 1939, a conflict case highlighted workers rights when a worker in California tried to sue for an injury received on the job, even though the company was based in Massachusetts and the worker lived in Massachusetts. The court decided that, in this case, California law did not apply in this situation and they sided with the company who they felt did not need to abide by the Full Faith and Credit Clause on the California law books.
The rights of companies were further strengthened in 1954 when a couple purchased an insurance policy in the state of Illinois where they once lived and then moved to Louisiana, where they proceeded to sue their Illinois insurance company under a law on the books in Louisiana, but not in Illinois.
There were no more major conflict of law cases until the 1980’s, which saw individual rights trump those of a corporation. In this landmark case, a man, who was employed by a Minnesota based company but actually lived just over the border in Wisconsin, was killed in a traffic accident in Wisconsin. Once the accident occurred, the wife moved a short distance away over the state line into Minnesota to administer his estate and she sued the insurance company for a higher award that would have been due under Minnesota law but not under Wisconsin law and she won. This reversed a long standing trend of companies and corporations winning conflict of law cases over individuals.
The most recent major conflict of law ruling took place in 1985 and saw the Supreme Court rule that when class action suits are brought by people from multiple states, the court hearing the question must consider the laws of each state for each plaintiff.
As you can see conflict of law cases are constantly shaping and changing the way we interpret the status quo, and you can bet that it will continue to change as time goes on.