The Erie Doctrine

Erie: federal courts must apply state laws in their decisions, except when in conflict with federal law.

28 U.S.C. § 1652: Rules of Decision Act: "the laws of the several states," except where Constitution or Acts of Congress otherwise require/provide, shall be regarded as rules of decisions in civil actions in federal courts, in cases where they apply.
  • Swift had interpreted "the laws of the several states" to mean state statutes, but not common law (unless local common law about local matter)
  • Erie changed this interpretation to include state common law too.
Why the change?
  • Swift decision did not create uniformity in application of laws, as it had been intended.
    • Tended to encourage "forum shopping," as πs looked for a more favorable federal forum in which to file suit.
    • So a NY federal court more likely to apply NY-style law, since under Swift the judge can choose the law to apply (goal to find "best" common law to apply).
  • Erie recognized that statute is not superior to judge-made law: judicial opinion is more than just clarification of the reason in statutes.
    • Also, since Congress can't make substantive state law, federal courts shouldn't be able to either.
    • But with broad interpretation of Commerce Clause, Congress now can make many laws they couldn't before... so why can't the federal courts do the same?
  • Federal diversity supposed to avoid bias against non-citizen, not to favor them.
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