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Conflict of Laws: Choice of Law
Rutgers University, Camden School of Law
Dane, Perry

Conflict of Law
Dane
Fall 2011
 
 
I.                   Overview
a.       History:
                                                              i.      Holmes developed the “vested rights” theory. 
1.      Slater v. Mexican RR: everything happened in Mexico, but suit in Texas, applied Texas law.  SCOTUS reverses: must apply Mexican law b/c source of the obligation was where the transaction occurred (Mexico). 
2.      Broad guidelines:
a.       Tort: Lex Loci: law of the place of accident.
b.      Contract: Law of the place of making
c.       Realty: law of situs
                                                            ii.      Beale: territorial approach. Mechanical rules lead to certainty/predictability, but don’t take into account justice/fairness. 
1.      10 states still follow Beale.
                                                          iii.      By 1985, new phenomena: personal law.
1.      lots of choice of law litigation b/c end of predictability.
b.      Domicile is very important concept in conflicts:
                                                              i.      Does not equal residence.  Can only have one domicile at a time.
                                                            ii.      Person starts out life with domicile of origin:
1.      determined by parents. 
                                                          iii.      Acquire a domicile of choice when abandon the domicile of origin; the domicile of choice continues until the acquisition of another domicile of choice. 
1.      Domicile of choice: acquire when abandon previous domicile, arrive in the new domicile (must have some physical presence), and intend to remain in new domicile for indefinite period of time or lack of present intent to leave at a specific time. 
                                                          iv.      Also, domicile by operation of law:
1.      relates to a minor. 
a.       Domicile of the legitimate minor child is father’s.
                                                                                                                                      i.      Illegitimate child: mother’s domicile controls
b.      if parents are divorced, goes to guardian parent.
2.      military personnel: lack capacity to acquire a new domicile of choice since they can’t control the location or the length of a station; generally retain prior domicile, but if buy a house, etc., may acquire enough for domicile of choice. 
I.                   Traditional Approaches
c.       Torts
                                                              i.      Traditional approach: law of where the injury occurs.
                                                            ii.      Non-intentional Torts
1.      Alabama Great Southern RR v. Carroll (AL, 1892):  P is citizen of AL, D is employer and also AL corporation.  P was brakeman on trains, injured when link broke and injury occurs – MS.  Evidence was that link was already defectively inspected in AL. 
a.       P has case for recover under Employer’s liability act in Al, but no law in MS.  No cause of action (negligence of fellow servants) there.
b.      P can’t use AL for recovery b/c injury occurred in MS, cause of action arose in MS.  MS doesn’t have employer’s liability act, so P’s out of luck.
c.       AL could create cause of action between AL employee and AL employer – amend the employer’s liability act to put in a choice of law provision; probably constitutional.  But they didn’t, so P can’t recover from MS injury.
                                                          iii.      Intentional & intangible torts
1.      Bealian approach doesn’t work as well here.
2.      Some states distinguish between intentional & unintentional torts (important for punitives). 
3.      Marra v. Bushee
a.       Issue: should law of where the affections were alienated apply, or where the harm occurred to the wife? 
b.      No cause of action under NY law (where wife was), but there was in VT where the alienation occurred. 
c.       Court: conduct was in VT, so VT law applies.
d.      Contracts
                                                              i.      Two main issues:
1.      issue of validity governed by the place of making
2.      issue of performance (and excuses) governed by law of the place of performance.
                                                            ii.      Complication: contract-family law distinction (capacity issues).
                                                          iii.      1st Restatement of Conflicts:
1.      law of the forum decides as preliminary question of which state questions arising from formation of Ks are determined. 
2.      Determine place of principle events which results in the K. 
3.      Formal K: place of K is where delivery is made.
a.       By mail: where document is posted/received by carrier.
4.      Informal/Unilateral K:
a.       Where event takes place which makes the promise binding. 
5.      Informal/Bilateral K:
a.       Place of contracting is where second promise is made in consideration of the first promise. 
                                                          iv.      Poole v. Perkins
1.      Poole & wife executed joint promissory note to Perkins; all in TN where law of coverture.  But note payable to bank in VA.  Subsequently all parities became domiciled in VA.
a.       Should court apply law of TN or VA?
                                                                                                                                      i.      If TN law is applied, K is void
                                                                                                                                    ii.      If VA law is applied, K is valid. 
b.      Court: actual situs of parties only important as a factor in determining the law with reference to which they intended to contract. 
c.       Court: silly result if K would be valid only if she crossed the state line – enforced the K.  use place of performance – the bank in VA.
                                                            v.      Linn v. Employers Reinsurance Corp:
1.      brokers brought action to require insurance co to pay commissions on insurance premiums received since 1953 from NJ company.
2.      Issue: statute of frauds.
a.       Must determine the place of the K is made to determine if the K is valid under the statute of frauds. 
b.      Court:
                                                                                                                                      i.      Place of contracting is where the agent accepts the offer (where acceptance is posted or received by telegraph company).  Phone is no different than orally addressing: where acceptor speaks the words of acceptance.
                                                                                                                                    ii.      Ds lose because they had the burden of proving that foreign law applies.  They didn’t meet the burden.
1.      party alleging foreign law governs the case has the burden of proving what the foreign law is and why it should apply. 
c.  

the same. 
1.      some things are formalities: law of celebration
2.      some things are capacity: law of domicile.
a.       Minority, blood relationships
g.      Real Property
                                                              i.      Situs: law of the place where the real property is.
                                                            ii.      Universally sound rule still, even where Beale has been rejected. 
                                                          iii.      Problem area: intersection of land & contract.
1.      Note: contract (law of the place of making)
2.      Mortgage: interest in land (law of situs). 
3.      Both reflect the same debt.  
                                                          iv.      Burr v. Beckler (Ill, 1914): note made in Fl where woman was incapable of signing deed; suit in IL where land was (women could make contracts). 
1.      law of place of performance will govern; but if party wasn’t competent to make the contract, the contract is void and can’t be enforced.
                                                            v.      Thomson v. Kyle (Fl, 1897):
1.      Thomson signed note in AL where lacks capacity.  Mortgage on land in FL, where court says she has capacity.  Case arrives in mortgage state (FL). 
2.      Law of situs: valid signature.  (signed with husband).
3.      Court: valid!
h.      Personal Property
                                                              i.      Governed by the law of one’s last domicile
1.      Catch: transfers of personal property inter vivos are governed by where the chattel is located at the time of the conveyance. 
2.      Fun cases: when chattel is in transit. 
                                                            ii.      Theory: rule is where chattel is located (even modern Restatement says this ordinarily applies) but special rules for chattels in transit/not in ordinary place.
                                                          iii.      Note: many states have compacts: if will valid in place where person is domiciled, then valid in our jurisdiction, too. Suspend situs at death analysis.
1.      KY & TN; ND & SD.
                                                          iv.      Under civil law countries, less testamentary freedom.  (Legitime.) Forced shares of an estate given to certain relatives. 
1.      French national domiciled in France with money in NYC.  Wants law of NY to apply to NY property; disinhereit son. 
2.      Under French law, this would be invalid, but money is in NY; that’s where case is heard. 
3.      Usual choice of law analysis: law of domicile for personal property.  (vs. French law: law of nationality.)
4.      in Ks, parties have a lot of autonomy for choice of law.  Not usually in wills, except for NY, IL, and CA: exceptions!  So will given effect.  (Why? Banking industry)