311 U.S. 538 (1941), 141, Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co.

Docket NºNo. 141
Citation311 U.S. 538, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327
Party NameVandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co.
Case DateJanuary 06, 1941
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 538

311 U.S. 538 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327

Vandenbark

v.

Owens-Illinois Glass Co.

No. 141

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 6, 1941

Argued December 13, 1940

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A judgment of a District Court, ruled by the state law and correctly applying that law as interpreted by the state supreme court when the judgment was rendered, must be reversed on appeal if, in the meantime, the state court ha disapproved of its former rulings and adopted a contrary interpretation. P. 541.

110 F.2d 310 reversed.

Certiorari, post, p. 635, to review the affirmance of judgment dismissing an action for damages on account of personal injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the defendant.

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This certiorari brings before us for review the determination of the Circuit Court of Appeals that cases at law sounding in tort, brought in the federal courts on the ground of diversity of citizenship, are ruled by the state law as declared by the state's highest court when the judgment of the trial court is entered, and not by the state law as so declared at the time of entry of the appellate court's order of affirmance or reversal. We granted the certiorari because of the uncertainty of the law upon this question as contained in this Court's former decisions.

Page 539

The petitioner here, Virginia Vandenbark, the plaintiff below, is a citizen of Arizona. The defendant, respondent here, the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, is a corporation of Ohio. Petitioner brought an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio alleging that, as an employee of respondent, she had contracted various occupational diseases, including silicosis, through the negligence of respondent. The trial court sustained a motion to dismiss on the ground that the petition failed to state a cause of action. This ruling was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals with the statement that, under the law of Ohio, no recovery was permitted, at the time of the judgment in the trial court, for the type of occupational disease alleged by the petitioner to have been contracted by her as the result of respondent's negligence.1

It is conceded that, at the time the motion to dismiss was sustained, neither the Ohio Workmen's Compensation Act2 nor the common law, as interpreted by the supreme court of that state, gave a right of recovery to petitioner. The Constitution of Ohio3 authorized the passing of laws establishing a state fund out of which compensation for death injuries or occupational diseases was to paid employees in lieu of all other rights to compensation or damages from any employer who complied with the law. At the time of the dismissal of the petition by the trial court, no provision had been made by statute for any of the occupational diseases included in petitioner's complaint. Respondent had fully complied with the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Ohio Constitution and compensation statutes passed pursuant to its authority had been consistently construed by the Ohio courts as

Page 540

withdrawing the common law right and as denying any statutory right to recovery for petitioner's occupational diseases.4 After the action of the trial court in dismissing the petition, the Ohio supreme court reversed its former decisions and, in an opinion expressly overruling them, declared occupational diseases such as complained of by petitioner compensable under Ohio common law.5

While Erie Railroad v. Tompkins6 made the law of the state, as declared by its highest court, effective to govern tort cases cognizable in federal courts on the sole ground of diversity, there was no necessity there for discussing at what step in the cause the state law would be finally determined. In that case, no change occurred in the state decisions between the accident and our judgment. There is nothing in the Rules of Decision section to point the way to a solution.7

During the period when Swift v. Tyson8 (1842-1938) ruled the decisions of the federal courts, its theory of their freedom in matters of general law from the authority of state courts pervaded opinions of this Court involving even state statutes or local law. As a consequence, some decisions hold that a different interpretation of state law by state courts after a decision in a federal

Page 541

trial court does not require the federal reviewing court to reverse the trial court.9

In Burgess v. Seligman, cited in the preceding note, a statute of Missouri relating to the liability of stockholders of a Missouri corporation was interpreted by the state supreme court contrary to the prior decision of the federal trial court. This Court affirmed the trial court, saying,

So, when contracts and transactions have been entered into, and rights have accrued thereon under a particular state of the decisions, or when there has been no decision of the state tribunals, the federal courts properly claim the right to adopt their own interpretation of the law applicable to the case, although a different interpretation may be adopted by the state courts after such rights have accrued.10

What we conceive, however, to be the true rule to guide a federal appellate court where there has been a change of decision in state courts subsequent to the judgment of the district court was stated, before any of the opinions just cited, in United States v. Schooner Peggy.11 The Court there said,

It is in the general true that the province of an appellate court is only to enquire whether a judgment when rendered was erroneous or not. But if, subsequent to the judgment and before the decision of the appellate court, a law intervenes and positively changes the rule which governs, the law must be obeyed or its obligation denied.

Page 542

It is true this Court was...

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263 practice notes
  • 411 F.2d 115 (2nd Cir. 1969), 329 and 330, Bartolotta v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
    • May 27, 1969
    ...American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 311 U.S. 223, 237, 61 S.Ct. 179, 85 L.Ed. 139 (1940). Cf. Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327 (1941). [7] We note that the Barrette decision was written by Judge Anthony E. Grillo, who, prior to his appoint......
  • 122 F.2d 132 (7th Cir. 1941), 7502, Fieldcrest Dairies, Inc. v. City of Chicago
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
    • August 4, 1941
    ...the judgment of the lower court and appeal here, we are bound to give recognition to such policy. Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 543, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327. Under this view we need not consider or decide the validity of the ordinance at the time of its enactment.......
  • 314 F.2d 438 (6th Cir. 1963), 14973, Reeves v. C.I.R.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
    • March 13, 1963
    ...and pending appeal-- interpretations which if applied might have materially altered the result. (Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327, and cases there cited.)' We find that the facts of the petitioner's case, with reference to the defense of the s......
  • CHOICE OF LAW AND JURISDICTIONAL POLICY IN THE FEDERAL COURTS.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 165 Nbr. 7, June 2017
    • June 1, 2017
    ...whether the question is one of statute or common law. 311 U.S. at 177-78 (citations omitted). (31) Vanderbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 540-42 (1941). (32) See, e.g., Wichita Royalty, 306 U.S. at 109-10 (rejecting Fifth Circuit's interpretation of intervening changes in Tex......
  • Free signup to view additional results
259 cases
  • 411 F.2d 115 (2nd Cir. 1969), 329 and 330, Bartolotta v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
    • May 27, 1969
    ...American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 311 U.S. 223, 237, 61 S.Ct. 179, 85 L.Ed. 139 (1940). Cf. Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327 (1941). [7] We note that the Barrette decision was written by Judge Anthony E. Grillo, who, prior to his appoint......
  • 122 F.2d 132 (7th Cir. 1941), 7502, Fieldcrest Dairies, Inc. v. City of Chicago
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
    • August 4, 1941
    ...the judgment of the lower court and appeal here, we are bound to give recognition to such policy. Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 543, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327. Under this view we need not consider or decide the validity of the ordinance at the time of its enactment.......
  • 314 F.2d 438 (6th Cir. 1963), 14973, Reeves v. C.I.R.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
    • March 13, 1963
    ...and pending appeal-- interpretations which if applied might have materially altered the result. (Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327, and cases there cited.)' We find that the facts of the petitioner's case, with reference to the defense of the s......
  • 353 F.2d 650 (5th Cir. 1965), 22315, United States v. Ramsey
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
    • November 12, 1965
    ...L.Ed.2d 982; Ziffrin, Inc. v. United States, 1943, 318 U.S. 73, 63 S.Ct. 465, 87 L.Ed. 621; Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 1941, 311 U.S. 538, 61 S.Ct. 347, 85 L.Ed. 327. [6] We have required this express conformity to the 1965 Act in United States v. Ward (Louisiana), 5 Cir., 1965......
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4 books & journal articles
  • CHOICE OF LAW AND JURISDICTIONAL POLICY IN THE FEDERAL COURTS.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 165 Nbr. 7, June 2017
    • June 1, 2017
    ...whether the question is one of statute or common law. 311 U.S. at 177-78 (citations omitted). (31) Vanderbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 540-42 (1941). (32) See, e.g., Wichita Royalty, 306 U.S. at 109-10 (rejecting Fifth Circuit's interpretation of intervening changes in Tex......
  • Managing transitional moments in criminal cases.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 115 Nbr. 5, March 2006
    • March 1, 2006
    ...Later decisions framed the issue in terms sounding more directly in retroactivity. See, e.g., Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 543 (1941) ("[Federal courts sitting in diversity] should conform their orders to the state law as of the time of the entry. Intervening a......
  • The retroactive and prospective application of judicial decisions.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 26 Nbr. 3, June 2003
    • June 22, 2003
    ...that such a construction, once settled upon, should not be given retrospective operation. (25.) Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 542 (1941). (26.) Id. at 543. Similarly, in 1924, Robert von Moschzisker argued: When, however,... the unwritten law is once applied to the d......
  • Federal questions and the domestic-relations exception.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 125 Nbr. 5, March 2016
    • March 1, 2016
    ...meantime the state courts have disapproved of their former rulings and adopted different ones."); Vandenbark v. Owens-III. Glass Co., 311 U.S. 538, 543 (1941) ("[N]isiprius and appellate tribunals alike should conform their orders to the state law as of the time of the entry. Inte......