337 U.S. 530 (1949), 522, Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co.

Docket Nº:No. 522
Citation:337 U.S. 530, 69 S.Ct. 1233, 93 L.Ed. 1520
Party Name:Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co.
Case Date:June 20, 1949
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 530

337 U.S. 530 (1949)

69 S.Ct. 1233, 93 L.Ed. 1520

Ragan

v.

Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co.

No. 522

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1949

Argued April 20, 1949

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Solely on grounds of diversity of citizenship, petitioner sued in the Federal District Court for Kansas to recover damages for injuries sustained in a highway accident which occurred less than two years before his complaint was filed, but the summons was not served until more than two years after the date of the accident. The complaint was filed and the summons issued in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but Kansas has a two-year statute of limitations applicable to such tort claims which the Court of Appeals held is not tolled until service of a summons.

Held: the suit was barred by the state statute of limitations. Pp. 531-534.

(a) This result necessarily follows from Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, since otherwise the plaintiff's rights under local law would be different in the federal courts from what they would be in the state courts. Pp. 532-533.

(b) A different result is not required by the fact that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the manner in which an action is commenced in a federal court. Pp. 532-533.

(c) Nor is a different result required by the fact that local law brought the cause of action to an end after, rather than before, suit was started in the federal court. Pp. 533-534.

(d) In accordance with its usual practice of accepting the determination of local law by the Court of Appeals, this Court accepts the holding of the Court of Appeals that a Kansas statute providing that an action is commenced when summons is served on the defendant is an integral part of the Kansas statute of limitations. P. 534.

170 F.2d 987 affirmed.

Having jurisdiction solely on grounds of diversity of citizenship, a Federal District Court granted petitioner a judgment for damages sustained in a highway accident. The Court of Appeals reversed. 170 F.2d 987. This Court granted certiorari. 336 U.S. 917. Affirmed, p. 534.

Page 531

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case, involving a highway accident which occurred on October 1, 1943, came to the District Court for Kansas by reason of diversity of citizenship. Petitioner instituted it there on September 4, 1945, by filing the complaint with the court -- the procedure specified by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.1 As prescribed by those Rules, a summons was issued.2 Service was had on December 28, 1945. Kansas has a two-year statute of limitations applicable to such tort claims.3 Respondent pleaded it and moved for summary judgment. Petitioner claimed that the filing of the complaint tolled the statute. Respondent argued that, by reason of a Kansas statute,4 the statute of limitations was not tolled until service of the summons.

Page 532

The District Court struck the defense and denied respondent's motion. A trial was had, and a verdict rendered for petitioner. The Court of Appeals reversed. 170 F.2d 987. It ruled, after a review of Kansas authorities, that the requirement of service of summons within the statutory period was an integral part of that state's statute of limitations. It accordingly held that Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, governed, and that respondent's motion for summary judgment should have been sustained. The case is here on a petition for certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the question presented.

Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, was premised on the theory that, in diversity cases, the rights enjoyed under local law should not vary because enforcement of those rights was sought in the federal court, rather than in the state court. If recovery could not be had in the state court, it should be denied in the federal court. Otherwise, those authorized to invoke the diversity jurisdiction would gain advantages over those confined to state courts. Guaranty Trust Co. v. York applied that principle to statutes of limitations on the theory that, where one is barred from...

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