444 N.W.2d 710 (S.D. 1989), 16481, Owen v. Owen

Docket Nº:16481.
Citation:444 N.W.2d 710
Opinion Judge:The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morgan
Party Name:Vicki OWEN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Ronald E. OWEN, Defendant and Appellee.
Attorney:G. Verne Goodsell of Gunderson, Palmer, Goodsell & Nelson, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.
Case Date:August 02, 1989
Court:Supreme Court of South Dakota

Page 710

444 N.W.2d 710 (S.D. 1989)

Vicki OWEN, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

Ronald E. OWEN, Defendant and Appellee.

No. 16481.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

August 2, 1989

Argued May 23, 1989.

Mary Poulas of Gunderson, Palmer, Goodsell & Nelson; G. Verne Goodsell of Gunderson, Palmer, Goodsell & Nelson, Rapid City, on brief, for plaintiff and appellant.

Craig A. Pfeifle of Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, Rapid City, for defendant and appellee.

MORGAN, Justice.

Vicki Owen (Vicki) appeals from an order dismissing her negligence cause of action against Ronald Owen (Ronald). We reverse and remand.

Ronald and Vicki Owen are husband and wife. On March 6, 1986, Ronald was driving a 1967 Ford van near Gas City, Grant County, Indiana. Vicki and her two children were passengers in the van. Ronald lost control of the van, skidded off the road, and hit a utility pole. Vicki suffered a broken hip and fractured left femur. As a result, she was hospitalized from March 6, 1986, until August 19, 1986, and continues to have ongoing medical treatment. At the time of the accident, the parties were South Dakota residents, temporarily residing in Indiana to complete Ronald's higher education. Vicki is a life-long resident of South Dakota, and both parties lived in South Dakota for six years prior to returning to school. They owned a home in Sturgis, South Dakota, and, while in Indiana, continued to pay South Dakota property taxes. Both parties licensed their vehicles in South Dakota and held South Dakota drivers licenses. They voted in South Dakota by absentee ballot during the Presidential election and if there was a local election at the time they were in South Dakota during college vacations, they would vote. It was always the parties' intent to return to their home and live in South Dakota after Ronald completed his education. Both parties have, in fact, returned to South Dakota and reside in their home in Sturgis.

Vicki filed a complaint in South Dakota alleging Ronald was negligent in operating the van. Ronald filed an answer admitting the accident, but denying any negligence

Page 711

on his part. Additionally, Ronald moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted. A hearing was conducted where the court admitted, without objection, an offer of proof made by Vicki concerning the parties' contacts to South Dakota. The trial court dismissed Vicki's complaint, holding that the doctrine of lex loci delicti requires that Indiana law apply to this cause of action. Furthermore, it held that the Indiana guest statute requires Vicki to allege and prove willful or wanton misconduct. Since Vicki failed to properly plead, her complaint was dismissed. She appeals.

On appeal, Vicki contends that this court should abandon the lex loci delicti or "the place of the wrong" rule in multi-state tort actions or in the alternative, adopt a public policy exception to the rule. She argues further, that the application of the Indiana guest statute in South Dakota is unconstitutional.

We first define our standard of review. A motion to dismiss pursuant to SDCL 15-6-12(c) provides an expeditious remedy to test the legal sufficiency of pleadings. Akron Savings Bank v. Charlson, 83 S.D. 251, 253, 158 N.W.2d 523, 524 (S.D.1968). This court "must treat as true all facts properly pleaded in the complaint." Id. We deal only with the questions of law arising thereon. Id.

South Dakota has consistently followed the lex loci delicti rule in multi-state tort actions. In Heidemann v. Rohl, 86 S.D. 250, 260, 194 N.W.2d 164, 169 (1972), plaintiff, the special administrator for the estate of the deceased who was a resident of South Dakota, sued the owner of an airplane in which deceased was killed when it crashed near Anselmo, Nebraska. The airplane was enroute, nonstop, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to its destination of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when it crashed in Nebraska. This court was faced with the question of whether South Dakota or Nebraska law applied to an imputed negligence claim against the owner. After reviewing the rules adopted in other jurisdictions in determining conflict or choice of law questions, this court adopted the lex loci delicti rule. Heidemann was allowed to maintain an imputed negligence action under the Nebraska law, whereas South Dakota law would not have permitted the cause of action.

This court has continued to apply the lex loci delicti rule to the substantive rights of parties in multi-state tort actions. See First Nat'l Bank of Minneapolis v. Kehn Ranch, 394 N.W.2d 709 (S.D.1986); and of special interest, Justice Sabers' opinion in Schick v. Rodenburg, 397 N.W.2d 464 (S.D.1986). Vicki urges this court to overrule these cases and adopt a "modern" or "most significant relationship" rule. In support of her position, she cites decisions from as many as thirty-two states that apply either the "modern" rule or the lex loci delicti public policy exception.

Many of the decisions Vicki cites, along with the seminal decision formulating the "modern" rule, Babcock v. Jackson, 12 N.Y.2d 473, 240 N.Y.S.2d 743, 191 N.E.2d 279 (1963), were available to this court when it reviewed the issues in Heidemann. After a careful review of the "modern" rule, this court adopted the lex loci delicti rule.

In adopting the lex loci delicti rule, this court noted the problems inherent in the "modern" rule.

Although there is dissatisfaction with the lex loci delicti rule there is also a reluctance on the part of many courts to adopt the modern fragmented approach to the settlement of multi-state conflict of laws problems because of the lack of discernible and suitable guidelines. For the most part the variants of the modern approach set forth theory and concepts rather than followable rules. As a result there is considerable confusion and inconsistency in its application.

86 S.D. at 259, 194 N.W.2d at 169. Because of these inherent problems, we preferred "to retain the traditional 'place of wrong' rule with its built-in virtues of certainty, simplicity, and ease of application." Id.

Vicki contends that the age of Heidemann requires this court to review the lex loci delicti rule and abandon it for the

Page 712

"modern" rule. We are not persuaded. The same concerns this court had in Heidemann remain today. Application of the "modern" rule results in confusion and inconsistency. See Currie, Comments on Reich v. Purcell, 15 UCLA L.Rev. 511, 595-97 (1968), for a discussion of how post-Babcock decisions in New York have "hopped frenetically from theory to theory like an overheated jumping bean ... producing contradictory results in practically identical cases."

Next, Vicki contends that if we do not abandon our lex loci delicti rule, we should adopt a public policy exception to the rule. She argues that application of Indiana's guest statute, IND. CODE ANN Sec. 9-3-3-1 (Burns 1988), 1 which prevents an injured spouse from recovering compensation from a negligent host unless she can demonstrate wanton or willful misconduct, violates South Dakota public policy and should not be enforced. Under the particular facts of this case, we agree and create a limited public policy exception to lex loci delicti.

First, we note that the lex loci delicti rule in the field of torts has long admitted two exceptions:

(1) The law of the forum, lex fori, was applied to procedural matters, and (2) the law of the forum was controlling whenever the law of the place of the wrong was contrary to an extraordinarily strong public policy of the forum state.

16 Am.Jur.2d Conflicts of Law Sec. 101 (1979).

The reasons that a foreign jurisdiction's law would be contrary to public policy were succinctly explained by the Supreme Court of Tennessee in Whitlow v. Nashville C. & St. L.R. Co., 114 Tenn. 344, 347, 84 S.W. 618, 621 (1904):

To justify a court in refusing to enforce a right of action which occurred under the law of another state, because it is against the policy of our laws, it must appear that it is against good morals or natural justice, or that, for some other such reason, the enforcement of it would be prejudicial to the general interest of our citizens.

Accord Winters v. Mazey, 481 S.W.2d 755, 756 (Tenn.1972). 2 Several courts have used this standard to grant public policy exceptions to lex loci delicti. A review of these decisions is useful.

In Schmidt v....

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11 practice notes
  • 518 N.W.2d 749 (S.D. 1994), 18182, Interstate Telephone Co-op., Inc. v. Public Utilities Com'n of State of S.D.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 29, 1994
    ...was not meant to keep a stranglehold on developments which are responsive to new values, experiences and circumstances. Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710, 715 (S.D.1989) (Miller, Henderson and Sabers, JJ., concurring specially) (quoting Hofer v. Meyer, 295 N.W.2d 333, 337-38 (S.D.1980) (Wuest, C......
  • 488 N.W.2d 63 (S.D. 1992), 17400, Chambers v. Dakotah Charter, Inc.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 3, 1992
    ...than slight in comparison with the negligence of the defendant. SDCL 20-9-2. 1 Based upon the three special concurrences in Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710 (S.D.1989), the trial court declined to follow the traditional rule of lex loci delicti and apply the Missouri law of comparative negligen......
  • 830 S.W.2d 53 (Tenn. 1992), Hataway v. McKinley
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • April 27, 1992
    ...(1976); Boudreau v. Baughman, 322 N.C. 331, 368 S.E.2d 849 (1988); Oshiek v. Oshiek, 244 S.C. 249, 136 S.E.2d 303 (1964); Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710 (S.D.1989); Velasquez v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 12 Utah 2d 379, 366 P.2d 989 (1961); Goldman v. Beaudry, 122 Vt. 299, 170 A.2d 636 (1961); M......
  • 493 N.W.2d 1 (S.D. 1992), 17718, State v. Burtzlaff
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 25, 1992
    ...rule "out of the middle ages" and "adopting an approach which best suits modern times." Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710, 714-17 (S.D.1989) (Miller, J., concurring specially to advocate abandonment of the lex loci delicti rule to determine conflict of laws questions). 2 In t......
  • Free signup to view additional results
9 cases
  • 518 N.W.2d 749 (S.D. 1994), 18182, Interstate Telephone Co-op., Inc. v. Public Utilities Com'n of State of S.D.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 29, 1994
    ...was not meant to keep a stranglehold on developments which are responsive to new values, experiences and circumstances. Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710, 715 (S.D.1989) (Miller, Henderson and Sabers, JJ., concurring specially) (quoting Hofer v. Meyer, 295 N.W.2d 333, 337-38 (S.D.1980) (Wuest, C......
  • 488 N.W.2d 63 (S.D. 1992), 17400, Chambers v. Dakotah Charter, Inc.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 3, 1992
    ...than slight in comparison with the negligence of the defendant. SDCL 20-9-2. 1 Based upon the three special concurrences in Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710 (S.D.1989), the trial court declined to follow the traditional rule of lex loci delicti and apply the Missouri law of comparative negligen......
  • 830 S.W.2d 53 (Tenn. 1992), Hataway v. McKinley
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • April 27, 1992
    ...(1976); Boudreau v. Baughman, 322 N.C. 331, 368 S.E.2d 849 (1988); Oshiek v. Oshiek, 244 S.C. 249, 136 S.E.2d 303 (1964); Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710 (S.D.1989); Velasquez v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 12 Utah 2d 379, 366 P.2d 989 (1961); Goldman v. Beaudry, 122 Vt. 299, 170 A.2d 636 (1961); M......
  • 493 N.W.2d 1 (S.D. 1992), 17718, State v. Burtzlaff
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 25, 1992
    ...rule "out of the middle ages" and "adopting an approach which best suits modern times." Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710, 714-17 (S.D.1989) (Miller, J., concurring specially to advocate abandonment of the lex loci delicti rule to determine conflict of laws questions). 2 In t......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Choice of Law Theory and the Metaphysics of the Stand-Alone Trigger
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review Nbr. 95-4, May 2010
    • May 1, 2010
    ...in which the New York court relied on “public policy” and refused to apply Connecticut’s interspousal immunity rule); Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710, 710, 712 (S.D. 1989) (creating “a limited public policy exception to lex loci delicti” to allow a wife to recover under South Dakota law when h......
  • Same-sex marriage, conflict of laws, and the unconstitutional public policy exception.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 106 Nbr. 7, May 1997
    • May 1, 1997
    ...(holding that New York public policy precluded any tort liability between spouses stemming from Connecticut law). (32.) See Owen v. Owen, 444 N.W.2d 710, 713 (S.D. 1989) (holding that wife could sue husband under favorable South Dakota guest statute because foreign state's guest statute con......