Armstrong v. Armstrong, No. 922

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
Writing for the CourtBefore NESBETT, C. J., and DIMOND and RABINOWITZ; RABINOWITZ; Traynor's
Citation441 P.2d 699
Docket NumberNo. 922
Decision Date07 June 1968
PartiesDr. Osric H. ARMSTRONG, Appellant, v. Osric H. ARMSTRONG, Executor of the Estate of Florence Armstrong, Appellee.

Page 699

441 P.2d 699
Dr. Osric H. ARMSTRONG, Appellant,
v.
Osric H. ARMSTRONG, Executor of the Estate of Florence
Armstrong, Appellee.
No. 922.
Supreme Court of Alaska.
June 7, 1968.

William M. Erwin and James L. Johnston of Savage, Erwin & Curran, Anchorage, for appellant.

Karl Johnstone and Eugene F. Wiles of Delaney, Wiles, Moore & Hayes, Anchorage, for appellee.

Before NESBETT, C. J., and DIMOND and RABINOWITZ, Justices.

OPINION

RABINOWITZ, Justice.

We are called upon to resolve choice-of-law questions arising from an automobile accident which occurred in the Yukon Territory, Dominion of Canada. As a result of the accident, appellant instituted a personal injury action against his wife in the Superior Court of the State of Alaska. 1 Appellee moved for summary judgment on the ground that the laws of Yukon Territory, Dominion of Canada, prohibit interspousal suits based upon negligently inflicted harms occurring while the parties were lawfully married and living together as husband and wife. 2 Prior to the date on

Page 700

which this accident took place, it had been established in Alaska, by our decision in Cramer v. Cramer, 3 that interspousal actions for negligent torts committed while the parties were married could be maintained. 4

The superior court granted appellee's motion for summary judgment and dismissed appellant's cause of action. 5 In reaching this conclusion, the superior court held in part:

That the conflicts laws rule in Alaska, Lillegraven v. Tengs, 375 P.2d 139 and in the vast majority of jurisdictions, Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 82 S.Ct. 585 (7 L.Ed.2d 492); is that all matters going to the basis of the right of action or affecting substantive rights of the parties are governed by the law of the place where the wrong or accident took place.

Thus, in this appeal we are faced with the first-impression question of what choice-of-law rule our courts should adopt concerning interspousal immunities and liabilities in multistate tort actions where the litigants are domiciliaries of Alaska and their only contacts with the situs of the tort are transitory in nature. Lillegraven v. Tengs 6 and Marine Construction & Design Co. v. Vessel TIM 7 are not dispositive of the question raised in this appeal. It is contended that these decisions adopted the general conflict of laws rule whereby creation of tort liability is governed by the law of the place of the wrong. 8 Neither Lillegraven nor Vessel TIM had this effect. The latter decision did not involve a tort action but rather raised questions concerning the applicable statute of limitations regarding liens which were created under the laws of the State of Washington. In deciding that the limitations period of the State of Washington was controlling, we emphasized the particular policy considerations involved and in part adopted an approach not dissimilar from that which was taken by the New York Court of Appeals in the landmark case of Babcock v. Jackson. 9 We note that the Babcock decision, which signaled a full scale assault upon the lex loci delicti conflict of laws rule, was rendered subsequent to our opinion in Lillegraven. Although we did allude generally to the place-of-wrong conflicts rule in our decision in Lillegraven, the doctrine of lex

Page 701

loci delicti was not employed as a basis for the actual decision reached there. 10

In light of what we consider the better reasoned and more persuasive judicial precedents, 11 we hold that the law of the litigants' matrimonial domicile should be given priority over the law of the place of the wrong in determination of interspousal liabilities and immunities in tort actions.

Chief Justice Traynor's opinion in Emery v. Emery 12 marks the first significant departure from the then general conflict of laws rule that the lex loci delicti governs disabilities to sue and immunities from suit arising out of family relationships. In Emery two unemancipated minors were injured in an Idaho automobile accident which occurred while their unemancipated brother was operating a vehicle pursuant to the direction and control of their father. In a negligence action against the father and brother, the California court rejected defendant's reliance upon Idaho's family immunity rule. In reaching this result, Justice Traynor said:

(I)t is first necessary to decide whether that question should be determined by the law of California or that of Idaho. This choice of law problem is one of first impression in this state. The possible choices in cases like the present one are three: the law of the place where the injury occurred, the law of the forum, and the law of the state in which the family is domiciled. * * * We think that disabilities to sue and immunities from suit because of a family relationship are more properly determined by reference to the law of the state of the family domicile. That state has the primary responsibility for establishing and regulating the incidents of the family relationship and it is the only state in which the parties can, by participation in the legislative processes, effect a change in those incidents. Moreover, it is undesirable that the rights, duties, disabilities, and immunities conferred or imposed by the family relationship should constantly change as members of the family cross state boundaries during temporary absences from their home. Since all of the parties to the present case are apparently domiciliaries of California, we must look to the law of this state to determine whether any disabilities or immunities exist. 13

Haumschild v. Continental Casualty Co. 14 involved a factual situation similar to the case at bar. There the husband and wife, both domiciliaries of Wisconsin, were involved in an automobile accident in California. The wife sued the husband in Wisconsin where the trial court dismissed the

Page 702

complaint on the ground that the law of the place where the tort occurred did not allow interspousal tort actions. Acknowledging that a majority of jurisdictions apply the lex loci delicti conflict of laws rule, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled several of its own precedents and applied the law of Wisconsin, the domicile of the parties. In reaching this result, the court relied in part upon Emery v. Emery 15 and Koplik v. C. P. Trucking Corp., 16 where the New Jersey court stated:

(W)e hold the view that even where an actual conflict of laws problem is directly presented, it is sensible and logical to have disabilities to sue and immunities from suit arising from the family relationship determined by reference to the law of the state of the family domicile when the suit is brought in that state. Otherwise, the lex loci will be permitted to interfere seriously with a status and a policy which the state of residence is primarily interested in maintaining.

The Emery, Haumschild, and Koplik choice-of-law rule has received substantial support in other jurisdictions. 17 We also note that the latest draft of the Restatement of Conflict of Laws 18 is in accord with the approach of these authorities. Where pertinent this tentative draft reads:

In accordance with the rule of § 379, whether one member of a family is immune from tort liability to another member of the family is determined by the local law of the state of their domicile. 19

Page 703

Adopting the Emery, Haumschild, and Koplik choice-of-law rule, we conclude that the superior court's dismissal of appellant's cause of action should be set aside. Under the facts appearing in this record, the appropriate choice-of-law rule in determination of interspousal immunity was that of the parties' matrimonial domicile, not that of the Yukon Territory, the place of the wrong. Here the record shows that appellant and his wife had been residents of the State of Alaska for twenty-seven years prior to the accident; at the time of the accident they were legally married and had been living together as husband and wife. During this twenty-seven year period, appellant practiced as a physician and surgeon in Alaska. It was also shown that the insurance on the parties' vehicle had been contracted for and purchased in the State of Alaska, and that all of the parties' properties were located within the State of Alaska. The record further shows that the accident occurred on the return portion of a trip the parties had taken to visit Mrs. Armstrong's mother in the State of Washington. The parties' only connection with Canada was temporarily to 'drive through it coming to and going from the State of Alaska.' 20 In these circumstances we believe that adherence to the mechanical lex loci delicti choice-of-law rule would frustrate the policy of the State of Alaska in regard to...

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27 practice notes
  • Paul v. National Life, No. 16808
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 12, 1987
    ...of Laws, p. 9 (5th ed. 1932). 3 See, e.g., R. Leflar, American Conflicts Law, p. 1 (3d ed. 1977). 4 See, e.g., Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska, 1968) (interspousal immunity auto case); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968) (interspousal immunity auto case); W......
  • Chambers v. Dakotah Charter, Inc., Nos. 17400
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • June 3, 1992
    ...Boulevard Billiard Club, 518 A.2d 1349 (R.I.1986); Heath v. Zellmer, 35 Wis.2d 578, 151 N.W.2d 664 (1967). 8 See Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska 1968); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968); First Nat'l Bank v. Rostek, 182 Colo. 437, 514 P.2d 314 (1973); O'Co......
  • Gutierrez v. Collins, No. B-7943
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 13, 1979
    ...Aviation, Inc., 410 S.W.2d 182 (Tex.1968). 2 Fully half the states have rejected the Lex loci delicti rule. Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska 1968) (governmental interests test); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968) (Restatement); Wallis v. Mrs. Smith's Pie Co......
  • IN RE AIR CRASH DISASTER AT BOSTON, MASS., JULY 31, 1973, No. 160.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • August 21, 1975
    ...proposition that Vermont has adopted that rule. 5 Courts which have rejected the lex loci delicti rule include: Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska 1968); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968); Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
27 cases
  • Paul v. National Life, No. 16808
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 12, 1987
    ...of Laws, p. 9 (5th ed. 1932). 3 See, e.g., R. Leflar, American Conflicts Law, p. 1 (3d ed. 1977). 4 See, e.g., Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska, 1968) (interspousal immunity auto case); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968) (interspousal immunity auto case); W......
  • Chambers v. Dakotah Charter, Inc., Nos. 17400
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • June 3, 1992
    ...Boulevard Billiard Club, 518 A.2d 1349 (R.I.1986); Heath v. Zellmer, 35 Wis.2d 578, 151 N.W.2d 664 (1967). 8 See Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska 1968); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968); First Nat'l Bank v. Rostek, 182 Colo. 437, 514 P.2d 314 (1973); O'Co......
  • Gutierrez v. Collins, No. B-7943
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 13, 1979
    ...Aviation, Inc., 410 S.W.2d 182 (Tex.1968). 2 Fully half the states have rejected the Lex loci delicti rule. Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska 1968) (governmental interests test); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968) (Restatement); Wallis v. Mrs. Smith's Pie Co......
  • IN RE AIR CRASH DISASTER AT BOSTON, MASS., JULY 31, 1973, No. 160.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • August 21, 1975
    ...proposition that Vermont has adopted that rule. 5 Courts which have rejected the lex loci delicti rule include: Armstrong v. Armstrong, 441 P.2d 699 (Alaska 1968); Schwartz v. Schwartz, 103 Ariz. 562, 447 P.2d 254 (1968); Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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