Hanna v. Plumer, No. 171

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWARREN
Citation85 S.Ct. 1136,380 U.S. 460,14 L.Ed.2d 8
Decision Date26 April 1965
Docket NumberNo. 171
PartiesEddie V. HANNA, Petitioner, v. Edward M. PLUMER, Jr., Executor

380 U.S. 460
85 S.Ct. 1136
14 L.Ed.2d 8
Eddie V. HANNA, Petitioner,

v.

Edward M. PLUMER, Jr., Executor.

No. 171.
Argued Jan. 21, 1965.
Decided April 26, 1965.

Albert P. Zabin, Boston, Mass., for petitioner, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

James J. Fitzpatrick, Boston, Mass., for respondent.

Page 461

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question to be decided is whether, in a civil action where the jurisdiction of the United States district court is based upon diversity of citizenship between the parties, service of process shall be made in the manner prescribed by state law or that set forth in Rule 4(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

On February 6, 1963, petitioner, a citizen of Ohio, filed her complaint in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts, claiming damages in excess of $10,000 for personal injuries resulting from an automobile accident in South Carolina, allegedly caused by the negligence of one Louise Plumer Osgood, a Massachusetts citizen deceased at the time of the filing of the complaint. Respondent, Mrs. Osgood's executor and also a Massachusetts citizen, was named as defendant. On February 8, service was made by leaving copies of the summons and the complaint with respondent's wife at his residence, concededly in compliance with Rule 4(d)(1), which provides:

'The summons and complaint shall be served together. The plaintiff shall furnish the person making service with such copies as are necessary. Service shall be made as follows:

'(1) Upon an individual other than an infant or an incompetent person, by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to him personally or by leaving copies thereof at his dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein * * *.'

Respondent filed his answer on February 26, alleging, inter alia, that the action could not be maintained because it had been brought 'contrary to and in violation of the

Page 462

provisions of Massachusetts General Laws (Ter.Ed.) Chapter 197, Section 9.' That section provides:

'Except as provided in this chapter, an executor or administrator shall not be held to answer to an action by a creditor of the decrased which is not commenced within one year from the time of his giving bond for the performance of his trust, or to such an action which is commenced within said year unless before the expiration thereof the writ in such action has been served by delivery in hand upon such executor or administrator or service thereof accepted by him or a notice stating the name of the estate, the name and address of the creditor, the amount of the claim and the court in which the action has been brought has been filed in the proper registry of probate. * * *' Mass.Gen.Laws Ann., c. 197, § 9 (1958).

On October 17, 1963, the District Court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment, citing Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co., 337 U.S. 530, 69 S.Ct. 1233, 93 L.Ed. 1520, and Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 65 S.Ct. 1464, 89 L.Ed. 2079, in support of its conclusion that the adequacy of the service was to be measured by § 9, with which, the court held, petitioner had not complied. On appeal, petitioner admitted noncompliance with § 9, but argued that Rule 4(d)(1) defines the method by which service of process is to be effected in diversity actions. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, finding that '(r)elatively recent amendments (to § 9) evince a clear legislative purpose to require personal notification within the year,'1 concluded that the conflict of state

Page 463

and federal rules was over 'a substantive rather than a procedural matter,' and unanimously affirmed. 331 F.2d 157. Because of the threat to the goal of uniformity of federal procedure posed by the decision below,2 we granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 813, 85 S.Ct. 52, 13 L.Ed.2d 27.

We conclude that the adoption of Rule 4(d)(1), designed to control service of process in diversity actions,3

Page 464

neither exceeded the congressional mandate embodied in the Rules Enabling Act nor transgressed constitutional bounds, and that the Rule is therefore the standard against which the District Court should have measured the adequacy of the service. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2072 (1958 ed.), provides, in pertinent part:

'The Supreme Court shall have the power to prescribe, by general rules, the forms of process, writs, pleadings, and motions, and the practice and procedure of the district courts of the United States in civil actions.

'Such rules shall not abridge, enlarge or modify any substantive right and shall preserve the right of trial by jury * * *.'

Under the cases construing the scope of the Enabling Act, Rule 4(d)(1) clearly passes muster. Prescribing the manner in which a defendant is to be notified that a suit has been instituted against him, it relates to the 'practice and procedure of the district courts.' Cf. Insurance Co. v. Bangs, 103 U.S. 435, 439, 26 L.Ed. 580.

'The test must be whether a rule really regulates procedure, the judicial process for enforcing rights and duties recognized by substantive law and for justly administering remedy and redress for disregard or infraction of them.' Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 14, 61 S.Ct. 422, 426, 85 L.Ed. 479.4

In Mississippi Pub. Corp. v. Murphree, 326 U.S. 438, 66 S.Ct. 242, 90 L.Ed. 185, this Court upheld Rule 4(f), which permits service of a summons anywhere within the State (and not merely the district) in which a district court sits:

'We think that Rule 4(f) is in harmony with the Enabling Act * * *. Undoubtedly most alterations

Page 465

of the rules of practice and procedure may and often do affect the rights of litigants. Congress' prohibition of any alteration of substantive rights of litigants was obviously not addressed to such incidental effects as necessarily attend the adoption of the prescribed new rules of procedure upon the rights of litigants who, agreeably to rules of practice and procedure, have been brought before a court authorized to determine their rights. Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 11—14, 61 S.Ct. 422, 425—427, 85 L.Ed. 479. The fact that the application of Rule 4(f) will operate to subject petitioner's rights to adjudication by the district court for northern Mississippi will undoubtedly affect those rights. But it does not operate to abridge, enlarge or modify the rules of decision by which that court will adjudicate its rights.' Id., at 445—446, 66 S.Ct. at 246.

Thus were there no conflicting state procedure, Rule 4(d)(1) would clearly control. National Equipment Rental, Limited v. Szukhent, 375 U.S. 311, 316, 84 S.Ct. 411, 414, 11 L.Ed.2d 354. However, respondent, focusing on the contrary Massachusetts rule, calls to the Court's attention another line of cases, a line which like the Federal Rules—had its birth in 1938. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188, overruling Swift v. Tyson, 16 Pet. 1, 10 L.Ed. 865, held that federal courts sitting in diversity cases, when deciding questions of 'substantive' law, are bound by state court decisions as well as state statutes. The broad command of Erie was therefore identical to that of the Enabling Act: federal courts are to apply state substantive law and federal procedural law. However, as subsequent cases sharpened the distinction between substance and procedure, the line of cases following Erie diverged markedly from the line construing the Enabling Act. Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 65 S.Ct. 1464, 89 L.Ed. 2079, made it clear that Erie-type problems were not to be solved by

Page 466

reference to any traditional or common-sense substance-procedure distinction:

'And so the question is not whether a statute of limitations is deemed a matter of 'procedure' in some sence. The question is * * * does it significantly affect the result of a litigation for a federal court to disregard a law of a State that would be controlling in an action upon the same claim by the same parties in a State court?' 326 U.S., at 109, 65 S.Ct., at 1470.5

Respondent, by placing primary reliance on York and Ragan, suggests that the Erie doctrine acts as a check on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that despite the clear command of Rule 4(d)(1), Erie and its progeny demand the application of the Massachusetts rule. Reduced to essentials, the argument is: (1) Erie, as refined in York, demands that federal courts apply state law whenever application of federal law in its stead will alter the outcome of the case. (2) In this case, a determination that the Massachusetts service requirements obtain will result in immediate victory for respondent. If, on the other hand, it should be held that Rule 4(d)(1) is applicable, the litigation will continue, with possible victory for petitioner. (3) Therefore, Erie demands application of the Massachusetts rule. The syllogism possesses an appealing simplicity, but is for several reasons invalid.

In the first place, it is doubtful that, even if there were no Federal Rule making it clear that in-hand service is not required in diversity actions, the Erie rule would have obligated the District Court to follow the Massachusetts procedure. 'Outcome-determination' analysis was never

Page 467

intended to serve as a talisman. Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Elec. Cooperative, 356 U.S. 525, 537, 78 S.Ct. 893, 900, 2 L.Ed.2d 953. Indeed, the message of York itself is that choices between state and federal law are to be made not by application of any automatic, 'litmus paper' criterion, but rather by reference to the policies underlying the Erie rule. Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. York, supra, 326 U.S. at 108—112, 65 S.Ct. at 1469—1471.6

The Erie rule is rooted in part in a realization that it would...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2784 practice notes
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...a "prima facie judgment that the Rule in question transgresses neither the Enabling Act nor constitutional restrictions." Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 1144, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965). When constitutionality is in doubt, some deference may be paid to the pronouncements of the......
  • U.S. ex rel. Robinson Rancheria Citizens Council v. Borneo, Inc., No. 89-15930
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • July 7, 1992
    ...from this congressionally prescribed course only where that rule abridges or otherwise modifies a substantive right. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471-74, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 1144-46, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965); Olympic Sports Prod., Inc. v. Universal Athletic Sales Co., 760 F.2d 910, 914 (9th Cir.198......
  • Licensed Practical Nurses v. Ulysses Cruises, No. 00 Civ. 4349(GEL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 15, 2000
    ...falling within the uncertain area between substance and procedure, are rationally capable of classification as either." Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 472, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965). By authorizing a change of venue procedure in the federal courts, Congress has exercised that power......
  • All Am. Tel. Co. v. AT & T Corp., 07cv861
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 10, 2018
    ...standard do not apply. A federal court sitting in diversity must apply state substantive law and federal procedural law. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 465, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965) (citation omitted). As courts in this Circuit have held, the summary judgment standard is procedura......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2777 cases
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...a "prima facie judgment that the Rule in question transgresses neither the Enabling Act nor constitutional restrictions." Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 1144, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965). When constitutionality is in doubt, some deference may be paid to the pronouncements of the......
  • Licensed Practical Nurses v. Ulysses Cruises, No. 00 Civ. 4349(GEL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 15, 2000
    ...falling within the uncertain area between substance and procedure, are rationally capable of classification as either." Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 472, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965). By authorizing a change of venue procedure in the federal courts, Congress has exercised that power......
  • James v. Group, Case No.: 14-CV-1756-AJB-JMA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • December 2, 2015
    ...of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, federal courts must apply the Federal Rules, not state law. Id. (citing Hanna v. Plumer , 380 U.S. 460, 471, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965) ). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing th......
  • Evans v. Thompson, No. 07-1014.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 8, 2008
    ...the rules of practice and procedure may and often do affect the rights of litigants." Crater, 491 F.3d at 1127 (quoting Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 464-65, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The running of a statute of limitations does not cause a rig......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 books & journal articles
  • STARE DECISIS AND INTERSYSTEMIC ADJUDICATION.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 3, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...in the federal court and another way in the state court if the federal court failed to apply a particular local rule"); Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 465-66 (1965) (observing that Guaranty Trust"made it clear that Erie-type problems were not to be solved by reference to any traditional or ......
  • Rethinking the Supreme Court’s Interstate Waters Jurisprudence
    • United States
    • Georgetown Environmental Law Review Nbr. 33-2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...changes to “substantive rights” does not reach “adjective law of judicial procedure” like the taking of evidence); Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 466–69 (1965) (holding that federal court must apply Federal Rule 4(d) on service of process, not state law, even if “outcome determinative” beca......
  • HORIZONTAL CHOICE OF LAW IN FEDERAL COURT.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 169 Nbr. 8, August 2021
    • August 1, 2021
    ...the unwritten 'general law' vary according to whether enforcement was sought in the state or in the federal court"); Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 467 (1965) (noting that the-En'e decision was in part a reaction to the practice of forum-shopping in the wake of Swift v. Tyson). (36) See, e.......
  • SLAPP 2.0: Second Generation of Issues Related to Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 45-2, February 2015
    • February 1, 2015
    ...Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). 33. Burlington N. R.R. Co. v. Woods, 480 U.S. 1, 4-6 (1987) ( citing Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471-74 (1965)). 34. Id. Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT