Johnson v. Johnson

Citation107 N.H. 30,216 A.2d 781
PartiesLouis JOHNSON v. Eric H. JOHNSON.
Decision Date31 January 1966
CourtSupreme Court of New Hampshire

Nelson, Winer & Lynch and Henry F. Spaloss, Nashua, for plaintiff.

Wiggin, Nourie, Sundeen, Nassikas & Pingree and Dort S. Bigg, Manchester, for defendant.

KENISON, Chief Justice.

Under New Hampshire law a wife may recover damages in a tort action against her husband. Miltimore v. Milford Motor Co., 89 N.H. 272, 197 A. 330; Morin v. Letourneau, 102 N.H. 309, 156 A.2d 131; RSA 460:2. Under Massachusetts law such actions are not permitted. Callow v. Thomas, 322 Mass, 550, 78 N.E.2d 637, 2 A.L.R.2d 632. Thus there is a conflict between the law of the forum and the place of injury in New Hampshire which has abolished interspousal immunity and the law of common domicile and residence of the husband and wife in Massachusetts which retains interspousal immunity.

The traditional rule of choice of law in tort cases called for application of the law of the state in which the plaintiff was injured This was a facile formula but it proved to be a blunt tool in the judicial process and frequently produced results that were not rationally supportable. Instead of guidance for judicial choice between laws whose purposes conflicted, the rule became a rigid dogma that rendered the purposes of the laws of the respective states irrelevant. Griffith v. United Airlines, Inc., 416 Pa. 1, 203 A.2d 796; Babcock v. Jackson, 12 N.Y.2d 473, 240 N.Y.S.2d 743, 191 N.E.2d 279, 95 A.L.R.2d 1.

That dogmatic approach to choice of law led this court in 1934 in Gray v. Gray, 87 N.H. 82, 174 A. 508, 94 A.L.R. 1404 to deny to a New Hampshire wife the right to recover from her husband for personal injuries that he had negligently inflicted upon her in the State of Maine simply because Maine had adhered to the common-law rule forbidding a Maine wife to sue a Maine husband for such injuries. Counsel for the unsuccessful plaintiff in that case employed the reasoning of Cook, Lorenzen, Yntema and of Stumberg but the answer was that Beale and the authorities said no recovery. 440 Briefs and Cases 53-120 (1934). See e. g. Cook, The Logical and Legal Basis of the Conflict of Laws 311-346 (1942). In Thompson v. Thompson, 105 N.H. 86, 193 A.2d 439, 96 A.L.R.2d 969 the shackles of this dogma were broken. It was there recognized that, when the domicile of the injured spouse permitted her to sue her negligent husband, common sense and justice combined to dictate a departure from the state-of-injury rule. Whatever the purposes of the Massachusetts rule (there the state of injury) in affording interspousal immunity, they related to Massachusetts spouses. Those purposes would not be impaired in any way by giving effect to the purposes of the contrary New Hampshire law in a suit between New Hampshire spouses. The seeming conflict between the two states' laws did not in fact exist. Properly analyzed, the conflict proved to be false. Traynor, Is This Conflict Really Necessary, 37 Tex.L.Rev. 657 (1959).

We recognize that the factors involved in the Thompson case were the reverse of those in the instant case. In Thompson the domicile of the spouses permitted the interspousal suit and the place of injury denied it, whereas here the domicile, Massachusetts, denies the wife's right to sue and the place of injury, New Hampshire, grants it. The instant case presents a true conflict. The purpose of the New Hampshire tort law to give financial protection to persons injured on New Hampshire highways is in conflict with the purpose of the Massachusetts law defining the legal relations of Massachusetts spouses, in particular by denying one spouse the right to sue the other for personal injuries.

In this true conflict, the court's task is to determine whether the purposes of the relevant and applicable New Hampshire laws would be so seriously impaired by denying the Massachusetts plaintiff the right to sue her husband here that we should refuse to recognize this incident of a Massachusetts marital relationship. Although we recognize that the question is not without difficulty, we are prepared to give effect to the law of the domicile in this case as well as in the situation presented in the Thompson case. McSwain v. McSwain, Pa., 215 A.2d 677, decided January 4, 1966.

On the issue before us, we believe that the Massachusetts law of marital immunity has the more 'significant relationship with the occurrence and with the parties,' to use the criterion employed in the Conflict of Laws, Restatement (Second), ss. 379 and 390g; Ehrenzweig, Conflicts in a Nutshell, 230-231 (1965). Recognition of the...

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24 cases
  • Balts v. Balts
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • 1 Abril 1966
    ...814; Wilcox v. Wilcox, 26 Wis.2d 617, 133 N.W.2d 408; Thompson v. Thompson, 105 N.H. 86, 193 A.2d 439, 96 A.L.R.2d 969; Johnson v. Johnson, N.H., 216 A.2d 781; Babcock v. Jackson, 12 N.Y.2d 473, 240 N.Y.S.2d 743, 191 N.E.2d 279, 95 A.L.R.2d 1; Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., 416 Pa. 1, ......
  • Hopkins v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp.
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • 1 Febrero 1967
    ...1, the Pennsylvania court in Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., 1964, 416 Pa. 1, 203 A.2d 796, the New Hampshire court in Johnson v. Johnson, N.H.1966, 216 A.2d 781, and the Wisconsin court in Wilcox v. Wilcox, 1965, 26 Wis.2d 617, 133 N.W.2d 408, that the strict Lex loci delicti rule shou......
  • Forbes v. Boynton
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • 30 Noviembre 1973
    ...a factor to be considered in deciding certain cases. Dunlap v. Dunlap, 84 N.H. 352, 367, 150 A. 905, 912 (1930); Johnson v. Johnson, 107 N.H. 30, 32, 216 A.2d 781, 783 (1966); Briere v. Briere, 107 N.H. 432, 435, 224 A.2d 588, 590 (1966). Our superior court has also recognized this fact in ......
  • Edmunds v. Edmunds
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 4 Octubre 1972
    ...Line, Inc., 123 U.S.App. D.C. 121, 357 F.2d 581 (1965). 3 Thompson v. Thompson, 105 N.H. 86, 193 A.2d 439 (1963); Johnson v. Johnson, 107 N.H. 30, 216 A.2d 781 (1966); Doiron v. Doiron, 109 N.H. 1, 241 A.2d 372 (1968); McSwain v. McSwain, 420 Pa. 86, 215 A.2d 677 (1966); Wartell v. Formusa,......
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