Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., No. 49732

CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana
Writing for the CourtSUMMERS; SANDERS; BARHAM
Citation236 So.2d 216,256 La. 289
Docket NumberNo. 49732
Decision Date30 March 1970
PartiesBessie JOHNSON v. ST. PAUL MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY et al.

Page 216

236 So.2d 216
256 La. 289
Bessie JOHNSON
v.
ST. PAUL MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY et al.
No. 49732.
Supreme Court of Louisiana.
March 30, 1970.
Rehearing Denied May 4, 1970.

[256 La. 291] Love, Rigby, Donovan, Dehan & Love, Robert J. Donovan, Jr., Shreveport, for appellant.

Mayer & Smith, Paul R. Mayer, Shreveport, for appellees.

SUMMERS, Justice.

This tort claim arises out of an automobile accident which occurred on June 11, 1966 in Beebe, Arkansas. On that day Bessie Johnson left Shreveport, Louisiana,

Page 217

as a guest of Harley D. DeMoss in his automobile en route to Waterloo, Iowa, to visit DeMoss' daughter. Bessie Johnson and DeMoss were residents of and domiciled in Shreveport where they intended to return after their visit to Iowa. The automobile owned by DeMoss was garaged at his home in Shreveport, licensed in Louisiana and insured for public liability under a Louisiana contract.

When the parties arrived in the town of Beebe, Arkansas, DeMoss ran into the rear end of an automobile owned by Leon Rutledge of Newport, Arkansas. At the time the automobile was being driven by Rutledge's eighteen year old son. As a result of the collision Bessie Johnson suffered personal injuries and incurred medical expenses. She filed this suit in Caddo Parish,[256 La. 292] Louisiana, against DeMoss and his public liability insurer, St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company.

Arkansas has a guest statute which requires a showing of wilful negligence on the part of the host before recovery can be had by a guest. The statute reads:

Action by guest prohibited except in case of wilful negligence.--No person transported as a guest in any automotive vehicle upon the public highways or in aircraft being flown in the air, or while upon the ground, shall have a cause of action against the owner or operator of such vehicle, or aircraft, for damage on account of any injury, death or loss occasioned by the operation of such automotive vehicle or aircraft unless such vehicle or aircraft was wilfully and wantonly operated in disregard of the rights of the others. Ark.Stat.Ann., § 75--913.

Louisiana, on the other hand, has no guest statute. Ordinary negligence on the part of the host will warrant recovery by a guest. La.Civil Code art. 2315.

Plaintiff's petition does not charge that DeMoss wilfully and wantonly operated his automobile in disregard of the rights of others, but the petition does charge DeMoss with acts of simple or ordinary negligence. DeMoss denied his negligence and, alternatively, urged the Arkansas Guest Statute in bar of plaintiff's right to recovery. This latter defense was sustained by [256 La. 293] the trial court. On appeal to the Second Circuit the judgment was reversed. 218 So.2d 375. We issued certiorari on defendant's application. 253 La. 872, 220 So.2d 457.

The trial court's decision was based upon the theory that the law of Arkansas applied to this tort because the situs of the accident was Arkansas. In adhering to the Lex loci delicti doctrine which has prevailed in this State, the Court applied the guest statute of Arkansas denying recovery to plaintiff. The Court of Appeal, however, discarded the Lex loci delicti doctrine and adopted what appears to be a 'minimum contacts' theory for the solution of the case. Accordingly, it applied the substantive law of Louisiana whereby the ordinary negligence of DeMoss was sufficient to warrant recovery by the guest passenger. See La.Civil Code art. 2315.

As we understand the case at this point, DeMoss' ordinary negligence is conceded. The principal issue we must resolve is whether to apply the law of Arkansas or Louisiana to what is conceded to be an Arkansas tort.

So far as we can ascertain, this is the first case in the history of the jurisprudence of this State in which a Louisiana court has applied Louisiana law to a foreign tort; this, in spite of urgings to the contrary. Fry v. Lamb Rental Tools, 275 F.Supp. 283 (W.D.La.1967); Doty v. Central Mutual Insurance Company, 186 So.2d[256 La. 294] 328 (La.App.1966); Blanchard v. Blanchard, 180 So.2d 564 (La.App.1965) concurring opinion of Judge Tate. What is unique here is that this departure from the settled jurisprudence should be undertaken by an intermediate court. The action involves, at least, a failure by the Second Circuit to recognize its obligation to follow the settled law of this State. For, since the question is not regulated by statute,

Page 218

the law is what this Court has announced it to be.

The 1900 case of Williams v. Pope Mfg. Co., 52 La.Ann. 1417, 27 So. 851, recognized the transitory nature of tort claims and the then established principle universally observed in the United States that in tort cases the law of the place of wrong or where the right accrued governed (lex loci delicti). In Matney v. Blue Ribbon, 202 La. 505, 510, 12 So.2d 253, 255 (1943), the proposition was again cogently stated by this Court in these words:

At the outset, it is well to note that an action in tort is transitory in its nature and may be brought in any jurisdiction in which the wrongdoer is found. * * * It is also firmly imbedded in the jurisprudence of this country that all matters relating to the right of action in tort are governed by the Lex loci delicti, or the place where the wrong was committed.

Again in Burke v. Massachusetts Bonding & Ins. Co., 209 La. 495, 499, 24 So.2d 875, [256 La. 295] 876 (1946), the rule was approved in these words:

Where the action is brought in one jurisdiction for a tort committed in another the rights and liabilities of the parties are determined by the laws of the place where the wrong is committed and not by the laws of the place where the right of action is asserted.

The rule thus so clearly established and reiterated by this Court has on repeated occasions been followed by the intermediate appellate courts of this State. In several of these cases we have refused certiorari. Sanders v. Atlas Assur. Corp., 156 So.2d 245 (La.App.1963), cert. denied, 245 La. 461, 158 So.2d 612 (1963); Honeycutt v. Indiana Lumbermen's Mut. Ins. Co., 130 So.2d 770 (La.App.1961), cert. denied; Watkins v. Cupit, 130 So.2d 720 (La.App.1961); Blount v. Blount, 125 So.2d 66 (La.App.1961), cert. denied; Smith v. Northern Ins. Co. of N.Y., 120 So.2d 309 (La.App.1960), cert. denied; Mondello v. Pastiro, 78 So.2d 64 (La.App.1955); Cone v. Smith, 76 So.2d 46 (La.App.1955), cert. denied; Mock v. Maryland Casualty Co., 6 So.2d 199 (La.App.1942); Polmer v. Polmer, 181 So. 200 (La.App.1938); Surgan v. Parker, 181 So. 86 (La.App.1938). The federal courts of this State have likewise correctly applied the doctrine of Lex loci delicti in their adjudications involving foreign torts. Fry v. Lamb Rental Tools, Inc., 275 F.Supp. 283 (W.D.La.1967); Totty [256 La. 296] v. Travelers Insurance Company and J. D. Snee, 200 F.Supp. 34 (E.D.La.1961); Hale v. American Fire and Casualty Company, 81 F.Supp. 273 (W.D.La.1948).

So well established has the rule of law become that in many of the cited cases the principle is conceded by both parties. The rule has had the beneficial effect of certainty and simplicity of application and has done much to promote the expeditious disposition of cases where the problem is presented.

Fundamental and elementary principles recognize that certainty and constancy of the law are indispensable to orderly social intercourse, a sound economic climate and a stable government. Certainty is a supreme value in the civil law system to which we are heirs. Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition 50 (1969). In Louisiana, courts are not bound by the doctrine of Stare decisis, but there is a recognition in this State of the doctrine of Jurisprudence constante. Unlike Stare decisis, this latter doctrine does not contemplate adherence to a principle of law announced and applied on a single occasion in the past.

However, when, by repeated decisions in a long line of cases, a rule of law has been accepted and applied by the courts, these adjudications assume the dignity of Jurisprudence constante; and the rule of law upon which they are based is entitled to great weight in subsequent decisions. [256 La. 297] Keller v. Haas, 209 La. 343, 24 So.2d 610 (1946); Gravier v. Gravier, 200 La. 775, 8 So.2d 697 (1942); Miami Corp. v. State, 186 La. 784, 173 So. 315 (1937); Rubin and Ponder, The Ostrich and the Arbitrator:

Page 219

The Use of Precedent in Arbitration of Labor-Management Disputes, 13 La.L.Rev. 208 (1953).

Thus, while this court has the power to modify and overrule its former decisions, it does not do so unless it is clearly demonstrated that error has occurred and hardship and injustice will attend a continuation of the rule of law. Gravier v. Gravier, Supra.

Lex loci delicti has been uniformly applied in this State on at least three occasions by this Court, ten times by the intermediate appellate courts and in not less than three reported decisions in the Federal District Courts. A rule of law so firmly established should not be abandoned without some compelling reason.

Asserting that the Louisiana courts have never been urged to abandon the Lex loci doctrine, plaintiff advocates its abolition now. In its place plaintiff would have this Court substitute the 'grouping of contracts' theory of liability in tort cases announced in Babcock v. Jackson, 12 N.Y.2d 473, 240 N.Y.S.2d 743, 191 N.E.2d 279 (1963), or the related theory incorporated in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws. In Babcock the Court noted that 'the mechanical formula of the conflicts of [256 La. 298] law' had been abandoned in contract cases and decided:

The 'center of gravity' or 'grouping of contacts' doctrine adopted by this court in conflicts cases involving contracts impresses us as likewise affording the appropriate approach for accommodating the competing interests in tort cases with multi-State contacts. Justice, fairness and 'the bese practical result' (Swift & Co. v. Bankers Trust Co., 280...

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59 practice notes
  • State v. Placid Oil Co., No. 8878
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • December 26, 1972
    ...but there is recognized instead in Louisiana the doctrine of Jurisprudence constante, Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company, 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216, 218 CLASSIFICATION OF SIX MILE LAKE AS A STREAM The trial court properly concluded that the body of water known as Six Mile Lake c......
  • 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
    ...Folk v. York-Shipley, 239 A.2d 236 (Del.1968); McDaniel v. Sinn, 194 Kan. 625, 400 P.2d 1018 (1965); Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216 (1966); Cook v. Pryor, 251 Md. 41, 246 A.2d 271 (1968); Abendschein v. Farrell, 382 Mich. 510, 170 N.W. 2d 137 (1969); Cobb v......
  • State ex rel. LeBlanc v. Henderson, No. 51775
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • March 8, 1972
    ...(see Pringle-Associated Mortgage Corporation v. Eanes, 254 La. 705, 226 So.2d 502, and Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company, 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216). Yet we, who under our oath must obey the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution and respond to the United States Sup......
  • First Nat. Bank in Fort Collins v. Rostek, No. C--317
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • September 24, 1973
    ...Hopkins v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 201 So.2d 749, rev'd on rehearing, 201 So.2d 743 (Fla.1967); Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216 (1966); Landers v. Landers, 153 Conn. 303, 216 A.2d 183 (1966); McGinty v. Ballentine Produce, Inc., 241 Ark. 533, 408 S.W.2d 891......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
59 cases
  • State v. Placid Oil Co., No. 8878
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • December 26, 1972
    ...but there is recognized instead in Louisiana the doctrine of Jurisprudence constante, Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company, 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216, 218 CLASSIFICATION OF SIX MILE LAKE AS A STREAM The trial court properly concluded that the body of water known as Six Mile Lake c......
  • 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
    ...Folk v. York-Shipley, 239 A.2d 236 (Del.1968); McDaniel v. Sinn, 194 Kan. 625, 400 P.2d 1018 (1965); Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216 (1966); Cook v. Pryor, 251 Md. 41, 246 A.2d 271 (1968); Abendschein v. Farrell, 382 Mich. 510, 170 N.W. 2d 137 (1969); Cobb v......
  • State ex rel. LeBlanc v. Henderson, No. 51775
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • March 8, 1972
    ...(see Pringle-Associated Mortgage Corporation v. Eanes, 254 La. 705, 226 So.2d 502, and Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company, 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216). Yet we, who under our oath must obey the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution and respond to the United States Sup......
  • First Nat. Bank in Fort Collins v. Rostek, No. C--317
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • September 24, 1973
    ...Hopkins v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 201 So.2d 749, rev'd on rehearing, 201 So.2d 743 (Fla.1967); Johnson v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 256 La. 289, 236 So.2d 216 (1966); Landers v. Landers, 153 Conn. 303, 216 A.2d 183 (1966); McGinty v. Ballentine Produce, Inc., 241 Ark. 533, 408 S.W.2d 891......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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