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ERIE RAILROAD CO. V. TOMPKINS, 304 U. S. 64 (1938)

U.S. Supreme Court

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins

No. 367

Argued January 31, 1938

Decided April 25, 1938

304 U.S. 64


1. The liability of a railroad company for injury caused by negligent operation of its train to a pedestrian on a much-used, beaten path on its right-of-way along and near the rails depends, in the absence of a federal or state statute, upon the unwritten law of the State where the accident occurred. Pp. 304 U. S. 71 et seq.

2. A federal court exercising jurisdiction over such a case on the ground of diversity of citizenship, is not free to treat this question as one of so-called "general law," but must apply the state law as declared by the highest state court. Swift v. Tyson, 16 Pet. 1, overruled. Id.

3. There is no federal general common law. Congress has no power to declare substantive rules of common law applicable in a State whether they be local in their nature or "general," whether they be commercial law or a part of the law of torts. And no clause in the Constitution purports to confer such a power upon the federal courts. Except in matters governed by the Federal Constitution or by Acts of Congress, the law to be applied in any case is the law of the State. And whether the law of the State shall be declared by its legislature in a statute or by its highest court in a decision is not a matter of federal concern. P. 304 U. S. 78.

4. In disapproving the doctrine of Swift v. Tyson, the Court does not hold unconstitutional § 34 of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789 or any other Act of Congress. It merely declares that, by applying the doctrine of that case, rights which are reserved by the Constitution to the several States have been invaded. P. 304 U. S. 79.

90 F.2d 603, reversed.

Page 304 U. S. 65

CERTIORARI, 302 U.S. 671, to review the affirmance of a judgment recovered against the railroad company in an action for personal injuries. The accident was in Pennsylvania. The action was in New York, jurisdiction being based on diversity of citizenship

Page 304 U. S. 69

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