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Haumschild v. Cont'l Cas. Co. - 7 Wis. 2d 130, 95 N.W.2d 814 (1959)

Rule:

Whenever the courts of Wisconsin are confronted with a conflict of laws problem as to which law governs the capacity of one spouse to sue the other in tort, the law to be applied is that of the state of domicile.

Facts:

Appellant plaintiff Jacquelyn Haumschild and Le Roy Gleason were married in November 1956. They lived together as wife and husband until March 1957. During those months, both parties were domiciled in Wisconsin, and Gleason assumed in good faith that the marriage was valid. In March 1958, the marriage was annulled by decree of the circuit court. In December 1956, appellant Haumschild was injured while riding in a motor truck being driven by Gleason. The accident occurred in California. Defendants were Gleason, the insurer of the vehicle, and the two owners of the truck. 

The defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the action on the grounds that under California law one spouse is immune from suit in tort by the other spouse, and that Haumschild by her conduct is estopped to assert the invalidity of her marriage to Gleason. The circuit court granted defendants' motion and dismissed the action. Haumschild appealed.

Issue:

Is the state of domicile to be applied whenever the courts of Wisconsin are confronted with a conflict of laws problem as to which law governs the capacity of one spouse to sue the other in tort?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The appellate court found the question to be one of conflict of laws. The husband and wife were domiciled in Wisconsin, which was also the forum state. Under Wisconsin law, the wife was entitled to bring an action against her husband in tort. However, the accident took place in California, which did not permit interspousal actions. Thus, the court said, the issue was whether Wisconsin law or California law applied. The court noted that in tort cases, the law of the place of the tort ordinarily applied. But the court determined that the interspousal immunity issue was more properly one of family law than tort law. The public policy behind the interspousal immunity doctrine, the court explained, concerned the potential damage to the family that might result if spouses were permitted to sue one another in tort. Thus, the court held that the determination of whether the doctrine applied should be made according to the law of the state of domicile. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment and remanded the case.

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