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Law School Case Brief

Smyth v. Twin State Improvement Corp. - 116 Vt. 569, 80 A.2d 664 (1951)


Where a cause of action arises out of the act done, a court of the locus is normally the forum of convenience for the settlement of the dispute. The probabilities are that the witnesses will be readily available; the law of the state where the act is done will control the consequences of the act. To require a resident to commence his action in a foreign jurisdiction on a tort committed where he lives, and to transport his witnesses to such other state might well make protection of his right prohibitive and in effect permit a foreign corporation to commit a tort away from its home with relative immunity from legal responsibility. Traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice require that a nonresident corporate tort feasor be compelled to defend, in the courts of this state, a cause of action arising out of its tort committed here. This concept does not violate the Due Process Clause since it requires a legal basis for jurisdiction, that is to say, that the foreign corporation must have done a tortious act within the state. It makes no hostile discrimination against foreign corporations, but tends to put them on the same footing as domestic corporations. Literal and precise equality in respect of this matter is not attainable; it is not required. 


The homeowner, a resident of Vermont, owned and occupied a house therein. The builder, a foreign corporation, re-roofed the house and put metal edgings on the sides thereof. While so doing it negligently placed holes in the roof and sides of the buildings that caused it to leak water. The homeowner filed a tort action against the builder for the damage done to his house. The builder filed a motion to dismiss the homeowner's action, which was granted on the ground that the homeowner's complaint failed to recite the requisite jurisdictional facts. The builder sought to support the ruling on the ground that the complaint did not allege the existence of a duty on the part of the builder to the homeowner. 


Was the builder liable to the homeowner even without an existence of duty on the builder's part?




The court reversed the order of trial court and remanded the action. The court disagreed with the builder's contention and held that although the builder gratuitously made repairs, it was still liable to the homeowner. The court held that even a volunteer was liable for an injury negligently inflicted on the property of another. The law imposed an obligation upon everyone who attempted to do anything for another, even gratuitously, to exercise some degree of care and skill in the performance of what he had undertaken, for nonperformance of which duty an action lied. The court found that jurisdiction was proper under V. S. 47, § 1562. Common ideas of justice require that a foreign corporation be subject to suit in the courts of a state where it does a tortious act, when the state so elects, and when the suit is based on such act. Where the cause of action arises out of the act done, the court of the locus is normally the forum of convenience for the settlement of the dispute. 

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