Burlington N. R. Co. v. Woods

480 U.S. 1, 107 S. Ct. 967 (1987)



In resolving conflicts between state law and the federal rules, the initial step is to determine whether, when fairly construed, the scope of the federal rule is "sufficiently broad" to cause a "direct collision" with the state law or, implicitly, to "control the issue" before the court, thereby leaving no room for the operation of that law. The rule must then be applied if it represents a valid exercise of Congress' rulemaking authority, which originates in the U.S. Constitution and has been bestowed on the court by the Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2072.


Respondents sued Burlington Railroad to recover damages for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. Petitioner removed the case to a federal district court based upon proof of diversity jurisdiction. The trial court entered judgment in favor of respondents after a jury trial. Petitioner posted bond to stay the judgment pending appeal, and the court of appeals affirmed without modification. It then granted respondents' motion pursuant to Ala. Code § 12-22-72 (1986), for a mandatory affirmance penalty (based on a state statute). Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari to review the applicability of the mandatory affirmance penalty.


Should a federal court, sitting in diversity, apply a state statute that would authorize penalties in conflict with federal rules?




The United States Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the mandatory affirmance penalty based on a state statute had no application to the judgment entered by a federal court sitting in diversity because it conflicted with Fed. R. App. P. 38. Since federal and state rules are in conflict, it has been decided that the federal rule must control, except when it is unconstitutional or if it abridges, enlarges, or modifies any substantive right. In this case, since the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure remain presumptively valid, the federal rule must be followed.

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