Ragan v. Merchs. Transfer & Warehouse Co.

337 U.S. 530, 69 S. Ct. 1233 (1949)



Where a cause of action is created by local law, the measure of it is to be found only in local law. It carries the same burden and is subject to the same defenses in the federal court as in the state court. It accrues and comes to an end when local law so declares. Where local law qualifies or abridges it, the federal court must follow suit. Otherwise there is a different measure of the cause of action in one court than in the other, and the principle of the Erie doctrine would be transgressed.


Solely on grounds of diversity of citizenship, petitioner sued in the Federal District Court for Kansas to recover damages for injuries sustained in a highway accident which occurred less than two years before his complaint was filed. Summons, however, was not served until more than two years after the date of the accident. The complaint was filed and the summons issued in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure but Kansas has a two-year statute of limitations applicable to such tort claims. The district court struck the alleged tortfeasors' defense of statute of limitations, granting judgment in the injured party's favor on his complaint for injuries. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, finding that because Kan. Gen. Stat. § 60-308 (1935) provided that commencement of an action occurred upon service of the summons, the injured party had failed to commence his action within the two-year Kansas statute of limitations. The court ruled that the requirement of service of summons within the statutory period was an integral part of the statute of limitations, and thus, the alleged tortfeasor's motion for summary judgment should have been sustained.


Under the Erie doctrine, does a federal court determine validity under a two-year state statute of limitation?




The Court upheld the judgment of the court of appeals, finding that in diversity cases the rights enjoyed under local law should not vary because enforcement of those rights was sought in federal rather than state court. Accordingly, because the injured party would have been barred from recovery in state court for failing to timely commence the action, he should be barred in the federal court.

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