The Erie Doctrine – “We Choose the Law. Toughum Shittum.”


Erie is eerie. (had to do it). In the most influential of all Supreme Court rulings, with regard to power and Constitutional interpretation. 10th Amendment. I like this one. Most of us have forgotten the whole “if we didn’t sat you could do it then you can friggin’ do it.” amendment. The framers put this in here at bookend number 10 for a reason. So we could have a lot of freedom and fewer regulation. Especially from those pesky courts and annoying lawyeerses.

Ah, so Erie. Erie Railroad v. Tompkins. Why there is no movie is beyond me. Man walks down dingy, gritty road in nowhere Pennsylvania. Man sees train approaching. No friggin’ biggie. Alas! The door of one of the cars is open and it knockethed his arm off. Yeah. Trains go fast.

So negligence action is put into motion. Loco-motion. Here’s where we get silly. In Federal Court, Mr. Half-the-man-I-used-to-be is a trespasser and would be denied any recovery unless there was wanton misconduct. Under Penn. law, he would be a licensee and would only have to show negligent negligence, the kind we all know and love. Garden variety.

You can guess which side wanted which court… Well, law said that since Armless Tompkins was a Pennsylvanian and Erie was a New York company, diversity was in order and federal court was the proper venue. Tompkins was sad. He recovered nada. He also failed to grow back his arm.

Appeals galore ensued until the freakin’ Supreme Court granted certiorari. It is great to be granted certiorari. It is also the hardest word to spell. I digress.

Certiorari is the permission to talk to the big guys and gals about your case and why it was decided wrongly. After hearing the arguments, the Supreme Court created what was and will forever be known as th Erie Doctrine which stipulates that, even though diversity applied and the federal court had jurisdiction, they are obligated under law to take into account local law when presiding over such a case where it would directly affect the outcome.

Tompkins won in the end. Great story. I hear that, with all the money he won, he is now a Rap Mogul producing such acts as: Dedos non-entiros, and Nuclear Arms (minus one).



One thought on “The Erie Doctrine – “We Choose the Law. Toughum Shittum.”

  1. Originating from some family railroaders in my background, when I first read Erie it sounded unrealistic. Having read multitudes of railroading magazines while growing up I had no memory of any rolling stock with out swing doors so the story immediately struck me as odd. Doing some net searching I finally found some pics of rolling stock with out swing doors, naturally located in New York city. Still, knowing the layouts of yards having such stock being used on the line and running thru yards the distance between spurs being minimal the fact of the doors swinging out presents an immediate hazard to yard men. It doesn’t seem sensible to use such a stock on the line and yards. Too much hazard as if the yardmen didn’t have enough hazard.

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