Shady Grove, the Rules Enabling Act, and the Application of State Summary Judgment Standards in Federal Diversity Cases
46 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2011 Last revised: 16 May 2012
Although most states have adopted procedural rules for civil actions that are based upon the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, not all state courts have chosen to follow the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Rule 56 in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. Notwithstanding similarities between the language of Rule 56 and corresponding state summary judgment rules, several states have interpreted their own rules more restrictively than the Celotex plurality construed the federal rule. As a result, it is more difficult in those states for a moving party to obtain summary judgment in state court than it is in federal court.
This article summarizes the relevant history of the Erie/Hanna doctrine, including its origins in both the Rules of Decision Act and the Rules Enabling Act, and analyzes Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate Insurance Co., the latest landmark in the Supreme Court’s Erie jurisprudence. It highlights how certain state courts have distinguished their summary judgment rules from the interpretation of the federal rule set forth in Celotex. Finally, it argues that, based upon the controlling precedent from Justice Stevens’ concurring opinion in Shady Grove, a federal court sitting in diversity should apply the state standard for adjudicating a motion for summary judgment if it differs from the Celotex standard. Specifically, the results of several lower court decisions applying Shady Grove suggest that the case has revived the possibility that a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure that otherwise controls the issue in dispute might be invalidated under the Rules Enabling Act as abridging, enlarging, or modifying a substantive right. A lasting (and perhaps unintended) legacy of the fractured Shady Grove case, therefore, may be that it have opened the door to the increased application of state rules – and, potentially, state summary judgment standards – by federal courts sitting in diversity.
Keywords: Erie, summary judgment
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