An Erie Obstacle to State Tort Reform
90 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2007
The national wave of tort reform that began in the 1980s wrought procedural and substantive changes in Idaho law. This article focuses on one such change: the 1987 enactment of the Idaho law that restricts the pleading of punitive damages, Idaho Code section 6-1604(2). This law, similar to laws in seven other states, bars punitive damages from an initial complaint and allows a punitive damage claim to be included in an amended complaint only if the plaintiff demonstrates a reasonable likelihood that he or she will prove facts sufficient to recover a punitive damage award at trial. This article address whether this state law restricting the pleading of punitive damages applies in federal-court diversity actions. The federal district courts in Idaho have held that, under the Erie doctrine, the Idaho law does apply in diversity actions. This article argues that those courts are incorrect. The Idaho law and similar state laws restricting the pleading of punitive damages do not apply in federal court because they conflict with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCPs). Moreover, even if the FRCPs are interpreted not to conflict with these state laws, federal courts should still disregard the state laws, in the exercise of the federal courts' inherent power to make procedural rules for their own proceedings that trump state law.
Keywords: federal courts, erie doctrine, state law, diversity actions
JEL Classification: K19, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation