CANADIAN NORTHERN RY. CO. V. EGGEN, 252 U. S. 553 (1920)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Canadian Northern Ry. Co. v. Eggen, 252 U.S. 553 (1920)

Canadian Northern Railway Company v. Eggen

No. 281

Argued March 1, 1920

Decided April 19, 1920

252 U.S. 553




The "privileges and immunities" clause of the Constitution, Art. IV, § 2, protects rights which are in their nature fundamental, including the right of a citizen of one state to institute and maintain action in the courts of another; but in that respect the requirement is satisfied if the nonresident be given access to the courts upon terms that are reasonable and adequate for enforcing whatever rights he may have, even though the terms be not the same as are accorded to resident citizens. P. 252 U. S. 562.

The power is in the courts, ultimately in this one, to decide whether the terms allowed the nonresident are reasonable and adequate. Id., .

A Minnesota statute, in force since 1858, provides that, when a cause of action has arisen outside of the state and, by the laws of the place

Page 252 U. S. 554

where it arose, an action thereon is there barred by lapse of time, no such action shall be maintained in the state unless the plaintiff be a citizen thereof who has owned the cause of action ever since it accrued. Held constitutional as applied to an action in Minnesota by a citizen of South Dakota against a Canadian corporation for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff in Canada, the Canadian limitation in such cases being one year, whereas the time allowed in Minnesota, apart from the above provision, is six yeas. P. 252 U. S. 559.

255 F.9d 7 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 252 U. S. 558

MR. JUSTICE CLARKE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The only question presented for decision in this case is as to the validity of § 7709 of the Statutes of Minnesota (General Statutes of Minnesota 1913), which reads:

"When a cause of action has arisen outside of this state, and, by the laws of the place where it arose, an action thereon is there barred by lapse of time, no such action shall be maintained in this state unless the plaintiff be a citizen of the state who has owned the cause of action ever since it accrued."

The circuit court of appeals, reversing the district

Page 252 U. S. 559

court, held this statute invalid for the reason that the exemption in favor of citizens of Minnesota rendered it repugnant to Article IV, § 2, of the Constitution of the United States, which declares that "[t]he citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states."

The action was commenced in the District Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota, Second Division, by the respondent, a citizen of North Dakota, against the petitioner, a corporation organized under the laws of the Dominion of Canada, to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by him on November 29, 1913, when employed by the petitioner as a switchman in its yards at Humboldt, in the Province of Saskatchewan. The respondent, a citizen and resident of North Dakota, went to Canada and entered the employ of the petitioner as a switchman a short time prior to the accident complained of. He remained in Canada for six months after the accident, and then returned to live in North Dakota. He commenced this action on October 15, 1915, almost two years after the date of the accident. By the laws of Canada, where the cause of action arose, an action of this kind must be commenced within one year from the time injury was sustained. If the statute of Minnesota above quoted is valid, it is applicable to the action, which, being barred in Canada, cannot be maintained in Minnesota by a nonresident plaintiff. If, however, the statute is invalid, the general statute of limitations of Minnesota, allowing a period of six years within which to commence action, would be applicable. The record properly presents the claim of the petitioner that the circuit court of appeals erred in holding the statute involved unconstitutional and void.

It is plain that the act assailed was not enacted for the purpose of creating an arbitrary or vexatious discrimination against nonresidents of Minnesota.

Page 252 U. S. 560

It has been in force ever since the state was admitted into the Union in 1858; it is in terms precisely the same as those of several other states, and in substance it does not differ from those of many more. It gives a nonresident the same rights in the Minnesota courts as a resident citizen has, for a time equal to that of the statute of limitations where his cause of action arose. If a resident citizen acquires such a cause of action after it has accrued, his rights are limited, precisely as those of the nonresident are, by the laws of the place where it arose. If the limitation of the foreign state is equal to or longer than that of the Minnesota statute, the nonresident's position is as favorable as that of the citizen.

It is only when the foreign limitation is shorter than that of Minnesota, and when the nonresident who owns the cause of action from the time when it arose has slept on his rights until it is barred in the foreign state (which happens to be the respondent's case), that inequality results,and for this we are asked to declare a statute unconstitutional which has been in force for 60 years.

This Court has never attempted to formulate a comprehensive list of the rights included within the "privileges and immunities" clause of the Constitution, Article IV, § 2, but it has repeatedly approved as authoritative the statement by Mr. Justice Washington, in 1825, in Corfield v. Coryell, 4 Wash. C.C. 371 (the first federal case in which this clause was considered), saying: "We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental." 83 U. S. 75; Blake v. McClung, 172 U. S. 239, 172 U. S. 248; Chambers v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 207 U. S. 142, 207 U. S. 155. In the Corfield@ case, the court included in a partial list of such fundamental privileges "the right of a citizen of one state . . . to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of" another.

Page 252 U. S. 561

The State of Minnesota, in the statute we are considering, recognized this right of citizens of other states to institute and maintain suits in its courts as a fundamental right, protected by the Constitution, and, for one year from the time his cause of action accrued, the respondent was given all of the rights which citizens of Minnesota had under it. The discrimination of which he complains could arise only from his own neglect.

This is not disputed, nor can it be fairly claimed that the limitation of one year is unduly short, having regard to the likelihood of the dispersing of witnesses to accidents such as that in which the respondent was injured, their exposure to injury and death, and the failure of memory as to the minute details of conduct on which questions of negligence so often turn. Thus, the holding of the circuit court of appeals comes to this -- that the privilege and immunity clause of the Constitution guarantees to a nonresident precisely the same rights in the courts of a state as resident citizens have, and that any statute which gives him a less, even though it be an adequate, remedy is unconstitutional and void.

Such a literal interpretation of the clause cannot be accepted.

From very early in our history, requirements have been imposed upon nonresidents in many, perhaps in all, of the states as a condition of resorting to their courts which have not been imposed upon resident citizens. For instance, security for costs has very generally been required of a nonresident, but not of a resident, citizen, and a nonresident's property in many states may be attached under conditions which would not justify the attaching of a resident citizen's property. This Court has said of such requirements:

"Such a regulation of the internal affairs of a state cannot reasonably be characterized as hostile to the fundamental rights of citizens of other states. . . .

Page 252 U. S. 562

It has never been supposed that regulations of that character materially interfered with the enjoyment by citizens of each state of the privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution to citizens of the several states."

Blake v. McClung, 172 U. S. 239, 172 U. S. 256.

The principle on which this holding rests is that the constitutional requirement is satisfied if the nonresident is given access to the courts of the state upon terms which in themselves are reasonable and adequate for the enforcing of any rights he may have, even though they may not be technically and precisely the same in extent as those accorded to resident citizens. The power is in the courts, ultimately in this Court, to determine the adequacy and reasonableness of such terms. A man cannot be said to be denied, in a constitutional or in any rational sense, the privilege of resorting to courts to enforce his rights when he is given free access to them for a length of time reasonably sufficient to enable an ordinarily diligent man to institute proceedings for their protection.

This is the principle on which this Court has repeatedly ruled that contracts were not impaired in a constitutional sense by change in limitation statutes which reduced the time for commencing actions upon them, provided a reasonable time was given for commencing suit before the new bar took effect. 84 U. S. 632; Tennessee v. Sneed, 96 U. S. 69; Antoni v. Greenhow,@ 107 U. S. 769, 107 U. S. 774.

A like result to that which we are announcing was reached with respect to similar statutes, in Chemung Canal Bank v. Lowery, 93 U. S. 72; by the Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, in Aultman & Taylor Co. v. Syme, 79 F.2d 8; in Klotz v. Angle, 220 N.Y. 347, and in Robinson v. Oceanic Steam Navigation Co., 112 N.Y. 315, 325. In this last case, the Court of Appeals of New York pertinently says:

Page 252 U. S. 563

"A construction of the constitutional limitation [the one we are considering] which would apply it to such a case as this would strike down a large body of laws which have existed in all the states from the foundation of the government, making some discrimination between residents and nonresidents in legal proceedings and other matters."

The laws of Minnesota gave to the nonresident respondent free access to its courts for the purpose of enforcing any right which he may have had for a year -- as long a time as was given him for that purpose by the laws under which he chose to live and work -- and, having neglected to avail himself of that law, he may not successfully complain because his expired right to maintain suit elsewhere is not revived for his benefit by the laws of the state to which he went for the sole purpose of prosecuting his suit. The privilege extended to him for enforcing his claim was reasonably sufficient and adequate, and the statute is a valid law.

It results that the judgment of the circuit court of appeals must be reversed, and that of the district court affirmed.


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