HUGHES V. FETTER, 341 U. S. 609 (1951)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hughes v. Fetter, 341 U.S. 609 (1951)

Hughes v. Fetter

No. 355

Argued March 1-2, 1951

Decided June 4, 1951

341 U.S. 609


Appellant administrator brought this action in a Wisconsin state court to recover damages for the death of a decedent who was fatally injured in an automobile accident in Illinois. The complaint was based on the Illinois wrongful death statute, and named as defendants the allegedly negligent driver and an insurance company. Appellant, the decedent, and the individual defendant were residents of Wisconsin; appellant had been appointed administrator under Wisconsin laws, and the insurance company was a Wisconsin corporation. The trial court dismissed the complaint, pursuant to a Wisconsin statute which creates a right of action only for deaths caused in that State, and which establishes a local public policy against Wisconsin courts' entertaining suits brought under the wrongful death acts of other states.

Held: the statutory policy of Wisconsin which excludes from its courts this Illinois cause of action is in contravention of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Federal Constitution. Pp. 341 U. S. 610-614.

(a) The Illinois statute is a "public act" within the meaning of the federal constitutional provision that "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts . . . of every other State." P. 341 U. S. 611.

(b) Wisconsin cannot escape its constitutional obligation to enforce the rights and duties validly created under the laws of other states by the simple device of removing jurisdiction from courts otherwise competent. P. 341 U. S. 611.

(c) Wisconsin's policy against entertaining suits under the wrongful death acts of other states must give way, in the circumstances of this case, to the strong unifying principle embodied in the Full Faith and Credit Clause looking toward maximum enforcement in each state of the obligations or rights created or recognized by the statutes of sister states. Pp. 341 U. S. 611-613.

(d) Assuming that the doctrine of forum non conveniens might, under some circumstances, justify a forum state in refusing to accord full faith and credit to acts of sister states, the Wisconsin statutory policy cannot be considered as an application of that doctrine, since this case is not one which lacks a close relationship with Wisconsin. Pp. 341 U. S. 612-613.

257 Wis. 35, 42 N.W.2d 452, reversed.

Page 341 U. S. 610

Appellant's action in a Wisconsin court, to recover damages for a wrongful death arising out of an accident which occurred in Illinois, was dismissed pursuant to the provisions of a Wisconsin statute. The State Supreme Court affirmed. 257 Wis. 35, 42 N.W.2d 452. On appeal to this Court, reversed and remanded, p. 341 U. S. 614.

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