MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
In Russell v. Todd, 309 U.S. 280, 294, we had "no occasion to consider the extent to which federal courts, in the exercise of the authority conferred upon them by Congress to administer equitable remedies, are bound to follow state statutes and decisions affecting those remedies." The
In May, 1930, Van Sweringen Corporation issued notes to the amount of $30,000,000. Under an indenture of the same date, petitioner, Guaranty Trust Co., was named trustee with power and obligations to enforce the rights of the noteholders in the assets of the Corporation and of the Van Sweringen brothers. In October, 1930, petitioner, with other banks, made large advances to companies affiliated with the Corporation and wholly controlled by the Van Sweringens. In October, 1931, when it was apparent that the Corporation could not meet its obligations, Guaranty cooperated in a plan for the purchase of the outstanding notes on the basis of cash for 50% of the face value of the notes and twenty shares of Van Sweringen Corporation's stock for each $1,000 note. This exchange offer remained open until December 15, 1931.
Respondent York received $6,000 of the notes as a gift in 1934, her donor not having accepted the offer of exchange. In April, 1940, three accepting noteholders began suit against petitioner, charging fraud and misrepresentation. Respondent's application to intervene in that suit was denied, 117 F.2d 95, and summary judgment in favor of Guaranty was affirmed. Hackner v. Morgan, 130 F.2d 300. After her dismissal from the Hackner litigation, respondent, on January 22, 1942, began the present proceedings.
The suit, instituted as a class action on behalf of non-accepting noteholders and brought in a federal court solely because of diversity of citizenship, is based on an alleged breach of trust by Guaranty in that it failed to protect the interests of the noteholders in assenting to the exchange offer and failed to disclose its self-interest when sponsoring the offer. Petitioner moved for summary judgment, which was granted, upon the authority of the Hackner case. On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals, one Judge dissenting,
In view of the basis of the decision below, it is not for us to consider whether the New York statute would actually bar this suit were it brought in a State court. Our only concern is with the holding that the federal courts in a suit like this are not bound by local law.
We put to one side the considerations relevant in disposing of questions that arise when a federal court is adjudicating a claim based on a federal law. See, for instance, Board of Comm'rs v. United States, 308 U.S. 343; Deitrick v. Greaney, 309 U.S. 190; D'Oench, Duhme & Co. v. F.D.I.C., 315 U.S. 447; Clearfield Trust Co. v. United States, 318 U.S. 363; O'Brien v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 113 F.2d 539. Our problem only touches transactions for which rights and obligations are created by one of the States, and for the assertion of which, in case of diversity of the citizenship of the parties, Congress has made a federal court another available forum.
Our starting point must be the policy of federal jurisdiction which Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, embodies. In overruling Swift v. Tyson, 16 Pet. 1, Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins did not merely overrule a venerable case. It overruled a particular way of looking at law which dominated the judicial process long after its inadequacies had been laid bare. See, e. g., Field, J., dissenting in Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Baugh, 149 U.S. 368, 391; Holmes, J., dissenting in Kuhn v. Fairmont Coal Co., 215 U.S. 349,
This impulse to freedom from the rules that controlled State courts regarding State-created rights was so strongly rooted in the prevailing views concerning the nature of law, that the federal courts almost imperceptibly were led to mutilating construction even of the explicit command given to them by Congress to apply State law in cases purporting to enforce the law of a State. See § 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 92. The matter was fairly summarized by the statement that "During the period when Swift v. Tyson (1842-1938) ruled the decisions of the federal courts, its theory of their freedom in matters of general law from the authority of state courts pervaded opinions of this Court involving even state statutes or local law." Vandenbark v. Owens-Illinois Co., 311 U.S. 538, 540.
In relation to the problem now here, the real significance of Swift v. Tyson lies in the fact that it did not enunciate novel doctrine. Nor was it restricted to its particular situation. It summed up prior attitudes and expressions in cases that had come before this Court and lower federal courts for at least thirty years, at law as well as in equity.
In exercising their jurisdiction on the ground of diversity of citizenship, the federal courts, in the long course of their history, have not differentiated in their regard for State law between actions at law and suits in equity. Although § 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 92, 28 U.S.C. § 725, directed that the "laws of the several states . . . shall be regarded as rules of decision in trials at common law . . .," this was deemed, consistently for over a hundred years, to be merely declaratory of what would in
Partly because the States in the early days varied greatly in the manner in which equitable relief was afforded and in the extent to which it was available, see, e.g., Fisher, The Administration of Equity Through Common Law Forms (1885) 1 L.Q. Rev. 455; Woodruff, Chancery in Massachusetts (1889) 5 L.Q. Rev. 370; Laussat, Essay on Equity in Pennsylvania (1826), Congress provided that "the forms and modes of proceeding in suits . . . of equity"
This does not mean that whatever equitable remedy is available in a State court must be available in a diversity suit in a federal court, or conversely, that a federal court may not afford an equitable remedy not available in a State court. Equitable relief in a federal court is of course subject to restrictions: the suit must be within the traditional scope of equity as historically evolved in the English Court of Chancery, Payne v. Hook, 7 Wall. 425, 430; Atlas Ins. Co. v. Southern, Inc., 306 U.S. 563, 568; Sprague v. Ticonic Bank, 307 U.S. 161, 164-165; a plain, adequate and complete remedy at law must be wanting, § 16, 1 Stat. 73, 82, 28 U.S.C. § 384; explicit Congressional curtailment of equity powers must be respected, see, e.g., Norris-LaGuardia Act, 47 Stat. 70, 29 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.; the constitutional right to trial by jury cannot be evaded, Whitehead v. Shattuck, 138 U.S. 146. That a State may authorize its courts to give equitable relief unhampered
Inevitably, therefore, the principle of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, an action at law, was promptly applied to a suit in equity. Ruhlin v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 304 U.S. 202.
And so this case reduces itself to the narrow question whether, when no recovery could be had in a State court because the action is barred by the statute of limitations, a federal court in equity can take cognizance of the suit because there is diversity of citizenship between the parties. Is the outlawry, according to State law, of a claim created by the States a matter of "substantive rights" to be respected by a federal court of equity when that court's jurisdiction is dependent on the fact that there is a State-created
Matters of "substance" and matters of "procedure" are much talked about in the books as though they defined a great divide cutting across the whole domain of law. But, of course, "substance" and "procedure" are the same key-words to very different problems. Neither "substance" nor "procedure" represents the same invariants. Each implies different variables depending upon the particular problem for which it is used. See Home Ins. Co. v. Dick, 281 U.S. 397, 409. And the different problems are only distantly related at best, for the terms are in common use in connection with situations turning on such different considerations as those that are relevant to questions pertaining to ex post facto legislation, the impairment of the obligations of contract, the enforcement of federal rights in the State courts and the multitudinous phases of the conflict of laws. See, e.g., American Railway Express Co. v. Levee, 263 U.S. 19, 21; Davis v. Wechsler, 263 U.S. 22, 24-25; Worthen Co. v. Kavanaugh, 295 U.S. 56, 60; Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 248-49; and see Tunks, Categorization and Federalism: "Substance" and "Procedure" After Erie Railroad v. Tompkins (1939) 34 Ill. L. Rev. 271, 274-276; Cook, Logical and Legal Bases of Conflict of Laws (1942) 163-165.
Here we are dealing with a right to recover derived not from the United States but from one of the States. When, because the plaintiff happens to be a non-resident, such a right is enforceable in a federal as well as in a State court, the forms and mode of enforcing the right may at times, naturally enough, vary because the two judicial systems are not identic. But since a federal court adjudicating a State-created right solely because of the diversity of citizenship of the parties is for that purpose, in effect, only another court of the State, it cannot afford recovery
And so the question is not whether a statute of limitations is deemed a matter of "procedure" in some sense. The question is whether such a statute concerns merely the manner and the means by which a right to recover, as recognized by the State, is enforced, or whether such statutory limitation is a matter of substance in the aspect that alone is relevant to our problem, namely, does it significantly affect the result of a litigation for a federal court to disregard a law of a State that would be controlling in an action upon the same claim by the same parties in a State court?
It is therefore immaterial whether statutes of limitation are characterized either as "substantive" or "procedural" in State court opinions in any use of those terms unrelated to the specific issue before us. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins was not an endeavor to formulate scientific legal terminology. It expressed a policy that touches vitally the proper distribution of judicial power between State and federal courts. In essence, the intent of that decision was to insure that, in all cases where a federal court is exercising jurisdiction solely because of the diversity of citizenship of the parties, the outcome of the litigation in the federal court should be substantially the same, so far as legal rules determine the outcome of a litigation, as it would be if tried in a State court. The nub of the policy that underlies Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins is that for the same transaction the accident of a suit by a non-resident litigant in a federal court instead of in a State court a block away should not lead to a substantially different result. And so, putting to one side abstractions regarding "substance" and "procedure," we have held that in diversity cases the federal courts must follow the law of the State as to burden of proof, Cities Service Co. v. Dunlap, 308 U.S. 208, as to conflict of laws, Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Co.,
Plainly enough, a statute that would completely bar recovery in a suit if brought in a State court bears on a State-created right vitally and not merely formally or negligibly. As to consequences that so intimately affect recovery or non-recovery a federal court in a diversity case should follow State law. See Morgan, Choice of Law Governing Proof (1944) 58 Harv. L. Rev. 153, 155-158. The fact that under New York law a statute of limitations might be lengthened or shortened, that a security may be foreclosed though the debt be barred, that a barred debt may be used as a set-off, are all matters of local law properly to be respected by federal courts sitting in New York when their incidence comes into play there.
Prior to Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins it was not necessary, as we have indicated, to make the critical analysis required by the doctrine of that case of the nature of jurisdiction of the federal courts in diversity cases. But even before Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, federal courts relied on statutes of limitations of the States in which they sat. In suits at
To make an exception to Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins on the equity side of a federal court is to reject the considerations of policy which, after long travail, led to that decision. Judge Augustus N. Hand thus summarized below the fatal objection to such inroad upon Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins: "In my opinion it would be a mischievous practice to disregard state statutes of limitation whenever federal courts think that the result of adopting them may be inequitable. Such procedure would promote the choice of United States rather than of state courts in order to gain the advantage of different laws. The main foundation for the criticism of Swift v. Tyson was that a litigant in cases where federal jurisdiction is based only on diverse citizenship may obtain a more favorable decision by suing in the United States courts." 143 F.2d 503, 529, 531.
Diversity jurisdiction is founded on assurance to non-resident litigants of courts free from susceptibility to potential local bias. The Framers of the Constitution, according to Marshall, entertained "apprehensions" lest distant suitors be subjected to local bias in State courts, or, at least, viewed with "indulgence the possible fears and apprehensions" of such suitors. Bank of the United States
Dicta may be cited characterizing equity as an independent body of law. To the extent that we have indicated, it is. But insofar as these general observations go beyond that, they merely reflect notions that have been replaced by a sharper analysis of what federal courts do when they enforce rights that have no federal origin. And so, before the true source of law that is applied by the federal courts under diversity jurisdiction was fully explored, some things were said that would not now be said. But nothing that was decided, unless it be the Kirby case, needs to be rejected.
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE.
I dissent. If the policy of judicial conservatism were to be followed in this case, which forbids deciding constitutional
But the Court conceives itself confronted with the necessity for making that determination and in doing so overturns a rule of decision which has prevailed in the federal courts from almost the beginning. I am unable to assent to that decision, for reasons stated by the Court of Appeals
If any characteristic of equity jurisprudence has descended unbrokenly from and within "the traditional scope of equity as historically evolved in the English Court of Chancery," it is that statutes of limitations, often in terms applying only to actions at law, have never been deemed to be rigidly applicable as absolute barriers to suits in equity as they are to actions at law.
Moreover, the decision of today does not in so many words rule that Congress could not authorize the federal courts to administer equitable relief in accordance with the substantive rights of the parties, notwithstanding state courts had been forbidden by local statutes of limitations to do so. Nevertheless the implication to that effect seems strong, in view of the reliance upon Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins.
The words "substantive" and "procedural" or "remedial" are not talismanic. Merely calling a legal question by one or the other does not resolve it otherwise than as a purely authoritarian performance. But they have come to designate in a broad way large and distinctive legal domains within the greater one of the law and to mark, though often indistinctly or with overlapping limits, many divides between such regions.
One of these historically has been the divide between the substantive law and the procedural or remedial law to be applied by the federal courts in diversity cases, a division sharpened but not wiped out by Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins and subsequent decisions extending the scope
This division, like others drawn by the broad allocation of adjective or remedial and substantive, has areas of admixture of these two aspects of the law. In these areas whether a particular situation or issue presents one aspect or the other depends upon how one looks at the matter. As form cannot always be separated from substance in a work of art, so adjective or remedial aspects cannot be parted entirely from substantive ones in these borderland regions.
Whenever this integration or admixture prevails in a substantial measure, so that a clean break cannot be made, there is danger either of nullifying the power of Congress to control not only how the federal courts may act, but what they may do by way of affording remedies, or of usurping that function, if the Erie doctrine is to be expanded judicially to include such situations to the utmost extent.
It may be true that if the matter were wholly fresh the barring of rights in equity by statutes of limitation would seem to partake more of the substantive than of the remedial phase of law. But the matter is not fresh and it is not without room for debate. A long tradition, in the states and here, as well as in the common law which antedated both state and federal law, has emphasized the remedial character of statutes of limitations, more especially in application to equity causes, on many kinds of issues requiring differentiation of such matters from more clearly and exclusively substantive ones. We have recently reaffirmed the distinction in relation to the power of a state to change its laws with retroactive effect, giving renewed vigor if not new life to Campbell v. Holt, 115 U.S. 620.
Finally, this case arises from what are in fact if not in law interstate transactions.
Applicable statutes of limitations in state tribunals are not always the ones which would apply if suit were instituted in the courts of the state which creates the substantive rights for which enforcement is sought. The state of the forum is free to apply its own period of limitations, regardless of whether the state originating the right has barred suit upon it.
It is not clear whether today's decision puts it into the power of corporate trustees, by confining their jurisdictional "presence" to states which allow their courts to give equitable remedies only within short periods of time, to
In my judgment this furnishes added reason for leaving any change, if one is to be made, to the judgment of Congress. The next step may well be to say that in applying the doctrine of laches a federal court must surrender its own judgment and attempt to find out what a state court sitting a block away would do with that notoriously amorphous doctrine.
MR. JUSTICE MURPHY joins in this opinion.