This controversy began as a wrongful death action by the widow and surviving children of an employee killed in an explosion of equipment designed, manufactured and supplied by the defendant, who was decedent's employer. The action was commenced in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division, under that court's diversity jurisdiction. Defendant moved to dismiss on the ground that under Utah law, which the federal court was bound to apply in this diversity case,
The federal district court has sought our ruling on whether the exclusive remedy provision of Utah's Workmen's Compensation Act, § 35-1-60, bars plaintiffs' claims against defendant-employer, or whether, as an exception to that rule, plaintiffs can collect (1) for the tort of fraud, which caused his death, or (2) for actions, conduct and relationships attributable to defendant's status as manufacturer and supplier independent of its status as an employer, the so-called "dual capacity doctrine." In this Court, defendant has filed a motion in opposition to acceptance of certification. The issue in this motion is what, if any, response this Court should make to the questions of state law certified by the federal district court.
Approximately 20 states have adopted procedures for ruling on questions of state law certified to them by the federal courts to aid those courts in their application of state law on diversity cases.
To be valid, our Certification Rule must be consistent with Article VIII, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution, which confers jurisdiction on this Court. That section provides:
This section grants no "original jurisdiction" to answer certified questions since certification does not involve one of the writs to which this Court's original jurisdiction is limited. In contrast, Colorado's certification rule, Colo. Appellate Rule 21.1 (as amended, 1976), cited by plaintiffs, is soundly based on the original jurisdiction portion of the Colorado Constitution, which reads: "The supreme court shall have power to issue writs ... and such other original and remedial writs as may be provided by rule of court with authority to hear and determine the same."
The only other source of jurisdiction for this Court's Certification Rule is the sentence in Article VIII, Section 4, which provides: "In other cases the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction only... ." The comparable provision in most state constitutions omits the word only. In the absence of that negative, the constitutional conferral of appellate jurisdiction would be susceptible to the construction that the court's jurisdiction could be enlarged by an exercise of legislative or judicial power, by law or by court rule. Such was the case in In re Elliott, 74 Wn.2d 600, 446 P.2d 347 (1968), cited by plaintiff, where the Washington Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a statute providing for certification. The Washington Constitution grants the Supreme Court "appellate jurisdiction in all actions and proceedings... ."
Similarly, the Florida Supreme Court, in sustaining the constitutionality of certification proceedings in that state, was careful to stress that its ruling dealt with a circumstance which the court characterized as "the absence of a constitutional provision expressly or by necessary implication limiting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to
So far as the parties' briefs and our research have disclosed, Colorado is the only state with an interjurisdictional certification procedure whose constitution grants its supreme court "appellate jurisdiction only." As already noted, Colorado's certification rule is grounded on original rather than appellate jurisdiction. Consequently, even though approximately 20 states have certification procedures — many already approved by their highest courts — none of these states provides any precedent for the certification procedure in Utah. We therefore agree with defendant's argument that this Court's answering of questions of state law certified by the federal courts under our certification rule can be justified only if that type of judicial activity is an exercise of "appellate jurisdiction."
This Court has never defined the term "appellate jurisdiction" as it is used in Article VIII, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution, but there are ample authorities defining the term as used in other constitutions. In two cases concerning its jurisdiction to issue a writ of habeas corpus, the United States Supreme Court defined "appellate jurisdiction" as "the revision of a decision of an inferior court." Ex Parte Bollman, 4 Cranch 75, 101, 2 L.Ed. 554 (1807) (Marshall, C.J.); Ex Parte Watkins, 7 Pet. 568, 573, 8 L.Ed. 786 (1833) (Story, J).
"Appellate jurisdiction" obviously connotes review of the action of an inferior court. "Inferior court" has been appropriately defined as "any court subordinate to the chief appellate tribunal in the particular judicial system."
The procedure devised to permit federal courts to certify questions of state law for state courts to answer is a commendable effort to further the interest of justice through cooperative efforts by state and federal courts. If our constitutional powers permitted us to be involved in that kind of cooperative effort, and if other legal questions unnecessary to the disposition of this case could be resolved,
The Certification Rule of this Court is accordingly withdrawn and the request for certification in this case is dismissed.
MAUGHAN, C.J., and HALL, STEWART and HOWE, JJ., concur.