Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hague - 449 U.S. 302 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hague, 449 U.S. 302 (1980)
Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hague
Argued October 6, 1980
Decided January 13, 1981
449 U.S. 302
Respondent's husband died of injuries suffered when a motorcycle on which he was a passenger was struck by an automobile. The accident occurred in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border. The operators of both vehicles were Wisconsin residents, as was the decedent, who, however, had been employed in Minnesota and had commuted daily to work from Wisconsin. Neither vehicle operator carried valid insurance, but the decedent held a policy issued by petitioner covering three automobiles owned by him and containing an uninsured motorist clause insuring him against loss incurred from accidents with uninsured motorists, but limiting such coverage to $15,000 for each automobile. After the accident, respondent moved to and became a resident of Minnesota, and was subsequently appointed in that State as personal representative of her husband's estate. She then brought an action in a Minnesota court seeking a declaration under Minnesota law that the $15,000 uninsured motorist coverage on each of her late husband's three automobiles could be "stacked" to provide total coverage of $45,000. Petitioner defended on the ground that whether the three uninsured motorist coverages could be stacked should be determined by Wisconsin law, since the insurance policy was delivered in Wisconsin, the accident occurred there, and all persons involved were Wisconsin residents at the time of the accident. The trial court, interpreting Wisconsin law to disallow stacking, concluded that Minnesota's choice of law rules required the application of Minnesota law permitting stacking, and granted summary judgment for respondent. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed.
289 N.W.2d 43, affirmed.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by JUSTICE WHITE, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that Minnesota has a significant aggregation of contacts with the parties and the occurrence, creating state interests, such that application of its law is neither arbitrary nor fundamentally unfair, and, accordingly, the choice of law by the Minnesota Supreme Court does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Pp. 449 U. S. 307-320.
(a) Respondent's decedent was a member of Minnesota's workforce. The State of employment has police power responsibilities towards nonresident employees that are analogous to those it has towards residents, as such employees use state services and amenities and may call upon state facilities in appropriate circumstances. Also, the State's interest in its commuting nonresident employees, such as respondent's decedent, reflects a state concern for the safety and wellbeing of its workforce and the concomitant effect on Minnesota employers. That the decedent was not killed while commuting to work or while in Minnesota does not dictate a different result, since vindication of the rights of the estate of a Minnesota employee is an important state concern. Nor does the decedent's residence in Wisconsin constitutionally mandate application of Wisconsin law to the exclusion of forum law. Employment status is not a sufficiently less important status than residence, when combined with the decedent's daily commute across state lines and the other Minnesota contacts present, to prohibit the choice of law result in this case on constitutional grounds. Pp. 449 U. S. 313-317.
(b) Petitioner was at all times present and doing business in Minnesota. By virtue of such presence, petitioner can hardly claim unfamiliarity with the laws of the host jurisdiction and surprise that the state courts might apply forum law to litigation in which the company is involved. Moreover, such presence gave Minnesota an interest in regulating the company's insurance obligations insofar as they affected both a Minnesota resident and court-appointed representative (respondent) and a longstanding member of Minnesota's workforce (respondent's decedent). Pp. 449 U. S. 317-318.
(c) Respondent became a Minnesota resident prior to institution of the instant litigation. Such residence and subsequent appointment in Minnesota as personal representative of her late husband's estate constitute a Minnesota contact which gives Minnesota an interest in respondent's recovery. Pp. 449 U. S. 318-319.
JUSTICE STEVENS concluded:
1. The Full Faith and Credit Clause did not require Minnesota, the forum State, to apply Wisconsin law to the contract interpretation question presented. Although the Minnesota courts' decision to apply Minnesota law was unsound as a matter of conflicts law, no threat to Wisconsin's sovereignty ensued from allowing the substantive question as to the meaning of the insurance contract to be determined by the law of another State. Pp. 449 U. S. 322-326.
2. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not prevent Minnesota from applying its own law. Neither the "stacking" rule itself nor Minnesota's application of it to these litigants raised any
serious question of fairness. Nor did the Minnesota courts' decision to apply this rule violate due process because that decision frustrated the contracting parties' reasonable expectations. The decision was consistent with due process because it did not result unfairness to either litigant, not because Minnesota had an interest in the plaintiff as resident or the decedent as employee. Pp. 449 U. S. 326-331.
BRENNAN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 449 U. S. 320. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 449 U. S. 332. STEWART, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.