About Conflicts Of Law
There is a conflict of laws when a legal cause of action implicates the substantive law of more than one jurisdiction, and some determination must be made as to which law correctly applies. A good way to conceptualize “conflict of laws” is to think of its resolution, which is making a “choice of law” to resolve a legal issue. The outcome of this process may require a court in one jurisdiction to apply the law of a different jurisdiction.
The conflict may be between federal and state laws, among state laws, or between the laws of different nations. Because the jurisdiction of federal courts is limited by the constitution, federal courts must follow a complex, different set of rules from those of state courts for determining the correct law to apply when the laws conflict. The primary and obvious question is, which law should be used in resolving a legal issue?
Conflict of law principles figure more prominently in the United States since there are fifty states, all with their own unique statutory body of law. The United States Constitution in Article 4 (1) requires that every state give full credit to the judicial proceedings of other states. The Supreme Court has ruled countless times that this constitutional provision mandates that every state must treat a judgment rendered in another state as valid, as well as help enforce the judgment.
Up until the first half of the 20th century, most disputes regarding property would be decided by the law of the place where the property was located. Most disputes in tort would be decided by the place where the injury occurred.
This traditional conflict of laws approach came under criticism for being arbitrary and rigid since the laws of a state with no connection to either party would be applied. The only connection would be that a tort or contract claim arose between the parties in that state. For a forum state to apply local state law, it must have sufficient contacts to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Courts then resolved conflicts of law by making one of two choices based on the nature of the conflicting laws, rather than on location of property or where an injury arose.
- Lex fori: When the conflict in laws is related to a procedural matter, courts apply the principle of lex fori – the law of the forum.
- Lex loci: When the conflict in laws is related to a substantive matter, courts apply the principle of lex loci – the law of the place where the cause of action arose.
Many other different approaches and analyses were used by courts in resolving conflicts. The Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law uses the “most significant relationship” test, which considers (1) the needs of the system; (2) relevant policies of the state in which the suit was brought; (3) the relevant policies of all interested states; (4) justified expectations of the parties; (5) certainty, predictability, and uniformity; (6) and ease of administration.
At the end of the day, the conflict of laws is based upon the principle of choosing the most rational law to apply to achieve a fair result.
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