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Van Dusen v. Barrack

376 U.S. 612 (1964)

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Van Dusen v. Barrack

United States Supreme Court

376 U.S. 612 (1964)

Facts

In October 1960, a large commercial airplane that was scheduled to fly from Boston, Massachusetts, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, crashed in Boston, allegedly resulting from negligence and/or engine failure. More than 100 personal-injury and wrongful-death actions were filed against the airline, manufacturers, and others (collectively, the airline) (defendants) in the District of Massachusetts. Forty wrongful-death actions were filed by personal representatives of the victims (plaintiffs) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In these latter 40 cases, the airline moved under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer the actions to the District of Massachusetts, where most of the witnesses resided and many actions were already pending. The Pennsylvania district court granted the motion to transfer although the victims’ representatives were not qualified to sue as representatives under Massachusetts law, meaning the actions could not have initially been brought by the representatives in Massachusetts. Further, the district court granted the transfer without deciding whether Pennsylvania or Massachusetts state law would apply to the victims’ substantive claims. Pennsylvania law allowed for more favorable victim compensation than Massachusetts in wrongful-death suits. The court of appeals reached a different decision than the district court, holding that a transfer could not be granted unless the victims’ representatives could have initially brought suit in Massachusetts. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Goldberg, J.)

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