TO CERTIFY A QUESTION OF LAW FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS.
W. BRILL, Chief Justice
first-semester first-year law student knows of the mystery
and complexity of the Erie doctrine. See,
e.g., Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64
(1938) (establishing the Erie doctrine by holding
that, in diversity cases, federal courts were no longer
"free to exercise an independent judgment as to what the
common law of the state is-or should be, " id.
at 819, but must apply the state's substantive law).
Sitting in diversity, federal judges are obligated to apply
state substantive law, whether statutory or case law, and
federal procedural law. Accordingly, since
Erie's inception in 1938, federal judges are
required to apply state law or, when the law is uncertain, to
predict what the state law is or how the state supreme court
would decide a particular state-law issue.
state law may be outdated, confusing, inconsistent,
nonexistent, at variance with other states, or perhaps wrong.
It does not matter. The federal court is required to predict
or guess what the current state law is. If the federal judge
predicts one result, and a state court the following year
reaches a different conclusion and proclaims a different
state law, the wrongly decided federal decision still stands.
See Bartley v. Sweetser, 319 Ark. 117, 890 S.W.2d
250 (1994) (rejecting the Erie prediction of
Jackson v. Warner Holdings, Ltd., 617 F.Supp. 646
(W.D. Ark. 1985)). If the question involves multiple states,
the issues are compounded. See Nolan v. Transocean Air
Lines, 276 F.2d 280, 281 (2nd Cir. 1960) (stating that
"[o]ur principal task, in this diversity of citizenship
case, is to determine what the New York courts would think
the California courts would think on an issue about which
neither has thought"), judgment set aside by Nolan
v. Transocean Air Lines, 365 U.S. 293 (1961).
unfortunate dilemma existed from 1938 to 2001. But, with the
leadership of the Arkansas Bar and the approval of the people
of Arkansas, amendment 80 provided a solution. Section
2(D)(3) of amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution gives
our supreme court "original jurisdiction to answer
questions of state law certified by a court of the United
States." This court approved a rule to implement the
certification authorized by amendment 80. See Ark.
Sup. Ct. R. 6-8 (2015) (rule adopted in 2002). Further, this
court established its certification requirements in
Longview Production Company v. Dubberly, 352 Ark.
207, 99 S.W.3d 427 (2003) (per curiam).
benefit of this certification method has been well
established over the past fifteen years. We have answered
certified questions from federal district courts, we have
invalidated statutes, and we have given guidance. Since 2013
alone, we have accepted and answered certified questions and
have not refused to accept a single certified question from a
federal district court. See Mendoza v. WIS Int'l,
Inc., 2016 Ark. 157; Integrated Direct Mktg. v.
May, 2015 Ark. 454 (per curiam); Columbia Ins. Grp.
v. Cenark Project Mgmt. Servs., 2015 Ark. 396 (per
curiam); Gafford v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2015 Ark.
110, 459 S.W.3d 277; Dickinson v. SunTrust Nat'l
Mortg. Inc., 2014 Ark. 513, 451 S.W.3d 576; Bowerman
v. Takeda Pharmals. U.S.A., 2014 Ark. 388, 442 S.W.3d
839; Simpson v. Cavalry SPV I, LLC, 2014 Ark. 363,
440 S.W.3d 335; Roeder v. United States, 2014 Ark.
156, 432 S.W.3d 627; Adams v. Cameron Mut. Ins. Co.,
2013 Ark. 475, 430 S.W.3d 675; Smith v. ConAgra Foods,
Inc., 2013 Ark. 502, 431 S.W.3d 200; Lambert v. LQ
Mgmt., LLC, 2013 Ark. 114, 426 S.W.3d 437.
avoids undue federal-court speculation by allowing important
state-law issues to be decided by judges who are much more
familiar with state law and policy. It ensures that the
correct and lasting law will govern the parties themselves
and establishes uniformity and predictability for litigants
statewide. For further discussion of the benefits of
certified questions, see generally Coby W. Logan,
Certifying Questions to the Arkansas Supreme Court: A
Practical Means for Federal Courts in Clarifying Arkansas
State Law, 30 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 85 (2007)
(suggesting changes to Rule 6-8).
instance, Judge Holmes has certified a question of law
regarding mining leases in Izard County. He states that
"there is no controlling precedent in the decisions of
the Supreme Court of Arkansas." Our refusal to answer
this question of law will require him to speculate as to how
we would decide the issue. This supreme court should answer
the question. I believe it is our ...