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WILT v. SMACK

January 7, 1957

Pauline WILT
v.
Norman H. SMACK



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KRAFT

On November 17, 1955, plaintiff, a Maryland citizen, sued the defendant, a Pennsylvanian, in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware to recover for personal injury and property damage sustained in an automobile accident which occurred in Delaware on November 25, 1954. Defendant was served under the Delaware Non-Resident Motorist Statute. *fn1" This action was dismissed without prejudice on February 14, 1956 for lack of proper venue under the Federal Venue Statute. *fn2"

On June 29, 1956 plaintiff began suit in this court against the same defendant on the same cause of action. On August 6, 1956 defendant answered and pleaded the bar of the Delaware Statute of limitations, *fn3" which precludes a suit for damages for personal injury after a lapse of one year from the date of injury. Defendant, on August 16, 1956, also moved to dismiss the complaint on the same ground, and plaintiff, on August 22, moved to amend her complaint to set forth facts alleged to relate to the prior action and to afford her a basis for relief, under Delaware's Journey's Account Statute, *fn4" from the bar of the Delaware Statute of Limitations.

 Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint and plaintiff's motion to amend it are now before this court.

 A federal court, in determining the applicable statute of limitations, must look to the law of the state in which it is sitting and, hence, this court must look to the law of Pennsylvania. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 85 L. Ed. 1477. Under Pennsylvania law the applicable statute of limitations is determined by the law of the state of the forum. Foley v. Pittsburgh-Des Moines Co., 363 Pa. 1, 68 A.2d 517; Rosenzweig v. Heller, 302 Pa. 279, 153 A. 346. However, the Pennsylvania Borrowing Statute *fn5" provides:

 'When a cause of action has been fully barred by the laws of the state or country in which it arose, such bar shall be a complete defense to an action thereon brought in any of the courts of this commonwealth.'

 Thus, the complete defense provided by this act is available only against an action fully barred by the laws of the state wherein the cause of action arose. Fulkerson v. American Chain & Cable Co., Inc., D.C.W.D.Pa., 72 F.Supp. 334. It is necessary, therefore, to determine whether plaintiff's action was fully barred in Delaware when it was begun in this court.

 The Delaware Journey's Account Statute provides, in pertinent part:

 '(a) if in any action duly commenced within the time limited therefor in this Chapter, * * * the writ is abated, or the action otherwise avoided or defeated by the death of any party thereto, or for any matter of form, * * * a new action may be commenced, for the same cause of action, at any time within 1 year after the abatement or other determination of the original action, * * *.'

 The pivotal question is whether, under this act, the dismissal of an action for lack of proper venue is an abatement of the writ or an avoidance or defeat of an action for any matter of form. Since no court of Delaware has yet addressed itself to this question we are guided by decisions of other courts involving similar legislation.

 Statutes of Journey's Account originated in England *fn6" and have long existed, in varying forms, among the states. The courts have construed them liberally in furtherance of their purpose -- to enable controversies to be decided upon substantive questions rather than upon procedural technicalities. Sachs v. Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 7 Cir., 131 F.2d 134; Haught v. Continental Oil Co., 192 Okl. 345, 136 P.2d 691; Greulich v. Monnin, 142 Ohio St. 113, 50 N.E.2d 310, 149 A.L.R. 477; Hayden v. Caledonia Nat'l Bank, 112 Vt. 491, 28 A.2d 389, 142 A.L.R. 1178; People ex rel. Jefferson Hotel Corp. v. Woodward, 178 Misc. 397, 34 N.Y.S.2d 362; Johnston v. Sikes, 56 Conn. 589; Coffin v. Cottle, 16 Pick., Mass., 383.

 Of abatement of the writ, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts said, in Woods v. Houghton, 1 Gray, Mass., 580, 583;

 In Johnston v. Sikes, supra, the court stated, 56 Conn. at page 591:

 'The latter phrase (referring to matter of form) should not be considered in a narrow or technical sense as restricted to defects of allegation or ordinary matters of abatement, for these have been covered by the first part of the act. When therefore the words are added, 'or the action is otherwise avoided or defeated by the death of the party or for any matter of form' the obvious intention was to make the statute exceedingly broad and sweeping in its scope. The phrase 'any matter of form' was used in contradiction to matter of substance, as embracing the real ...


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