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WEDDINGTON v. JACKSON

June 15, 1971

Edna WEDDINGTON, Individually and Robin Weddington, a minor, by Edna Weddington, her custodial parent and next friend,
v.
Patricia JACKSON


Higginbotham, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HIGGINBOTHAM

HIGGINBOTHAM, District Judge.

 On plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the underlying issue is the validity of a release executed in Germany, without judicial approval, by the parents of a minor in settlement of a minor's tort claim. The plaintiff contends that as a matter of law, giving effect to such a release would violate the public policy of either Indiana or Pennsylvania -- the jurisdictions which allegedly have the most significant contacts with the parties and occurrences in the present controversy, and that, therefore, this Court should find the release invalid. In the alternative, plaintiff contends that even if Germany is found to have the most significant contacts with the parties and occurrences, Pennsylvania would nevertheless refuse to give effect to the release because it is violative of the public policy of Pennsylvania. After full consideration of the difficult problems raised by the present motion, I have concluded, in accordance with the reasons set forth herein, that Germany has the most significant contacts with the parties and occurrences in question, and that, therefore, the law of Germany should be applied to determine the validity of the release. Second, I have concluded that the release in question, if valid under the law of Germany, is not violative of the public policy of Pennsylvania, and, therefore, may be given effect in this jurisdiction. The issue of whether the release is valid under German law, however, is left open at this time.

 The background facts relevant to the determination of the present motion may be summarized as follows. On September 11, 1965, while in the vicinity of the American military personnel housing complex in Augusburg, Germany, the plaintiff was struck by an automobile operated by the defendant Patricia Jackson. It is alleged that as a result of this accident, plaintiff sustained extensive and permanent injuries, including serious injuries to the left and right lower extremities, to the abdominal wall and the region of the colon, disfigurement of her arms, legs, abdomen and right wrist, psychosis and neurosis arising out of the humiliation connected with the disfigurement, and the inability to walk without a limp.

 On October 22, 1965, Robin's parents, Glenn and Edna L. Weddington, executed a release in satisfaction of any claim which Robin might have against the defendant, her husband, and defendant's insurer. The release, witnessed by an attorney apparently retained by the parents of the plaintiff, provided for the payment of $5,000 and "medical, hospital, and doctor's costs". It was executed without court approval, which is not required under German law.

 At the time of both the accident and the execution of the release, Robin resided with her parents in Augusburg, Germany, where her father had been assigned to duty by the United States Army. The minor plaintiff is a United States citizen and presently resides in Indiana with her mother. The defendant Patricia Jackson is also a United States citizen. At the time of the accident and the execution of the release, the defendant was in Augusburg, Germany accompanying her husband, who also had been assigned to duty there by the United States Army. The defendant was born in Pennsylvania and except for her absence while accompanying her husband on military assignments, has apparently been a lifetime resident of Pennsylvania. *fn1"

 In the present action, Robin Weddington, suing as a minor by her mother and next friend, seeks to recover damages for injuries sustained as a result of the automobile accident in question.

 The defendant asserts that the release, which is alleged to be valid under German law, bars any recovery by the minor plaintiff. By motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff seeks a determination that under the "significant contacts" or "center of gravity" approach to choice of law problems enunciated in Griffith v. United Air Lines, 416 Pa. 1, 203 A. 2d 796 (1964) the release executed in Germany without Court approval is invalid under the law either of Pennsylvania or Indiana, and, therefore, can be given no effect in the present action.

 At the outset, it is clear that in a diversity action, the District Court is bound to apply the choice of law rule of the jurisdiction in which it sits. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 85 L. Ed. 1477 (1941).

 In Griffith v. United Air Lines, 416 Pa. 1, 203 A. 2d 796 (1964) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the rule that "torts should be governed by the local law of the state which has the most significant relationship with the occurrence and the parties." 203 A. 2d at 802. The Court concluded that the place of injury rule for determining the choice of law in a tort action "should be abandoned in Pennsylvania in favor of a more flexible rule which permits analysis of the policies and interests underlying the particular issue before the court." 203 A. 2d at 805. In adopting this rule, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court quoted with approval from a decision of the New York Court of Appeals holding that "[justice,] fairness, and the 'best practical result' * * * may best be achieved by giving controlling effect to the law of the jurisdiction which, because of its relationship or contact with the occurrence or the parties has the greatest concern with the specific issue raised in the litigation." Babcock v. Jackson, 12 N.Y. 2d 473, at 481, 240 N.Y.S. 2d 743, at 749, 191 N.E.2d 279, at 283 (1963). 203 A. 2d at 805.

 In light of the choice of law principle adopted in Griffith, the first question before the Court is whether under Pennsylvania law the "significant contacts" principle is applicable in contract actions. The policy sustaining Griffith, and the Pennsylvania and Third Circuit decisions following it, indicate that the grouping of contacts, or center of gravity approach does apply in contract actions. Griffith was instituted by an executor on behalf of a decedent who, after purchasing a ticket in Philadelphia for a flight to Phoenix, was killed when the plane crashed while attempting a scheduled stop at Denver, Colorado. The cause of action asserted by the executor was that United had breached its "contract of non-negligent carriage" in regard to the decedent. 203 A. 2d at 799. Although the plaintiff characterized his action as founded on breach of contract -- in order to avoid the effect of a Colorado statute limiting recovery in wrongful death actions -- the Court recognized that the "recovery sought is clearly a tort recovery -- damages to decedent's estate as a result of decedent's negligently caused death." 203 A. 2d at 800. In spite of the contract label supplied by the plaintiff, the cause of action asserted in Griffith was viewed by the Court as founded in tort, rather than contract. There is, however, no indication in Griffith that the Court's justification of the significant contacts principle was limited to cases of tort.

 In Mannke v. Benjamin Moore & Co., 375 F.2d 281 (3rd Cir. 1967) the Third Circuit followed Griffith in holding that the validity of a release must be tested according to the law of the jurisdiction which was the "center of gravity" of the contest and which had "the most significant contacts with the matter in dispute." 375 F.2d at 283. In light of Mannke v. Benjamin Moore, Griffith, and other recent decisions, *fn2" I conclude that the grouping of contacts principle of Griffith should be applied to resolve the choice of law problems regarding the release in question.

 IV

 The contacts of the various jurisdictions with the occurrences and parties may be ...


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