The Erie doctrine requires federal courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction to apply state substantive law if applying federal law would change the outcome of the case. If statutory interpretation methodologies affect the outcomes of cases and state courts give them stare decisis effect, does Erie require federal courts to use state interpretation methodologies when applying state substantive law? This Note examines whether federal courts are already applying state interpretation methodologies when they interpret state statutes by examining state statutory interpretation cases heard in Michigan federal courts interpreting Michigan statutes. This Note examines Michigan state cases because its supreme court established a distinct statutory interpretation methodology that it uses as precedent for all cases. For the most part, federal courts do not appear to use Michigan statutory interpretation techniques when they interpret Michigan law. Instead, they use a variety of inconsistent tests. This Note argues that a better approach would be for the federal courts to apply Erie to statutory interpretation and use state interpretation methods to interpret state statutes. This Note adds to the current statutory interpretation literature by examining how lower federal courts interpret federal and state statutes and investigating whether they treat both sets differently. Because more than 99 percent of statutory interpretation cases do not reach the U.S. Supreme Court, how lower courts interpret statutes matters for case outcomes and for litigants gauging their likelihood of success.
J. Stephen Tagert,
To Erie or Not to Erie: Do Federal Courts Follow State Statutory Interpretation Methodologies?,
66 Duke Law Journal
Available at: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/dlj/vol66/iss1/5