David Nuffer

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Judicial Studies (LL.M.)


Duke University School of Law


For 30 years, federal courts have certified questions of state law to the Utah Supreme Court. This thesis examines the history and utility of the process and recommends changes to the process in the federal district court and in the Utah Supreme Court.

The current focus of federal judges in certifying questions is on utility for the case before the court. But certification of questions from a federal court to a state court is an expression of federalism—a humble acknowledgment by a federal authority which is often regarded as supreme that the state is the proper and best authority to declare its own law. Certification of questions is a rare instance of direct communication between state and federal courts, and a chance for both systems to cooperate in resolution of a single case, in their respective roles.

Certification of legal questions from federal courts to state courts has emerged in the last 75 years. Similar purposes were accomplished previously in American law by very cumbersome procedures, and antecedents existed in English law. From Florida’s adoption of the first statutory certification procedure in 1945 through a 1960 U.S. Supreme Court endorsement of certification and promulgation of the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act, all states except North Carolina have adopted a certification procedure.

The Utah procedure and practice began in 1975 with a rule later found to violate the Utah Constitution. But in 1984, a constitutional authorization paved the way for a valid process which has been used regularly, and most frequently in the last three years since a justice of the Utah Supreme Court became a district judge in the District of Utah.

Thirty years of experience with certification in Utah federal and state courts is thoroughly examined in this thesis. Case histories and court practices demonstrate the usefulness of certification in Utah. But the thesis also suggests changes to Utah certification, by adoption of a new rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah; by changes to the applicable Utah Rule of Appellate Procedure; and by changed practices of judges and lawyers. This thesis can serve as the basis for reflection, discussion and improvement between participants in the process of certification.

This thesis also suggests other areas of study for the future, some related to Utah’s experience and other more general topics. Utah’s foundation for certification of questions from the federal court to the Utah Supreme Court has been laid. And now the process can be refined and improved for the future.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Appellate procedure, Jurisdiction, Court rules, Utah, Judicial process