Murphy et al v. McGriff Transportation Inc et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 8/15/2012. (AVC)
2012 Aug-15 AM 10:32
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
THERESA MURPHY, et. al.,
MCGRIFF TRANSPORTATION, INC.,
Case No.: 2:11-CV-02754-RDP
This matter is before the court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 28).
The Motion has been fully briefed, and on June 29, 2012, the court heard argument on the statute of
limitations issue raised in Defendants’ Motion.
Sean Murphy, deceased, was an employee of Defendant McGriff Transportation, Inc. as a
commercial truck driver. On August 5, 2009, at 2:10 p.m., while traveling northbound down Ochs
Highway, on the Tennessee side of Lookout Mountain, Murphy was involved in a motor vehicle
accident when the truck he was driving left the roadway and rolled off the side of a mountain near
Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a result of the accident, Sean Murphy was declared dead at the scene.1
On August 2, 2011, the Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for
the Northern District of Alabama. The question before this court is whether the one-year Tennessee
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court of
Cullman County, Alabama that the Estate of Sean Murphy, deceased, was not entitled to benefits
under Alabama’s Worker’s Compensation Act. A Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Alabama
Supreme court on this issue has been denied.
statute of limitations or the two-year Alabama statute of limitations applies to Plaintiffs’ wrongful
A federal court sitting in diversity applies the choice of law rules of the state in which it sits.
Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487 (1941). In Alabama, the traditional choice
of law rule of lex loci delicti governs tort causes of action and requires that the substantive law of
the place where the tort occurred must be employed, while procedural law of the forum state is to
be applied. Alabama Great So. R.R. v. Carroll, 97 Ala. 126, 11 So. 803 (1892). Accordingly, this
court must apply the procedural rules of Alabama, but the substantive law of Tennessee. Therefore,
the question becomes how Alabama regards Tennessee’s particular statute of limitations – i.e., is it
procedural or substantive.
It is generally recognized in Alabama that statutes of limitations are procedural. However,
an overview of Alabama case law demonstrates that the issue here is not so straight forward. In
Battles v. Pierson Chevrolet, Inc., 290 Ala. 98, 274 So.2d 281 (1973), the Supreme Court of
Alabama stated that the statute of limitations of the forum state controls, unless the accident occurred
and the cause of action arose in a jurisdiction which has a so-called “built-in” statute of limitations.
In such a case, an Alabama court will apply the statute of limitations of the foreign state where the
“limitation is so inextricably bound up in the statute creating the right that it is deemed a portion of
the substantive right itself.” Department of Revenue v. Lindsey, 343 So.2d 535, 537 (Ala. Civ. App.
1978). In Bodnar v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 392 So.2d 1161 (Ala.1981), the Alabama Supreme Court
muddied the water by holding that the Alabama trial court in that case must apply the statute of
limitations of Georgia, the state in which an alleged wrongful death had occurred, because the
Georgia limitations period was a matter of Georgia “public policy,” even though Georgia’s wrongful
death statute did not have a “built-in” limitations period.
In Sanders v. Liberty National Life Ins. Co., 443 So.2d 909 (Ala.1983), the Alabama
Supreme Court explained this concept as follows: “In other words, the limitation[s period] must be
found to be a part of the ‘public policy’ of the foreign state.” Id. at 912. That is, where the foreign
state has a “public policy” against allowing a plaintiff to bring suit after a certain period of time has
elapsed, then the limitations period of the foreign state is considered to be substantive rather than
procedural. And in such a case, the foreign state’s limitations period would apply rather than
Under Tennessee law, while there is no specific statute of limitations contained within
Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, Tennessee “courts have uniformly applied the one-year statute
of limitations contained in § 28-3-104 governing actions for personal injuries to actions for wrongful
death.” Collier v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div., 657 S.W.2d 771, 774 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1983).
In McDaniel v. Mulvihill, 263 S.W.2d 759, 762 (Tenn. 1953), the Tennessee Supreme Court
stated that “the Tennessee General Assembly has declared its public policy to be that an action for
such a death be instituted within one year.” The court further stated, “Every nation or state must
have the right to settle the time within which suits must be brought or may be litigated in its own
courts.” McDaniel, 263 S.W.2d at 762 (citing Gassaway v. Hopkins, 38 Tenn. 583, 592 (1858)).
Plaintiffs seek to discount McDaniel because that court had before it a prior version of the
statute of limitations at issue here, not the current version. This court concludes that distinction is
without merit. More recently, in Wyatt v. A-Best Co.,Inc., 910 S.W.2d 851, 855 (Tenn. 1995), the
Tennessee Supreme Court cited Spence v. Miles Laboratories, Inc., 810 F.Supp. 952, 963 (E.D.
Tenn. 1992) with approval where it noted that the Tennessee statute of limitations at issue was the
public policy of the state. Admittedly, Spence addressed a different statute of limitations. But the
Wyatt court addressed the statute at issue here: Tenn.Code Ann. § 28–3–104 (1995). The Wyatt
court reiterated that, “statutes of limitations and repose represent ‘public policy which affords
plaintiffs what the legislature deems to be a reasonable time to present their claims; and it protects
defendant and the courts from having to deal with stale cases where the search for the truth and
justice may be seriously impeded by the death or disappearance of witnesses, fading memories,
disappearance of documents or other loss of material evidence.’”
Thus, although the one-year Tennessee statute of limitations is not “built-in” to the wrongful
death statute, Tennessee courts have stated that such statutes are part of the public policy of that
state. Therefore, this court must conclude that the one-year statute of limitations is considered
substantive by the state of Tennessee and that it must be applied in this case.
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s wrongful death claims are barred by Tennessee’s
one-year statute of limitations, and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 28) is due
to be granted.
DONE and ORDERED this
day of August, 2012.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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