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Seals v. Langston Co.

January 13, 1986

SHIRLEY DEHN SEALS, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF DENNIS W. DEHN, DECEASED AND SHIRLEY DEHN SEALS, ADMINISTRATRIX AND PROSEQUENDUM OF DENNIS W. DEHN, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE LANGSTON COMPANY; HARRIS INTERTYPE CORPORATION; THE COMPANY, A SUBSIDIARY OF HARRIS INTERTYPE CORPORATION; THE SAMUEL M. LANGSTON COMPANY; SML CORPORATION; MOLLEN MACHINE COMPANY, INCORPORATED; THE LANGSTON COMPANY, A SUBSIDIARY OF MOLLEN MACHINE COMPANY; JOHN A. DOE COMPANY; JOHN C. DOE COMPANY; REVOLVATOR COMPANY, INC., JOHN E. DOE COMPANY; JOHN F. DOE COMPANY; JOHN G. DOE COMPANY; JOHN H. DOE COMPANY; JOHN I. DOE COMPANY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Camden County.

Furman, Cohen and Ashbey. The opinion of the court was delivered by Cohen, J.A.D.

Cohen

This appeal presents the question whether Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations or New Jersey's two-year statute governs a New Jersey action for damages for injuries and death of a Louisiana resident allegedly caused in Louisiana by a defective machine manufactured in New Jersey by a New Jersey corporation. If it is the former, plaintiff's New Jersey action is time-barred; if the latter, the action may be maintained.

On defendant's motion for summary judgment, the following appeared. Plaintiff's decedent was killed in Louisiana in a job accident involving a machine made in New Jersey by defendant Langston Company, a New Jersey corporation. Plaintiff started suit in Louisiana charging product defect but, as it turned out, it was against a party which had not made the machine. The party moved for judgment on that basis, and it was granted. By the time plaintiff ascertained who the true manufacturer was, Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations barred suit in that state. La.Civ.Code Ann. art. 2315 (West 1979). Plaintiff then started this action within the period permitted by

New Jersey's two-year statute. N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2. Defendant Langston moved for summary judgment, and the Law Division granted the motion and dismissed the action. It held that Louisiana's statute applied because its interest in the action outweighed New Jersey's. It said:

The interest, obviously, is in Louisiana. The interest about which the court should be concerned would be the injured party. * * * The right of the plaintiff was time barred by the one year period of limitations in Louisiana.

We agree and therefore affirm.

The traditional choice-of-law rule is that statutes of limitations are procedural and, therefore, the statute of the forum state will be applied, unless the limitation is a condition of the foreign cause of action. O'Keeffe v. Snyder, 83 N.J. 478, 490 (1980). New Jersey discarded that mechanical rule in Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc., 63 N.J. 130 (1973), a case similar to this one. Heavner was a North Carolina resident. He brought suit in New Jersey against Uniroyal, a New Jersey corporation, for damages he suffered in a North Carolina accident allegedly due to a defective tire he bought in North Carolina. When he commenced suit, it was time-barred in North Carolina but not by our two-year statute of limitations. The Supreme Court held that North Carolina's statute applied. It announced a new test for such cases:

We need go no further now than to say that when the cause of action arises in another state, the parties are all present in and amenable to the jurisdiction of that state, New Jersey has no substantial interest in the matter, the substantive law of the foreign state is to be applied, and its limitation period has expired at the time suit is commenced here, New Jersey will hold the suit barred. In essence, we will "borrow" the limitations law of the foreign state. We presently restrict our conclusion to the factual pattern identical with or akin to that in the case before us, for there may well be situations involving significant interests of this state where it would be inequitable or unjust to apply the concept we here espouse. [63 N.J. at 141].

Like Heavner, the present case is one in which the cause of action arose in another state, the parties were all present in or amenable to the foreign jurisdiction, and the foreign state's period of limitations had expired. Here, however, we must determine if New Jersey has no substantial interest in the

matter and if the substantive law of Louisiana would be applied. We must make those determinations in the light of a noticeable difference between Heavner and the present case. That difference is that in Heavner New Jersey was not the place of manufacture of the allegedly defective tire. ...


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