Submitted: May 11, 1993
Filed: June 11, 1993
Jeffrey T. Jones
Hunt, Lee, Farrell & Kessler
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorney for the Appellant
William Richard McCune, Jr.
Tammy Mitchell Bittorf
Jackson & Kelly
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellees
The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
1. "'Under Section 1, Article IV of the Constitution of the United States, the judgment or decree of a court of record of another state will be given full faith and credit in the courts of this State, unless it be clearly shown by pleading and proof that the court of such other state was without jurisdiction to render the same, or that it was procured through fraud.' Syllabus Point 1, Johnson v. Huntington Moving & Storage, Inc., 160 W. Va. 796, 239 S.E.2d 128 (1977)." Syllabus Point 2, Gonzalez Perez v. Romney Orchards, Inc., 184 W. Va. 20, 399 S.E.2d 50 (1990).
2. "'Under the full faith and credit clause of the
federal constitution [United States Constitution, Article IV,
Section 1], the courts of this state may not refuse to enforce a
judgment of another state because it involves some contravention of
the public policy of this state.' Point 4, Syl., International
Harvester Company of America v. Solazo, 116 W. Va. 34 [178 S.E. 429
(1935)]." Syllabus Point 5, Paull v. Cook, 135 W. Va. 833, 65
S.E.2d 750 (1951).
In these certified questions, we are asked to consider
whether a judgment of the Circuit Court of Allegheny County,
Maryland, is so contrary to our public policy that we should not
enforce it in a suit pending in the Circuit Court of Hampshire
The underlying facts are not in dispute. The plaintiff,
Steven G. Clark, was injured in an automobile accident in Hampshire
County on March 10, 1989. He was a passenger in a vehicle owned by
Jeanette and Randolph Imler and driven by Robert A. Rockwell. The
Imler vehicle was insured with a liability policy limit of $50,000,
which was paid to the plaintiff. The driver of the Imler vehicle,
Mr. Rockwell, had a separate liability policy for $100,000 and it
also was paid to the plaintiff.
Mr. Clark's mother had an insurance policy issued by
Aetna with an underinsured motorist coverage of $50,000 per person
and $100,000 per accident. The Aetna policy was issued in Maryland
by a Maryland insurance agent. Mr. Clark, who resided with his
mother in Maryland, sought to take advantage of this coverage.
Under Maryland law, there was no underinsured motorist
coverage because the liability coverage could be used as an offset
to the underinsured motorist coverage. Aetna filed a motion for
declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court of Allegheny County in
Cumberland, Maryland, asking that the court declare Maryland law to
control the underinsured motorist payments.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Clark filed suit for his personal
injuries in the Circuit Court of Hampshire County. The Circuit
Court of Allegheny County, Maryland, determined that Maryland law
governed the case. A copy of its order to that effect was filed
with the Circuit Court of Hampshire County along with a motion to
dismiss the plaintiff's suit. The Circuit Court of Hampshire
County declined to enforce the Maryland judgment, finding that it
was against our public policy. It then certified the issue to this
Court.See footnote 1
We address initially Certified Question No. 2 relating to full faith and credit. In our interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause found in Section 1 of Article IV of the United States Constitution,See footnote 2 we have followed applicable United States Supreme Court cases. In its more recent cases, the Supreme Court rarely attempts to give a full summary of the scope of that clause. The following passage from Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 421, 99 S. Ct. 1182, 1188, 59 L. Ed. 2d 416, 425 (1979), is a typical expression of the Supreme Court's recent interpretation of that clause: "The Full Faith and Credit Clause does require each State to give effect to official acts of other States. A judgment entered in one State must be respected in another provided that the first State had jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter."See footnote 3
Our traditional statement on the extent of the Full Faith
and Credit Clause is reflected in Syllabus Point 2 of Gonzalez
Perez v. Romney Orchards, Inc., 184 W. Va. 20, 399 S.E.2d 50
"'Under Section 1, Article IV of the Constitution of the United States, the judgment or decree of a court of record of another state will be given full faith and credit in the courts of this State, unless it be clearly shown by pleading and proof that the court of such other state was without jurisdiction to render the same, or that it was procured through fraud.' Syllabus Point 1, Johnson v. Huntington Moving & Storage, Inc., 160 W. Va. 796, 239 S.E.2d 128 (1977)."
More to the point of this case is whether the enforcement
of a judgment under the Full Faith and Credit Clause can be
precluded in a sister state on the basis that the judgment rests
upon law that is contrary to the forum state's public policy.
There are some earlier United States Supreme Court cases in which
it appears that public policy considerations might be relevant if
the public policy differential between the two states is
substantial. See Broderick v. Rosner, 294 U.S. 629, 55 S. Ct. 589,
79 L. Ed. 1100 (1935); Milwaukee County v. M.E. White Co., 296 U.S.
268, 56 S. Ct. 229, 80 L. Ed. 220 (1935). However, later cases
appear to hold that the forum state's public policy cannot override
the enforcement of a valid judgment rendered in a sister state.
See, e.g., Morris v. Jones, 329 U.S. 545, 67 S. Ct. 451, 91 L. Ed.
488 (1947); Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U.S. 287, 63 S. Ct.
207, 87 L. Ed. 279 (1942), citing Christmas v. Russell, 72 U.S.
290, 5 Wall. 290, 18 L. Ed. 475 (1866); Riley v. New York Trust
Co., 315 U.S. 343, 62 S. Ct. 608, 86 L. Ed. 885 (1942); Titus v.
Wallick, 306 U.S. 282, 59 S. Ct. 557, 83 L. Ed. 653 (1939). See
also Kerrey v. Supreme Lodge, 252 U.S. 411, 40 S. Ct. 371, 64 L.
Ed. 638 (1920). We recognized the latter principle in Syllabus
Point 5 of Paull v. Cook, 135 W. Va. 833, 65 S.E.2d 750 (1951):
"'Under the full faith and credit clause of the federal constitution [United States Constitution, Article IV, Section 1], the courts of this state may not refuse to enforce a judgment of another state because it involves some contravention of the public policy of this state.' Point 4, Syl., International Harvester Company of America v. Solazo, 116 W. Va. 34 [178 S.E. 429 (1935)]."
Therefore, based on an assumption that the Maryland
court's decision on the insurance policy violates our public
policy, such judgment still will be entitled to full faith and
credit in our courts. Thus, we find the circuit court should have
answered the second certified question in the affirmative and
granted full faith and credit to the Maryland judgment.
With regard to the first certified question relating to whether our public policy on underinsured motorist coverage is violated by Maryland's limited determination, we are controlled by Nadler v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., ___ W. Va. ___, 424 S.E.2d 256 (1992). There, we considered the issue of whether residents of Ohio injured in an automobile accident in West Virginia could have the benefit of our underinsured motorist law based on our public policy even though their insurance policy was issued in Ohio. Their automobile was involved in an accident when a tractor-trailer truck crossed the centerline and struck them on U.S. Route 60 in Greenbrier County. The parties agreed that under Ohio law, where the policy was issued, the underinsured motorist coverage was offset by the amount recovered under applicable liability policies. This same offset exists under Maryland law. The liability payments in Nadler exceeded the underinsured coverage limits and, if Ohio law applied, there could be no recovery. The same factual situation exists in this case.
In Nadler, we began our analysis of the public policy
issue by referring to Lee v. Saliga, 179 W. Va. 762, 373 S.E.2d 345
(1988), where we dealt with our conflict of laws rule on
interpreting underinsured motorist coverage. In Syllabus Point 2
of Nadler, we quoted the conflict of laws rule regarding contracts
developed in Lee v. Saliga, supra:
"'The provisions of a motor vehicle policy will ordinarily be construed according to the laws of the state where the policy was issued and the risk insured was principally located, unless another state has a more significant relationship to the transaction and the parties.' Syllabus Point 2, Lee v. Saliga, 179 W. Va. 762, 373 S.E.2d 345 (1988)."See footnote 4
Although neither Nadler nor Lee involved the enforcement
of a judgment, in Nadler we discussed the relevant public policy
issue. This issue was whether the uninsured motorist coverage law
of another state could be deemed so foreign to our public policy
principles that we would refuse to enforce it in a lawsuit brought
as a result of an automobile accident occurring in this State.
The foregoing issue is essentially the public policy
defense presented in this case. In Nadler, we gave the following
analysis of our public policy with regard to uninsured and
underinsured motorist coverage:
"Our substantive law governing
uninsured and underinsured motorist coverages
in motor vehicle insurance policies is
intended to apply only to insurance
transactions which occur in West Virginia or
which affect the rights and responsibilities
of West Virginia citizens. For this reason,
the public policy of full compensation
underlying our uninsured/underinsured motorist
law is implicated only when the parties and
the transaction have a substantial
relationship with this state. The importance
of the public policy is directly proportional
to the significance of that relationship. The
more marginal the contact West Virginia has
with the parties and the insurance contract,
the less reason there is to consider the
public policy behind our
uninsured/underinsured motorist law as a
factor bearing on the choice of law
determination." ___ W. Va. at ___, 424 S.E.2d
We found in Nadler that the Ohio plaintiffs were bound by
the Ohio law as to the interpretation of their underinsured
motorist coverage since most of the substantial contacts existed in
Ohio with regard to their insurance coverage. We pointed out that
it was not illogical to assume that a resident of Ohio, where the
vehicle is garaged and where the insurance agent is located and the
policy issued, might conclude that the Ohio law covered the
interpretation of the policy coverage. Certainly, such an
assumption would be more logical than the counter-assumption that
the policyholder would believe the policy coverage would be
determined by the laws of the state where the accident occurred.
We, therefore, came to this conclusion in Syllabus Point 3 of
"The mere fact that the substantive law of another jurisdiction differs from or is less favorable than the law of the forum state does not, by itself, demonstrate that application of the foreign law under recognized conflict of laws principles is contrary to the public policy of the forum state."
Thus, under Nadler, there is no conflict between the
public policy of our law and that of Maryland. The circuit court
should have answered Certified Question No. 1 in the negative by
holding that there exists no conflict under Nadler between the
public policies of our State and Maryland with regard to the
enforcement of the underinsured insurance law of a Maryland
insurance policy issued to a Maryland resident on a Maryland
Having answered the certified questions, this action is
Certified questions answered
Footnote: 1The Circuit Court of Hampshire County certified the following two questions to this Court:
Given the undisputed material facts as herein
set forth, should the amount of underinsured
motorist coverage payable to a claimant under
this insurance contract be governed by the
law of the State of Maryland, where the
policy was issued and delivered and the
insured resides, all as set forth in the
Maryland Circuit Court Order of January 9,
1992, or does the law of the State of
Maryland, as interpreted by the Order entered
by the Maryland Circuit Court, violate the
public policy of the State of West Virginia
which would provide underinsured motorist
coverage for the Plaintiff?
Even if the answer to Question No. 1 is that [the] law of the State of Maryland as
interpreted by Order of the Maryland Circuit
Court violates West Virginia's public policy,
should the Maryland Order nevertheless be
accorded full faith and credit in the instant
West Virginia proceeding as required by
W. Va. Code §57-1-12?"
The Circuit Court of Hampshire County answered Question No. 1: "The law of the State of Maryland, as interpreted by the Order of the Maryland Circuit Court violates West Virginia public policy." The trial court answered Question No. 2 in the negative.
Footnote: 2Section 1 of Article IV of the United States Constitution provides: "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof." Congress enacted a general statute with regard to full faith and credit authentication of acts of state legislatures, territories, or possessions and judicial proceedings therein. 28 U.S.C. § 1738. A more detailed statute exists as to full faith and credit as to child custody determinations in 28 U.S.C. § 1738A. W. Va. Code, 57-1-12 (1923), contains authentication language for full faith and credit purposes.
Footnote: 3Perhaps one of the best summaries of the scope of the Full Faith and Credit Clause is found in Milwaukee v. M.E. White Co., 296 U.S. 268, 275-76, 56 S. Ct. 229, 233, 80 L. Ed. 2d 220, 227 (1935):
"A cause of action on a judgment is different from that upon which the judgment was entered. In a suit upon a money judgment for a civil cause of action the validity of the claim upon which it was founded is not open to inquiry, whatever its genesis. Regardless of the nature of the right which gave rise to it, the judgment is an obligation to pay money in the nature of a debt upon a specialty. Recovery upon it can be resisted only on the grounds that the court which rendered it was without jurisdiction. Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 [5 Otto. 714, 24 L. Ed. 565 (1877)]; Tilt v. Kelsey, 207 U.S. 43 [28 S. Ct. 1, 52 L. Ed. 95 (1907)]; or that it has ceased to be obligatory because of payment or other discharge; Anderson v. Clark, 70 Ga. 362 [(1883)]; Haggerty v. Amory, 7 Allen, 458 [89 Mass. 458 (1863)]; First Nat. Bank v. Hahn, 197 Mo. App. 593, 198 S.W. 489 [(1917)]; Revere Copper Co. v. Dimock, 90 N.Y. 33 [(1882), aff'd, 117 U.S. 559, 6 S. Ct. 855, 29 L. Ed. 994 (1886)]; or that it is a cause of action for which the state of the forum has not provided a court, Anglo-American Provision Co. v. Davis Provision Co., 191 U.S. 373 [24 S. Ct. 92, 48 L. Ed. 225 (1903)]; compare Kenney v. Supreme Lodge, L.O.M., 252 U.S. 411 [40 S. Ct. 371, 64 L. Ed. 638, 10 A.L.R. 716 (1920)], unless it is compelled to do so by the privileges and immunities clause; compare Douglas v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co., 279 U.S. 377 [49 S. Ct. 355, 73 L. Ed. 747 (1929)]; McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F.R. Co., 292 U.S. 230 [54 S. Ct. 690, 78 L. Ed. 1227 (1934)], and Broderick v. Rosner, 294 U.S. 629 [55 S. Ct. 589, 79 L. Ed. 1100, 100 A.L.R. 1133 (1935)]; or possibly because procured by fraud, compare Christmas v. Russell, [72 U.S. 290] 5
Wall. 290 [18 L. Ed. 475 (1866)]; Maxwell v.
Stewart, [89 U.S. 77] 22 Wall. 77 [22 L. Ed.
564 (1874)]; Hanley v. Donoghue, 116 U.S. 1
[6 S. Ct. 242, 29 L. Ed. 535 (1885)]; Simmons
v. Saul, 138 U.S. 439 [11 S. Ct. 369, 34 L.
Ed. 1054 (1891)], with Webster v. Reid, [52
U.S. 437] 11 How. 437 [13 L. Ed. 761 (1850)];
McNitt v. Turner, [83 U.S. 352] 16 Wall. 352
[21 L. Ed. 341 (1872)]; Cole v. Cunningham,
133 U.S. 107 [113, 10 S. Ct. 269, 271, 33 L.
Ed. 538, 541 (1890)]."
See also Laing v. Rigney, 160 U.S. 531, 542, 16 S. Ct. 366, 368, 40 L. Ed. 525, 528 (1896) quoting Cornett v. Williamson, 87 U.S. 226, 249-50, 22 L. Ed. 254, 259 (1873) ("'The settled rule of law is that jurisdiction having attached in the original case, everything done within the power of that jurisdiction, when collaterally questioned, is to be held conclusive of the rights of the parties, unless impeached by fraud.'"); Roller v. Murray, 71 W. Va. 161, 76 S.E. 172 (1912) (Syllabus Point 4: "In an action on a judgment of another state the defendant may not plead that the basis of the action was tainted with fraud. The matter is foreclosed by the judgment." Syllabus Point 5: "Fraud in the procurement of a judgment in another state may be pleaded as a defense to an action in this state based on such judgment, but such plea will be deemed insufficient if its allegations are not distinct and particular.").
Footnote: 4This syllabus point was taken substantially from Section 193 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, which we quoted in note 16 of Lee v. Saliga, 179 W. Va. at 769, 373 S.E.2d at 352, and in note 7 of Nadler, ___ W. Va. at ___, 424 S.E.2d at 261.