Friday, May 26, 2017

Miller v. Ford Motor Co. (9th Cir. - May 26, 2017)

This is one of those cases in which I'm not entirely sure why the panel decides to certify the state law question to the state supreme court.

More accurately, I know why the panel wants to certify the question.  It wants to make sure that it gets the answer right.

But, at least to me, I have a pretty darn good sense of what the right answer is anyway.

The relevant Oregon statute of limitations says that a products liability suit “must be commenced before the later of . . . ten years . . . or . . . the expiration of any statute of repose for an equivalent civil action in the state in which the product was manufactured."

So what if the state in which the product was manufactured has no statute of repose?  Does that mean that there's no limitations period; i.e., you can sue whenever you want?  Even hundreds of years later?

In my mind, it's fairly clear that the answer is "No."  If there's no statute of repose, then there's no "expiration of any statute of repose".  Which in turn means that the limitations period is ten years.

Straightforward statutory interpretation.  Plus it avoids the manifest absurdity of letting someone sue centuries later.

So I'm not sure the need to get the answer right necessitates the delay necessarily engendered by certifying the question to the Oregon Supreme Court.  Seems to me we can do that on our own fairly well.  (For good measure, if the Oregon courts disagree with our conclusion -- or if the Oregon legislature does, for good measure -- they can always interpret or change the relevant statute themselves.)

My attitude might be a bit different if, as is typically the case in these "certified question" opinions, the panel had highlighted various competing approaches by the lower state courts.  But I don't see anything like that at all here.  It doesn't look like there are competing state court opinions interpreting this statute.  It's instead just a straightforward "What does this statute mean?" issue.

So, unless there's something more here, I might well just have decided this case on my own, without the need to burden another court and engendering a delay in the underlying case.