Certification Of Questions of Law (1995) Summary

The original Uniform Certification of Questions of Law [Act] [Rule] (UCQL) was promulgated by the Uniform Law Commissioners in 1967 and was amended in 1990. But, in 1995, a revision has been accomplished to expand the reach of this useful Act to every court which needs to make use of it.

The UCQL serves a single fundamental principle, that any jurisdiction's own courts should always rule upon a point of that jurisdiction's common law. This logical, sensible principle has been historically difficult to serve in a federal republic such as the United States. There are a variety of conflict-of-laws problems that allow or require a foreign court (meaning a federal court, court of another State, Indian tribal court, or foreign country court) to use a state's law, thereby preventing the principle from being properly served.

The most prominent example involves federal courts. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), required federal courts to apply state law in federal court adjudications. There is no body of applicable federal common law upon which federal courts can rely. If there is no recorded decision on a particular point of law in a State when that state's law is to be relied upon in litigation in a federal court, then the federal court is forced to impose its decision upon the jurisprudence of that State. This is not a satisfactory result in either federal or state jurisprudence. It was the effect of the Erie case that precipitated the original promulgation of the UCQL in 1967.

But the problem also exists from State to State. It is quite possible for a court in one State to apply the substantive law of another State to its adjudication of certain interstate cases. Such a "choice of law" problem is common. But again the adjudicating court is put in the position of deciding another state's law if that other State does not have a case in point. Once again the fundamental principle of each jurisdiction making its own law is lost.

Indian tribal courts and the courts of foreign countries also may borrow state law as governing law. Once again, if conflicts-of-laws principles dictate that the law of a State applies, the adjudicating court is in the uncomfortable position of deciding what that law is if there is no recorded case law on point in the State.

The UCQL is the remedy. It permits the designated court of an adopting State (usually its highest appellate court) to receive a petition from a federal court, a court of another State, an Indian tribal court, a Canadian court, or a Mexican court, which requests the adjudication of a question of law so that the requesting foreign court may apply it in adjudicating a particular case that has come before it. Conversely, the UCQL authorizes a court (usually a trial or appellate court) of an adopting State to certify a question of law for submission to a foreign court for decision.

When all States adopt the UCQL, it will be a relatively simple matter for a court to certify a question of law to a foreign court and to receive a certified question of law from a foreign court. Courts may cooperate in solving their dilemma when there is no existing decision on a given point, and the fundamental principle can be served. Each jurisdiction can make its own law, exactly as it should be.

The main advance made in the 1995 Act is simply the expanded horizon of courts that may certify a question of law. Under the original 1967 Act, only select federal courts and courts of other States could certify a question of law. Under the 1995 Act, all federal courts, the courts of other States, Indian tribal courts, Canadian courts, and Mexican courts may certify a question of law to the applicable court of an adopting State. The objective is to serve the fundamental principle as broadly as possible in the legal climate of the approaching 21st Century.