State Law in a Federal Court

In Ryman v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., case no. 06-35630 (9th Cir. Oct. 12, 2007), the Ninth Circuit reiterates some very basic rules for a federal court to interpret state law. The district court refused to apply state law precedent to a matter of state law because (1) the precedent was from the state’s intermediate appellate court rather than the state’s highest court, and (2) the intermediate court’s opinion had been criticized by other federal courts.

The Ninth reminds us that neither reason justifies ignoring relevant precedent from a state’s intermediate appellate court. In the absence of a relevant decision from the state’s highest court on a matter of state law, a federal court must follow the decisions of the state’s intermediate appellate court unless “the federal court finds convincing evidence that the state’s supreme court likely would not follow it.”

If you’re new to the blog, you may have missed a few earlier posts regarding related questions on federal court determinations of state law, both of them with links to related articles or blog posts by Howard Bashman at How Appealing.

In A Conundrum on Federal Court Determinations of State Law Issues, I examined the question of whether a federal district court is required to follow circuit court of appeals precedent on state law issues or instead is not bound by the earlier decision if state law developments since the circuit decision have changed the result under state law.

In Follow-Up to “A Conundrum on Federal Court Determinations of State Law Issues,” I noted the disagreement between Bashman and me on the question posed in the earlier post and weighed in on a related question posed by Bashman: whether a circuit court of appeals may revisit a determination of state law without en banc review.

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