United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
April 29, 2004.
CHRISTINE CHAMPLIN and CHARLIE B. ROMSTAD, as joint personal representatives of the estate of STELLA RIEHL, deceased, Plaintiffs,
BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE CORPORATION, a corporation, et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MORAN, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
The defendants seek to have recovery in this death action governed by
Colorado, rather than Illinois or Iowa, law. Plaintiffs claim that
compensatory damages should be decided under Iowa law. We conclude that
Colorado law should be applied to determine compensatory damages.
Choice-of-law determinations are not mechanistic, as Cortes v. American
Airlines. Inc., 177 F.3d 1272 (11th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1136
(2000), vividly illustrates. The framework for decision is well set out
in Schoeberle v. United States. 2000 WL 1868130 (N.D. III.), objections
overruled, 2001 WL 293085, however, and need not be repeated here.
The parties agree that Illinois choice-of-law principles take us away
from Illinois, either to Iowa or Colorado. Nor is there any question that
Iowa law controls liability issues. Both the conduct causing the injury,
and the injury itself, centers in Iowa. But the decedent was domiciled in
Colorado and had teen for 35 years. She owned property in Iowa, but she
also owned property in Colorado, and the value of none of the properties is
affected by a conflicts determination. Two of the decedent's
beneficiaries live in Colorado. At the time of her death her son, the
third of the beneficiaries, lived in Iowa, but it is not at all clear
that was his domicile. He was temporarily in Iowa to care for his ill
uncle and intended to return to Colorado upon his uncle's death. His
uncle died two days before his mother. Immediately prior to his mother's
death he had every intention of returning to Colorado soon, as he thought
his uncle was dying, and it was his mother's death that changed his
Iowa has little interest in the relief afforded to non-residents, and
the decedent and two of the beneficiaries were non-residents. The other
beneficiary was a resident and perhaps a domiciliary of Iowa, and he
remains a resident. But we do not think that is enough to shift the most
significant relationship with respect to compensatory damages from
Colorado to Iowa. Colorado has made a policy decision about what it
considers to be the fair balance between recovery for wrongful death and
the burdens on whoever is liable, and we conclude that governs.
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