Burlington Northern Railroad Co. v. Woods

408 U.S. 1 (1987)


Alabama had a statute that imposed a 10 percent damage penalty for any party that appealed a court decision and lost that appeal. The penalty was applied even if the losing party had not taken a frivolous appeal. There is no such rule in federal courts except under Appellate Rule 38 which provides for discretionary costs if the appeal is frivolous. The federal rules are silent about non-frivolous appeals. Woods (P) sued Burlington (D) in Alabama state court to recover damages for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. D removed the case to a Federal District Court having diversity jurisdiction. A jury trial resulted in a judgment of $300,000 P and $5,000 for Cara Woods. D posted bond to stay the judgment pending appeal, and the Court of Appeals affirmed without modification. Ps then moved in the Court of Appeals, pursuant to Ala. Code §12-22-72 (1986), for imposition of that State's mandatory affirmance penalty of 10% of the amount of judgment. D challenged the application of this statute as violative of the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and as a procedural rule . . . inapplicable in federal court under the Erie doctrine. The Court of Appeals summarily granted Ps' motion to assess the penalty and subsequently denied a petition for rehearing.