In Shady Grove, the Court considered whether a federal class action was maintainable in a diversity case where state law forbade class actions. The justices were sharply split into shifting majorities. One majority concluded that Rule 23 was not substantive for REA purposes and that it applied, but its members could not agree on why. Four justices thought it was proper to look only at the Federal Rule in question to see whether it addressed substance or procedure on its face. A different majority supported an approach to REA questions that required evaluating state law to determine whether the Federal Rule was substantive. Because those justices forgot the lesson of Hanna v. Plumer, the seminal 1965 REA case, their approach introduced new uncertainties to an area that had been clearer--which was a mistake. The Court's approach to Federal Rules problems from Hanna, in 1965, until Shady Grove, in 2010, is preferable. It provides a historically justifiable bright-line test for how to read a Federal Rule--as concerning only matters to which the Rule directly speaks.
This Article proceeds in four further Parts. Part II briefly summarizes the Erie doctrine and canvasses the Court's approach to the Federal Rules from 1938, when they took effect, to 1965, when the Court decided Hanna. Part III takes a close look at Hanna, which declared that a Federal Rule must speak with read-my-lips clarity to apply to an issue. Hanna did not say that federal courts may read a Rule for more than appears on its face, and Walker v. Armco Steel Co. continued that approach. Part III also discusses the implications of the Hanna analysis and subsequent cases that have applied Hanna's approach. Part IV briefly canvasses the opinions in Shady Grove with respect to the two approaches to REA questions. Part V argues that the Hanna-Walker line of cases exemplifies the proper method of inquiry under the REA and that REA questions need not be as hard as the Court, particularly in Shady Grove, has made them look.
Donald L. Doernberg, Horton the Elephant Interprets the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: How the Federal Courts Sometimes Do and Always Should Understand Them, 42 Hofstra L. Rev. 799 (2014), http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/959/.