Pappas v. Philip Morris, Inc., No. 17-3842 (2d Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed a pro se action against Phillip Morris, alleging Connecticut state law liability claims on behalf of her late husband's estate. The district court dismissed some of plaintiff's claims based on its determination that Connecticut law would not allow her to represent the estate pro se. In this case, Connecticut law and federal law conflict on the issue of whether plaintiff can represent the estate pro se.
The Second Circuit held that the district court misread both Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), and Guest v. Hansen, 603 F.3d 15 (2d Cir. 2010), in concluding that Connecticut's rule controlled the circumstances in which a party may appear pro se in federal court. The court held that 28 U.S.C. 1654, and federal rules interpreting it, are procedural in nature and therefore must be applied by federal courts in diversity cases. The court explained that, who may practice law before a federal court is a matter of procedure—which Congress and the federal courts have the power to regulate—notwithstanding contrary state law. In this case, Connecticut's substantive law will not be affected by permitting plaintiff to file motions, conduct depositions, or represent the estate at trial. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment insofar as it dismissed plaintiff's claims under Connecticut law and the derivative consortium claims. The court affirmed the dismissal of the remaining claims based on statute of limitation grounds.