Rule 302 – Applying State Law to Presumptions in Civil Cases

In a civil case, state law governs the effect of a presumption regarding a claim or defense for which state law supplies the rule of decision.

Summary and Explanation

Federal Rule of Evidence 302 deals with the application of state law to presumptions in civil cases when federal jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship. This rule is a part of the United States Federal Rules of Evidence, which are applied in federal court proceedings.

Key aspects of Rule 302 include:

  1. State Law in Diversity Cases: In civil cases where the federal court’s jurisdiction is based on the diversity of citizenship of the parties (meaning the parties are from different states or countries), the rule states that state law governs the effect of presumptions.
  2. Presumptions Defined: A presumption is a legal rule that allows a court to assume a fact is true until it is rebutted by evidence. The effect of a presumption can include shifting the burden of producing evidence or even the burden of persuasion to the party against whom the presumption is directed.
  3. Federal vs. State Law: When federal law applies, such as in federal question cases (cases arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States), federal rules on presumptions apply. However, Rule 302 specifically addresses situations where state law provides the rule of decision, ensuring that state legal principles are respected in the federal system.
  4. Practical Implication: This rule ensures that in diversity cases, the legal principles regarding presumptions from the relevant state are applied. This maintains consistency with how the case would be treated if it were tried in a state court.

Federal Rule of Evidence 302 specifies that in civil cases under federal jurisdiction due to diversity of citizenship, the effect of presumptions is determined by state law. This rule is important for ensuring that state legal principles are applied appropriately in the federal system, particularly in situations where state law governs the substantive issues of the case.


(Pub. L. 93–595, §1, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1931; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Proposed Rules

A series of Supreme Court decisions in diversity cases leaves no doubt of the relevance of Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938), to questions of burden of proof. These decisions are Cities Service Oil Co. v. Dunlap, 308 U.S. 208, 60 S.Ct. 201, 84 L.Ed. 196 (1939), Palmer v. Hoffman, 318 U.S. 109, 63 S.Ct. 477, 87 L.Ed. 645 (1943), and Dick v. New York Life Ins. Co., 359 U.S. 437, 79 S.Ct. 921, 3 L.Ed.2d 935 (1959). They involved burden of proof, respectively, as to status as bona fide purchasers, contributory negligence, and non-accidental death (suicide) of an insured. In each instance the state rule was held to be applicable. It does not follow, however, that all presumptions in diversity cases are governed by state law. In each case cited, the burden of proof question had to do with a substantive element of the claim or defense. Application of the state law is called for only when the presumption operates upon such an element. Accordingly the rule does not apply state law when the presumption operates upon a lesser aspect of the case, i.e. “tactical” presumptions.

The situations in which the state law is applied have been tagged for convenience in the preceding discussion as “diversity cases.” The designation is not a completely accurate one since Erie applies to any claim or issue having its source in state law, regardless of the basis of federal jurisdiction, and does not apply to a federal claim or issue, even though jurisdiction is based on diversity. Vestal, Erie R.R. v. Tompkins: A Projection, 48 Iowa L.Rev. 248, 257 (1963); Hart and Wechsler, The Federal Courts and the Federal System, 697 (1953); 1A Moore, Federal Practice 0.305[3] (2d ed. 1965); Wright, Federal Courts, 217–218 (1963). Hence the rule employs, as appropriately descriptive, the phrase “as to which state law supplies the rule of decision.” See A.L.I. Study of the Division of Jurisdiction Between State and Federal Courts, §2344(c), p. 40, P.F.D. No. 1 (1965).

Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment

The language of Rule 302 has been amended as part of the restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.

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