The proper treatment of provisions that specify the extraterritorial scope of statutes has long been a matter of controversy in Conflict of Laws scholarship. This issue is a matter of considerable contemporary interest because the Third Restatement of Conflict of Laws proposes to address such provisions in a way that diverges from how they were treated in the Second Restatement. The Second Restatement treats such provisions—which I call geographic scope limitations—as choice-of-law rules, meaning, inter alia, that the courts will ordinarily disregard them when the forum’s choice-of-law rules or a contractual choice-of-law clause selects the law of a state as the governing law. The Third Restatement does not consider them to be choice-of-law rules, instead maintaining that they are indistinguishable from limitations on the statute’s internal scope, such as a provision specifying that a statute prohibiting vehicles applies only in parks. This means, according to the Third Restatement, that contractual choice-of-law clauses are presumed to select the chosen state’s law subject to their geographic scope limitations, and that the courts of other states are obligated to give effect to such limits when applying the law of the state that enacted the statute with the geographic scope limitation. Indeed, according to the Third Restatement, failure to do so would violate the obligation of U.S. states to give Full Faith and Credit to the laws of sister states.
This article defends the Second Restatement’s understanding of geographic scope limitations as choice-of-law rules. Limits on a statute’s territorial scope are fundamentally different from limits on a statute’s internal scope. When a state enacts a statute and specifies that it applies only to conduct occurring within the state’s territory, or to residents of the state, it has limited the reach of the law out of deference to the legislative authority of other states. The state does not have a different rule for conduct that occurs on the territory of other states or for persons who are not residents. The territorial scope provision tells us only that cases beyond the statute’s specified scope should be governed by the law of a different state. For this reason, such provisions are best understood as choice-of-law rules.
The Third Restatement treats geographic scope limitations as prescribing non-regulation for cases beyond the statute’s specified geographic scope. This understanding of geographic scope limitations is highly implausible and, indeed, either unconstitutionally discriminatory or unconstitutionally arbitrary. Failure to give effect to such provisions does not violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Rather, under the Supreme Court’s analysis in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt, such provisions violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Understood as choice-of-law rules, geographic scope limitations are binding on the courts of the enacting state, and other states may take them into account in determining whether to apply the law of the enacting state. But, if the forum’s choice-of-law rules select the law of the enacting state as the governing law, the constitutional obligation of U.S. states to respect the laws of their sister states poses no impediment to application of the statute’s substantive provisions to cases beyond the statute’s specified geographic scope.
Scholarly Commons Citation
Vázquez, Carlos Manuel, "Extraterritoriality as Choice of Law" (2020). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 2280.