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Abstract

In McLinn, the Ninth Circuit significantly departed from the practice of the other circuits, and from its own prior practice, when it rejected the deferential standard of review normally applied to a federal district court's interpretation of state law. This Note discusses the Ninth Circuit's decision in McLinn and examines the deferential standard employed in the other circuits and in the United States Supreme Court. The Note takes the position that McLinn was correct in rejecting the former practice of accepting a district court's interpretations of state law unless clearly wrong, but that McLinn went too far in holding that a district court's rulings on unclear state law are entitled to no deference. The Note asserts that neither fairness to the parties nor concern for reaching the most accurate determination of state law is furthered by the McLinn decision. An appellate court, inexperienced in the law of the state, should not be given unlimited freedom to second guess the district court as to how a state court will eventually rule on an issue. When a question of state law is unsettled, resulting in little or no guidance to the federal courts in deciding how the state courts would rule on a question, then the experience of the federal district court judge in state law matters should play a significant role on appeal. The Note concludes that, absent a means for accurately predicting how a state's courts will one day decide a matter of state law, a deferential standard of review similar to that applied by the other circuits provides the most reliable and judicially prudent result.