Grunenthal v. Long Island Railroad Company/Dissent Stewart

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United States Supreme Court

393 U.S. 156

Grunenthal  v.  Long Island Railroad Company

 Argued: Oct. 24, 1968. --- Decided: Nov 18, 1968

Mr. Justice STEWART, dissenting.

The Court professes not to consider the petitioner's argument that the Seventh Amendment and 'the Federal Employers' Liability Act itself' prohibit judicial review of a district judge's order refusing to set aside a verdict as excessive. Yet by the very act of proceeding to review the district judge's order in this case, the Court necessarily, and I think quite correctly, completely rejects that argument. I fully agree with the Court and with the 11 courts of appeals that 'nothing in the Seventh Amendment (or in the FELA) precludes appellate review of the trial judge's denial of a motion to set aside an award as excessive.' #fn-s-s [1]

In Dagnello v. Long Island R. Co., 289 F.2d 797, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a thorough and carefully considered opinion written by Judge Medina, articulated the standard to be followed by that court in reviewing a trial judge's refusal to set aside a verdict as excessive:

'If we reverse, it must be because of an abuse of discretion. If the question of excessiveness is close or in balance, we must affirm. The very nature of the problem counsels restraint. Just as the trial judge is not called upon to say whether the amount is higher than he personally would have awarded, so are we appellate judges not to decide whether we would have set aside the verdict if we were presiding at the trial, but whether the amount is so high that it would be a denial of justice to permit it to stand. We must give the benefit of every doubt to the judgment of the trial judge; but surely there must be an upper limit, and whether that has been surpassed is not a question of fact with respect to which reasonable men may differ, but a question of law. * * *' Id., at 806.

I believe this standard of judicial review is the correct one and can think of no better way to verbalize it.

In the present case Judge Medina again wrote the prevailing opinion. This Court criticizes that opinion for not setting out 'a detailed appraisal of the evidence bearing on damages.' But the Court of Appeals devoted several paragraphs to a review of all the relevant particulars of the petitioner's financial loss and physical injuries, concluding its discussion of the evidence with the following passage:

'(G)iving Grunenthal the benefit of every doubt, and weighing the evidence precisely in the same manner as we did in Dagnello, where the large sum allowed was found not to be excessive, we cannot in any rational manner consistent with the evidence arrive at a sum in excess of $200,000.' 388 F.2d 480, 484.

While it is arguable that a fuller written factual discussion might have been in order, I can find no reason to suppose that the Court of Appeals did not apply the standard of judicial review that it said it was applying-the standard of the Dagnello case. Since I believe that standard to be the correct one, and since I further believe that review of issues of this kind in individualized personal injury cases should be left primarily to the courts of appeals, I would affirm the judgment.


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