Iacurci v. Lummus Company/Opinion of the Court

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Per Curiam Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Harlan

United States Supreme Court

387 U.S. 86

Iacurci  v.  Lummus Company

 Argued: May 15, 1967. ---


Petitioner, whose husband was killed while testing the operation of a 'skip hoist,' brought this diversity action claiming that respondent had negligently designed the hoist. The Trial Judge submitted this question to the jury in the form of a special interrogatory which asked that the jury, if it found negligent design, 'please indicate' which of five specified design aspects of the hoist had been found unsafe. The jury was to answer 'Yes' or 'No' with respect to each of the five enumerated factors. The jury returned a special verdict for petitioner, answering one of the five subsections of the interrogatory in petti oner's favor and leaving the other four unanswered. The Trial Judge denied respondent's motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict, and respondent appealed.

The Court of Appeals in its principal opinion [*] concluded that 'we must take it that they (the jury) found that Lummus' negligence was not established' as to the four aspects of design covered by the unanswered subsections of the interrogatory. The court then held that the evidence did not support the jury's finding of negligence as to the fifth aspect of design and reversed the trial court's judgment with instructions to enter judgment for respondent. Petitioner sought rehearing in the Court of Appeals, noting her timely objection to the trial court's use of the special interrogatory and arguing that the Court of Appeals had improperly restricted its review of the evidence to the one aspect of design. Rehearing was denied, one judge again dissenting, and this petition for a writ of certiorari followed.

We do not share the Court of Appeals' confidence as to the meaning, in light of the trial court's instructions, of the jury's failure to answer four subdivisions of the interrogatory. Perhaps the jury intended to resolve these questions in respondent's favor; but the jury might have been unable to agree on these issues, or it simply might not have passed upon them because it concluded that respondent had negligently designed the hoist in another respect. In either of the latter two situations, petitioner would clearly deserve a new trial, at least as to these unresolved issues of negligence. See Union Pac. R. Co. v. Bridal Veil Lumber Co., 9 Cir., 219 F.2d 825; 5 Moore, Federal Practice P49.03(4), at 2208 (1964 ed.). Under these circumstances, we think the Court of Appeals erred in directing entry of judgment for respondent; the case should have been remanded to the Trial Judge, who was in the best position to pass upon the question of a new trial in light of the evidence, his charge to the jury, and the jury's verdict and interrogatory answers. Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 50(d). See Neely v. Martin K. Eby Construction Co., 386 U.S. 317, 87 S.Ct. 1072, 18 L.Ed.2d 75; Weade v. Dichmann, Wright & Pugh, Inc., 337 U.S. 801, 69 S.Ct. 1326, 93 L.Ed. 1704. Accordingly, the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for a writ of certiorari are granted, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated insofar as it directed entry of judgment for respondent, and the case is remanded with instructions to remand to the District Court to determine whether petitioner is entitled to a new trial. It is so ordered. Judgment of Court of Appeals vacated in part and case remanded with instructions.

Mr. Justice BLACK would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the District Court in favor of petitioner.

Mr. Justice HARLAN (dissenting).

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).