Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.

PETITIONER: Byrd
RESPONDENT: Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.
LOCATION: Hazlehurst Manufacturing Company

DOCKET NO.: 57
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 356 US 525 (1958)
REARGUED: Apr 28, 1958 / Apr 29, 1958
DECIDED: May 19, 1958
ARGUED: Jan 28, 1958

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 28, 1958 (Part 2) in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 28, 1958 in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 29, 1958 in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 28, 1958 (Part 1) in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.

Earl Warren:

Number 57, James Earl Byrd versus Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative Incorporated.

Mr. Hammer --

Henry Hammer:

May it please --

Earl Warren:

-- you may proceed.

Henry Hammer:

-- Your Honors.

This case is here on a writ certiorari granted to review to decision of the court below.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which reversed a District Court judgment entered upon a jury verdict in favor of the petitioner and remanded it with directions to enter judgment for the respondent company on the ground of its affirmative defense and then reversed it.

The court below held that the evidence based solely upon the testimony of the managing agent of the respondent company even though changed, corrected, recanted, repudiated by the witness on the stand prior to the completion of his examination, had probative value and was thus legally sufficient to establish affirmative defense.

And in remand, the Court went even further and held that since this testimony had not been controverted by required testimony on the part of the petitioner, the evidence was not only legal, its sufficient but did as a matter of law conclusively established respondent's affirmative defense and warranted a directed verdict in favor of respondents.

And thus in remanding the directed entry of judgment for the respondent notwithstanding the fact that the affirmative defense had been dismissed prior to petitioner's case and reply, so that petitioner had no occasion to offer reply testimony.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, does that mean it had -- had been a direction of a new trial, you would not be here?

Henry Hammer:

No, sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Does not mean that?

Henry Hammer:

If there were directions for new trial, we would take the position that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain the affirmative defense.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, then what you want -- asking us to do is restore the original judgment --

Henry Hammer:

Yes, sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

-- for the plaintiff, is that it?

Henry Hammer:

Yes, sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And alternatively in any event, what you have at trial on the issue?

Henry Hammer:

That's correct, sir.

The questions thus presented to this Court are first, whether a Federal Appellate Court may reverse the ruling of a District Judge, dismissing an affirmative defense for want of substantial evidence where the evidence produced in support of the affirmative defense is legally insufficient to sustain the owners proof, impose upon a defendant according to the standard applied by this Court and the applicable state court in testing the legal sufficiency of one's evidence.

And secondly, assuming that the trial judge committed reversible errands, missing the affirmative defense, does a Federal Appellate Court have the right in reversing to direct entry of judgment for a respond -- on this issue where the evidence produced in support of the affirmative defense is subject to conflicting inferences and conclusion and depends upon witnesses whose credibility is placed in issue.

Or under circumstances where because of the ruling of the District Judge declared erroneous, a plaintiff has no opportunity or occasion at the trial of the case to dispute or controvert the facts on the issue of the affirmative defense.

Wasn't he given an opportunity to put in proof.

You -- you have said --

Henry Hammer:

No, sir.

He was asked if there was -- if he was going to put in proof and the counsel stated to the Court that we are asking now for dismissal of the affirmative defense at this stage of the proceedings because if the evidence is not legally sufficient, we see no occasion to put in any proof and the Court and the District Judge did dismiss the affirmative defense after which he was asked if had any reply testimony.

And of course, the issue having gone -- having gone out of the case, no reply testimony on that issue was offered.

Charles E. Whittaker:

It went out of the case.

For good.