Link v. Wabash Railroad Company

PETITIONER: William Link
RESPONDENT: Wabash Railroad Company
LOCATION: United State District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division

DOCKET NO.: 422
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 370 US 626 (1962)
ARGUED: Apr 03, 1962
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1962
GRANTED: Nov 20, 1961

ADVOCATES:
John Bodle - for the respondent
Jay E. Darlington - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

On August 24, 1954, William Link sued Wabash Railroad company over injuries he received when his car ran into a Wabash Railroad train at a crossing. After six years of motions, a pretrial hearing was set for October 12, 1960. On October 11, 1960, Link’s attorney contacted the Wabash Railroad attorney to inform him that he was doing work in Indianapolis and would miss a deposition that was set to happen before the hearing. The next morning, Link’s lawyer called the courthouse to notify the judge that he was detained in Indianapolis filing papers for a case before the Iowa Supreme Court. He said he could not make it to court that day but was available both of the next two days. Two hours after the pretrial was supposed to start, the court found that Link’s lawyer had not provided a sufficient reason for missing the hearing and dismissed the case “for failure to prosecute the action.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Question

Can a court dismiss a case for failure to prosecute without a motion from the defendant?

Media for Link v. Wabash Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 03, 1962 in Link v. Wabash Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 422, William Link, Petitioner, versus Wabash Railroad Company.

Mr. Darlington.

Jay E. Darlington:

May it please the Court.

The clerk has informed us of the time of situation and both attorneys are agreeable to divide the -- the remaining 45 minutes or whatever it may (Voice Overlap) --

Earl Warren:

You're very kind to do that Mr. Darlington.

Jay E. Darlington:

The -- I am here mainly to serve the Court and to answer any questions with no set -- a stereotyped speech to make but if it's agreeable I would like to state what were appealing from what I think the question is and briefly the facts as to how the question arises and what I feel is the applicable law that the petitioner was the plaintiff in a personal injury case in the District Court based upon diversity.

I was his attorney there.

It was -- and the District Court in the Fall of 1960 dismissed the case in my absence on a court sought motion without any motion for dismissal by opposing counsel and the dismissal was not purportedly based upon Rule 41 (b) of Civil -- of Civil Procedure or upon any local rule.

But upon -- and asserted inherent power so-called of the District Court to make the dismissal.

And that so-called inherent power was affirmed on appeal by a two-to-three decision.

The facts underlying that I think can be very briefly stated.

This case was filed in 1954.

In the spring of 1955, the defense counsel, my distinguished opponents erred -- filed a motion to dismiss the case for alleged failure of the complaint to state a cause of action.

And in the fall of 1955 after six months consideration, the District Court sustained that motion.

I appealed from it successfully and the Court of Appeals held the complaint good in order to do -- reinstate it.

That meant -- and instantly by opponent's petition for certiorari which took some more time and was denied.

So they mandate that back to the District Court in the spring of 1955 but after a delay of a couple of years caused by the defense.

Following that in the summer of 1957, there was a trial setting.

I moved too far and obtained a continuance; the general continuance with the consent of my opponent.

In the summer of 1959, the situation was reversed, it was against that for trial and my opponent moved for continuance to which I consented.

Then in the spring of 1960, my opponent filed some additional interrogatories which I answered.

And the next step in the case was that late in September of 1960, the District Court, acting under the -- this Local Rule 12 on pretrial which simply says that the Court may hold pretrial conference upon notice to the attorney of the case.

It's really a short restatement of Rule 16 of Civil Procedure adds nothing to it.

That notice, a mimeograph form of notice, went out to both counsel, I received it.

It was set for a 1 p.m. on October 12, Columbus Day, fell on a Wednesday.

Beginning Monday morning, I was engaged as the record shows, in preparing urgent papers of an undescribed nature to be filed in the Supreme Court of Indiana -- I was -- at Indianapolis, a 160 miles distance from the seat of this District Court.

And the record shows that my opponent conceded that -- that on Tuesday the 11th, I called him on the telephone, told him what I was doing and that I thought I could make that pretrial conference the next afternoon and I expected to be there.

It turned out Wednesday forenoon that I couldn't make it.

I -- like some lawyers maybe I was (Inaudible)

I had -- unable to finish this job, these papers that we're committed to the Supreme Court of -- at Indianapolis.