Neese v. Southern Railway Company

RESPONDENT: Southern Railway Company

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Nov 07, 1955
DECIDED: Nov 21, 1955

Facts of the case


Media for Neese v. Southern Railway Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1955 (Part 1) in Neese v. Southern Railway Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1955 (Part 2) in Neese v. Southern Railway Company

Earl Warren:

You may proceed, Mr. Alderman.

Sidney S. Alderman:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.

I was referring to the decision itself by the Court of Appeals below.

On my brief, the gray brief, pages 8 to 15.

I admitted very careful, restatements of the case and of the holding of the court below with pertinent quotations beginning at page 11, and on page 12, from the Court's language in this case.

In the first quoted paragraph, it will be observed that the Court did not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the District Court as to what precise amount of damages were justifiable in this case.

The District Court said 60 was excessive, 50 was all right.

The Court of Appeals dealt with the evidence in the case, they admitted the evidence as to contribution the actual evidence, and it dealt with what in railroad rate problems as often referred to as the zone of reasonableness.

It fixed the zone of reasonableness for the damages from bottom -- it gets $18,000 to $19,000 and top brackets which it describe as fantastic on the evidence of $38,000 to $39,000.

Leaving it for a subsequent jury trial to fix something reasonable in that zone of reasonableness.

Far from denying to this plaintiff a jury trial, the Court dealt liability issues as well as damage issues.

Both courts held that the evidence was sufficient to go to the jury to find the liability.

The Court of Appeals reversed for a jury trial on the issue of damages alone, the most perfect situation in which a plaintiff in a damage suit can be whether defendant has no defense on negligence or liability.

As a frightful matter, if this Court affirms the court below, that's what will happen.

Plaintiff will have a new jury trial under those favorable circumstances on damages alone.

Maybe he has new evidence, I don't know.

The other alternative, if this Court should hold, and I think it would be a most serious holding, that is there is no appellate jurisdiction or power in the federal judiciary system.

To review a judge for abusive discretion, a trial judge on the matter of this kind, but then this Court would reverse the Court of Appeals below and it would affirm the judgment of the District Court.


Why do you use the phrase abusive discretion?

Sidney S. Alderman:


Why do you use the phrase abusive discretion?

Sidney S. Alderman:

That's the phrase that the Court of Appeals below used, and I was leading up to inviting you to the language of that court in the middle of page 12 as quoted in my brief.

Its ultimate conclusion was a total contribution of $50,000 by young Neese to his parents.

And he and they lived out there with normal expectancy, seems to us far beyond the pale of any reasonable probability and entirely without support in the record.

Then he cited cases from the Sixth Circuit and the Fourth Circuit, from other Circuits and particularly the 1948 decision by the Circuit Court of Appeals this same Court in the Virginian Railway against Armentrout.

And the -- and the Court quoted from the Armentrout case this language, which is its statement of what it understands the law to be and the law as it applies perhaps.

Much more better than the argument act it made.

The Court of Appeals below said, ordinarily, of course, the amount of damages is for the jury, and whether a verdict should be set aside as excessive is a matter resting into the discretion of the trial judge.

This, however, is not an arbitrary but a sound discretion to be exercised in the light of the record in the case and within the limits prescribed by reasoning and experience.