Rayonier Incorporated v. United States

PETITIONER: Rayonier Incorporated
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Congress

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1956-1957)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 352 US 315 (1957)
ARGUED: Dec 04, 1956
DECIDED: Jan 28, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for Rayonier Incorporated v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument, Part 2: Rayonier Incorporated v. United States - December 04, 1956 (45) in Rayonier Incorporated v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument, Arnhold v. United States - December 04, 1956 (47) in Rayonier Incorporated v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument, Part 1: Rayonier Incorporated v. United States - December 04, 1956 (45) in Rayonier Incorporated v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 45, Rayonier Incorporated -- Incorporation, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. Marion.

Lucien F. Marion:

May it please this Honorable Court.

This is a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act asking for damages caused by a forest fire in 1951 which damages are alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the Forest Service.

I might call Your Honors attention at this point that the fact that Number 47 which follows this case immediately is a companion suit being by other plaintiffs arising out of the same fire.

The case is here on a challenge to the sufficiency of the complaint to state facts upon which a claim may be based.

The District Judge in Tacoma held that they sustained a motion to dismiss and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Under the circumstances, all of the allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true and construed in a light, the most favorable plaintiff.

Federal Tort Claims Act makes the United States liable for the negligent acts and omissions of its employees under circumstances where the United States if a private individual would be liable claimant under the law of the place where the acts and omissions occurred.

Section 2680 of Title 28 contains the exceptions to the waiver of the immunity.

No one of those exceptions is here involved nor urged by the Government.

Particularly, the discretionary function exception is not involved, as all acts and omissions complained of were at the operational level.

It has been helpful to us in our consideration of this case and in our presentation of it to ask ourselves this question and I offer it because I think it will also be helpful to Your Honors.

Let us assume that the facts here were exactly transposed that the United States with the plaintiff, that Rayonier Incorporated was the defendant that the acts and omissions complained of were those of Rayonier.

Is there any reason in fact or in law why the positions could not be transposed in all material respects?

And if so, would Rayonier be liable to the Government?

Since Rayonier, he's a private individual.

Then if it would be liable, it would follow that -- by that test, the United States is liable.

This fire started on the Olympic Peninsula on August 6, 1951.

It started on land which the defendant owned, had control of and free of unrestricted access to.

These are the allegations of the complaint which I am now recounting.

It started when fire or sparks were thrown from the passing locomotive into accumulations of inflammables on the right of way in the adjoining property, both Government owned and controlled.

It -- from the spot far stage, it spread to a 60 -- 60-acre carrier were it was controlled for about a day and then jumped into a large area of cut-off logged-off lands about 1600 acres in area.

It was contained and controlled in that 1600-acre area on August 11th.

It continued to burn in a small reform in this logged-off area until the early morning hours of September 20th.

In the early morning hours on that day, I think around two or three, winds carried as far south of the 1600-acre area into a joining slash, young growth and virgin timber.

That caused the fire which burned an area, roughly 20 miles in an east-west direction and up to five miles in a north-south direction.

After the fire broke away on the 20th of September, there was nothing anybody could do about it and no negligence is claimed from that occasion on.

Negligence is asserted on behalf of the -- on the part of the Forest Service, both before the fire ever started because of the fire hazardous conditions and practices carried on, on this Government owned and controlled land.

Negligence is claimed and failure to eliminate or extinguish the fire immediately in the spot fire stage, again at the 60-acre stage and again during the 1600-acre stage.