Richards v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Columbia

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 369 US 1 (1962)
ARGUED: Nov 15, 1961
DECIDED: Feb 26, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Richards v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 15, 1961 in Richards v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 59, Suzanne Thomas Richards, etcetera, Petitioners, versus United States.

Mr. Rucker.

Truman B. Rucker:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case involves an interpretation of the Federal Tort Claim Act and the particular area of collision is between the Government on one hand and the American Airlines takes a slightly different position and that we represent the people here, is with reference to Section 1346 (b).

It's really a very narrow point, a very narrow issue and it is simply where the negligent act of the Government occurs, in this instance, in the State of Oklahoma the accident and injury or in this instance the death occurred in the State of Missouri which law applies.

Felix Frankfurter:

Maybe narrow but it's pertinent, isn't it?

Truman B. Rucker:

Yes, sir.

I think it is and if in my argument, Mr. Justice Frankfurter, I followed too closely the argument of the Government in the Union Trust case, it's only because of the fact that they were more persuasive than we have been today in maintaining their position in that case and the fact that we consider their position in that case quite logical and a common sense interpretation of the meaning of the statute.

In 1955 and as I say, I'll make this very brief, an American Airlines plane crashed in the State of Missouri, killing everyone aboard.

Now, I only want to mention this because I want to get away from it.

In other words, it's not here involved.

During a period of time of a year or so, the American Airlines settled with or had hindered into court as I understand it, the amount of their responsibility to the widows and the dependants whom we are here representing.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Under the Missouri law --

Truman B. Rucker:

Yes, sir.

Charles E. Whittaker:

-- which is $15,000.

Truman B. Rucker:

Yes, sir, that is correct.

Charles E. Whittaker:

But there's no limit in the Oklahoma law.

Truman B. Rucker:

Yes, that is correct.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Am I right?

Truman B. Rucker:

Now, within the time limitation set by the Federal Tort Claim Act, there were lawsuits filed in the District Court, United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, alleging that under the Oklahoma Wrongful Death Act that the people that we represented were entitled to damages against the Government, we made no records to the law of Missouri, against the Government because of an alleged and for this argument admitted, negligent act of the Government in the State of Oklahoma.

Now, as I say, I only mentioned American Airlines because I want to get away from it.

It's not here involved in this appeal.

The Government interplead the American Airlines and we've gone along up to the Circuit Court.

Charles E. Whittaker:

I wonder if you don't have to (Inaudible) involved.

Suppose that there was a joint liability, the American Airlines and the Government, the Government would be liable only under the circumstances and the same law as the private party, isn't that true?

Truman B. Rucker:

With this very notable exception which was decided in the Union Trust case and which really gets to the crux of the argument because it reads, the Section reads where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law or the place where the act or omission occurred and our problem here, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter said, is basically to determine what those words, if anything, mean.

And we are adopting the argument of the Government in the Union Trust case, we're adopting the dissent of Chief Judge Murrah in our Circuit case, in which substantially he takes the position that if they intended to bring into meaning the conflict of rules law and they meant to restrict it to the liability of a private person.

They could have very well put a period after that, and therefore, all of the conflicts of rule-law would have come in to effect.

The district judge sustained the decision of the, I will call them the defendants, first that Oklahoma Wrongful Death Act did not have an extraterritorial provision and second assuming that we did have any rights that they had received or had been tendered the $15,000 and for that prior practical reason had been extinguished.

We appealed it to the Circuit Court of Appeals and the majority of the Circuit Court did not adopt one phase of the Government's argument which appears in the second -- in the concluding paragraph, in which they take the position that since under the Oklahoma Wrongful Death Act, there is no extra -- extraterritorial provision.