Town of Newton v. Rumery

PETITIONER: Town of Newton
LOCATION: Dixie Furniture Store

DOCKET NO.: 85-1449
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 480 US 386 (1987)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1986
DECIDED: Mar 09, 1987

Charles P. Bauer - on behalf of the respondent
Donald E. Gardner - on behalf of the petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Town of Newton v. Rumery

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1986 in Town of Newton v. Rumery

William H. Rehnquist:

You may proceed whenever you are ready, Mr. Gardner.

Donald E. Gardner:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

On behalf of the town of Newton, New Hampshire, I appear before you today because a gentleman by the name of Bernard Rumery reached an agreement in conjunction with the dismissal of a valid criminal prosecution against him.

Mr. Rumery agreed that he would not pursue a civil action against the town, the arresting officer, or any of the town's public servants.

Subsequently, Mr. Rumery breached that agreement.

The Federal District Court, Justice Martin Laughlin, ruled that Mr. Rumery's agreement should be enforced.

The Court specifically found that Mr. Rumery voluntarily, knowingly and deliberately waived his right to bring a subsequent action and that when he did so, he did so thinking and knowing that it was in his best interest.

Mr. Rumery now seeks to escape the consequences of his agreement by asking this Court to apply a per se prohibition against the type of agreement that he entered on that day in 1983.

If the Court accepts the arguments offered by Mr. Rumery and allows him to revoke his agreement, then this Court not only will be providing Mr. Rumery with a benefit but will also be denying all present and future defendants in a situation like Mr. Rumery, they will in effect be prevented from taking upon themselves an opportunity like that which was presented by Mr. Rumery.

I therefore suggest to the Court that application of a per se rule in this case offends common sense, basic justice, and fair play.

Antonin Scalia:

The argument that you are preventing future people from engaging in it is not terribly persuasive.

You could say the same thing about, if you... if we didn't enforce promises made to blackmailers we would be denying people in the future the opportunity to prevent blackmailers from doing the terrible things they are threatening to do by making a promise to them.

Donald E. Gardner:

I would agree, Your Honor, the difference being--

Antonin Scalia:

So if, indeed, there is some overreaching here, and it is a bad thing to have cities or anybody doing this sort of thing... it's hardly something to be worried about, that we're preventing it from happening in the future.

Donald E. Gardner:

--If in fact it were overreaching, I would agree, Your Honor.

The suggestion that a blackmailer in the town might be engaging in a similar type of conduct as regards this type of a situation, I would suggest, is not appropriate.

This is a case where the County Attorney, as opposed to a town... an actual town representative... entered in to an agreement when he was concerned about a prosecution, concerned about the principal witness, the complaining witness, and the fact that she was also the victim of a rape and that she may not be willing to testify in this subsequent action, he entered into an agreement at that point in time to dismiss the prosecution, conditioned upon the police officer, the public servants, and the town being somewhat protected, or being protected against a civil action.

This is a case where a man made a voluntary, knowing and deliberate choice.

This is a case where a man gave up a right to a civil remedy, and it's a case that I would suggest, also--

John Paul Stevens:

He also gave up the right to defend himself in court, too, I suppose.

The thing that really is on the table is whether he wanted to stand trial on a criminal charge.

Donald E. Gardner:

--He had a choice.

He chose not to stand trial on a criminal charge, but in a sense chose to have his day in court when he had nothing to lose, apparently, be reneging on his agreement and thereafter--

John Paul Stevens:

Do you think there are very many cases in which the defendant would say, I'd much rather go to trial on the criminal charge, than just have you dismiss the charges?

Donald E. Gardner:

--Commonly, I would expect that a defendant who is assured of his innocence will do that.

I expect in a plea bargain situation--

John Paul Stevens:

Assured of his innocence, he'd still want to go to trial, even though you know nothing is all that certain in trials?

Donald E. Gardner:

--Well, I would expect, Justice Stevens, that that's very similar to the plea bargaining situation and we see people who stand trial despite plea bargain offers on a daily basis.

I would suggest in that situation--

John Paul Stevens:

Those are a choice between one of two different criminal trials.