Williams v. United States

PETITIONER: Althea G. Williams
RESPONDENT: United States

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

ARGUED: Oct 13, 1955
DECIDED: Oct 17, 1955

Facts of the case


Media for Williams v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1955 (Part 1) in Williams v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1955 (Part 2) in Williams v. United States

Morton H. Hollander:

May it please the Court.

Before I get into -- on my argument, I would like to spend two or three minutes to shed some additional light on two other questions that were asked from the bench during the course of petitioner's argument.

The Chief Justice asked whether there was any other means of transportation available to soldiers like Seabourn or whether they had to rely almost exclusively on transportation afforded by the army.

The record -- there are two places in the record at pages 16 and at pages 22, it definitely establishes -- definitely establishes that there was other transportations available, that there was taxi cab transportation available.

That there were -- that -- and that indeed on the day in question, Seabourn, the driver who later took out the army vehicle at night and his two companions had utilized the services of the cab and they already had that very afternoon.

The -- the other factual question that was asked was by Mr. Justice Harlan who wanted to know whether there was any evidence as to whether or not Stiles knew that Seabourn was drunk at the time that he took the vehicle off the post or has been drinking.

I -- I should like to point out that there is some slight evidence with what -- there was considerable evidence on that sort in Sergeant Stiles' affidavit, which as my adversary has correctly pointed out.

It was stricken from the record on his motion at the trial court.

For that reason, I will not discuss its content.

However, there was other information that was -- there was other evidence that was properly admitted at page 17 of the record which indicates that during the daytime, Seabourn was not drunk.

That information is set forth in the first full paragraph at the top of page 17 of the record.

However I should like to point this out, that we do not believe that the question as to whether or not the Government was negligent or as to whether or not Sergeant Stiles was negligent in entrusting a vehicle to Seabourn is at all before this Court at this time.

This case and the complaint in this case is not predicated on the allegation that the Government was negligent because Sergeant Stiles negligently entrusted a vehicle to Corporal Seabourn.

The allegation in the complaint is limited exclusively -- exclusively limited to the asserted negligence on the part of Seabourn in operating the vehicle after he had obtained it.

And obviously, since that is the only issue of negligence which was raised by the complaint, it was the only issue of negligence with respect to which the Government put on any defense.

It was the only issue of negligence of course which was with respect to which the Government found it necessary to cross-examine it.

It was the only issue tried by the Court, that is the issue as to whether or not, Seabourn himself was negligent.

And of course, it was the only issue with respect to which the trial judge made any specific findings.

That was never raised in the Court of Appeals.

It wasn't even mentioned or suggested in the petition for certiorari in this Court.

And we think for those reasons that petitioner actually stopped from asserting at this time as he does in the last part of his brief that this case presents the additional question or suggests that this other avenue of governmental liability that is -- that perhaps the Government was liable in entrusting the vehicle and to -- perhaps the Government through Sergeant Stiles was negligent to entrust and liable in entrusting the vehicle to Corporal Seabourn.

That has never been in the case.

The first time it came into the case, the first time it succeeds upon was in the petition as we come in here.

We believe this case actually boils down to this simple proposition reflected by this very brief summary which I am about to give of the operative facts involved.

Seabourn, a soldier stationed at Guam, was given a pass so that he could be relieved completely from his military duties for a day or so.

He took advantage of that pass and went to the town during the daytime and as I have pointed out, hired a cab with two of his companions during the daytime spending his day -- spending his day in town completely removed from any connection with any official governmental -- with any official governmental duty, completely disassociated from the performance of the routine military mission normally assigned to him in which he was discharging when he was not out there.

He spent the whole day on passing town, came back at night and then obtained possession of this vehicle which both courts found, he had obtained in an unauthorized fashion for a use not permitted by the army regulations, for a use not permitted by his superior officers and for a use not permitted by the trip ticket which he used in order to remove the vehicle from the post.

Having obtained that vehicle, he went out with his two companions on a drinking spree.

He was, as the evidence shows that he -- that he was -- there was overwhelming evidence the courts pointed out, that he was very seriously intoxicated at the time.

While on that intoxicated state, he went joyriding with this vehicle and crashed into the car in which petitioner was sitting.