Schlagenhauf v. Holder Case Brief

Summary of Schlagenhauf v. Holder, U.S. Supreme Ct. (1964)

Cause of action: The following is a cause of action based on diversity of citizenship for personal damages from injuries of a bus accident. It then turned into an action for a writ of mandamus to to enjoin lower court’s order.

Procedural History: District Court, on basis of petition of tractor company, and w/o any hearing, ordered PL to submit to the tests, nine total, despite the fact there were to be only four examinations. Petitioner applied for writ of mandamus, seeking to have the order set aside. Court of Appeals denied mandamus. Cert granted, and case vacated and remanded.

Facts: Bus accident. PL’s sue for injuries, and sue the bus company, the driver, the driver of the tractor, the company which owned the tractor, and the company which owned the trailer attached to the tractor. All denied negligence. Cross-claim filed by bus company against the tractor company and the trailer company, alleging negligence on their driver. Tractor company, after filing answer denying the claim, submitted a letter stating the bus driver was not fit to drive the bus, and demanded he be examined in four examinations: internal medicine, ophthalmology, neurology, and psychiatry, along with doctors to choose from in each category.

Petitioner’s brief in response stated the bus driver’s condition was not an issue in controversy, and that the examinations proposed were without good cause. Trailer company proceeded to file a similar answer to the tractor company’s.

Issue(s): Under FRCP, may the trial court, on just the contentions of opposing counsel, move under rule 35, to have PL/petitioner submitted for physical and psychological testing without asserting either contention in its complaint?

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The Court of Appeals did have such power as to review the possibility of the writ, and the Court of Appeals had the power to apply FRCP 35 to a party DF in this case. The Court of Appeals also gave an unduly restrictive interpretation to the term “opposing party vis a vis the movant” (or at least one of them). It should be read to mean any person who was a party to the action, should the rest of the rule apply. Under such a reading, petitioner does fall into this category, as he was “a party” before the second order entered by the District Court.

However, the “in controversy” and “good cause” requirements are of concern to the Court, as there should be discriminating application by the trial judge, who should, according to FRCP 35, make sure that the requesting party has indeed demonstrated the existence of the rule’s requirements. This can generally be done through affidavits and the like, stopping well short of a hearing. But there must be sufficient information. Sometimes the pleadings alone can suffice, but not here, as they were not asserted in support of or in defense of the claim. All there were here were conclusory allegations the bus driver saw red lights before the accident, which was part of the attached affidavit to the complaint, in addition to the self-admitted statement by the driver that he was involved in accidents prior.

The only specific allegations made by DF in this complaint regarded the driver’s eyes, but since there were three other types of examinations ordered by the district court, that judge should also reconsider this order in light of this ruling.

Rule: The “good cause” and “in controversy” requirements of FRCP 35 make it very apparent that sweeping examinations of a party who has not affirmatively put into issue his own mental or physical condition are not to be automatically ordered merely b/c the person has been involved in an accident — or has, in this case, two accidents –and a general charge of negligence is lodged. Mental and physical applications are only to be ordered upon a discriminating application by the district judge of the limitations described by the rule.

Holding: No. There was at no time any statement regarding the physical or mental condition of PL, and thus there is no cause for the District Court to impose the medical testing on PL.

Concurring/Dissenting: (Black) Thinks there was controversy on PL’s mental and physical health and there was good cause shown for a physical and mental examination of him, unless a failure to deny the allegations amounted to an admission they were true. Eyesight is important in car accidents, and this kind of examination should be pursued at the very least to make sure it was indeed not the cause of the accident.

(Douglas) Deny all relief in regard to FRCP 35. The possibility of medical “fishing expeditions” into finding anything on the driver’s part which could cause any kind of accident could and would likely be exploited.

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