312 U.S. 1 (1941), 28, Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 28
Citation:312 U.S. 1
Party Name:Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., Inc.
Case Date:January 13, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

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312 U.S. 1 (1941)



Wilson & Co., Inc.

No. 28

United States Supreme Court

January 13, 1941

Argued December 17, 1940




1. Congress has power to regulate the practice and procedure of federal courts, and may exercise it by delegating to the Supreme or other federal courts authority to make rules not inconsistent with the statutes or Constitution of the United States. P. 9.

2. The Act of June 19, 1934, empowering the Supreme Court to prescribe rules for the District Courts of the United States in civil actions, was restricted in its operation to matters of pleading, practice, and procedure. P. 10.

3. Insofar as they are within the authority granted by Congress, the Rules of Civil Procedure prescribed by the Supreme Court under authority of the Act of June 19, 1934, repeal the Conformity Act. P. 10.

4. Rule 35 of the Rules of Civil Procedure for the District Courts of the United States, which provides that, in a suit in which the physical or mental condition of a party is in controversy, the court may order the party to submit to a physical or mental examination by a physician, held within the authority granted by Congress in the Act of June 19, 1934, and consistent with the limitation of that Act that the rules prescribed shall not abridge, enlarge, or modify the "substantive rights" of any litigant. P. 14.

5. Union Pacific Ry. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, and Camden & Suburban Ry. v. Stetson, 177 U.S. 172, explained. P. 11.

6.Rules 35 and 37 of the Rules of Civil Procedure are rules of procedure, and their prescription did not exceed the authority granted by the Act of June 19, 1934, merely because they involve "important" or "substantial" rights. P. 13.

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7. That Congress reserved the power to examine, before they should become effective, rules proposed pursuant to the Act, and took no adverse action in respect of Rule 35, indicates that no transgression of legislative policy was found. P. 15.

8. Refusal to obey an order under Rule 35 requiring a party to submit to a physical or mental examination is exempted by Rule 37(b)(2)(iv) from punishment as for a contempt. The remedies for such refusal are those enumerated in Rule 37(b)(2)(i), (ii), and (iii). P. 16.

9. The action of the District Court in this case, punishing as for contempt a refusal to obey an order under Rule 35 requiring a plaintiff to submit to a physical examination, was such plain error as this Court may notice although not assigned or specified either in the Circuit Court of Appeals or here. P. 16.

108 F.2d 415 reversed.

Certiorari, 309 U.S. 650, to review the affirmance of an order committing for contempt.

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ROBERTS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case calls for decision as to the validity of Rules 35 and 37 of the Rules of Civil Procedure for District Courts of the United States.1

In an action brought by the petitioner in the District Court for Northern Illinois to recover damages for bodily injuries inflicted in Indiana, respondent answered, denying the allegations of the complaint, and moved for an order requiring the petitioner to submit to a physical examination by one or more physicians appointed by the court to determine the nature and extent of her injuries. The court ordered that the petitioner submit to such an examination by a physician so appointed.

Compliance having been refused, the respondent obtained an order to show cause why the petitioner should

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not be punished for contempt. In response, the petitioner challenged the authority of the court to order her to submit to the examination, asserting that the order was void. It appeared that the courts of Indiana, the state where the cause of action arose, hold such an order proper,2 whereas the courts of Illinois, the state in which the trial court sat, hold that such an order cannot be made.3 Neither state has any statute governing the matter.

The court adjudged the petitioner guilty of contempt, and directed that she be committed until she should obey the order for examination or otherwise should be legally discharged from custody. The petitioner appealed.

The Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Rule 35, which authorizes an order for a physical examination in such a case, is valid, and affirmed the judgment.4 The writ of certiorari was granted because of the importance of the question involved.

The Rules of Civil Procedure were promulgated under the authority of the Act of June 19, 1934,5 which is:

Be it enacted . . . That the Supreme Court of the United States shall have the power to prescribe, by general rules, for the district courts of the United States and for the courts of the District of Columbia, the forms of process, writs, pleadings, and motions, and the practice and procedure in civil actions at law. Said rules shall neither abridge, enlarge, nor modify the substantive

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rights of any litigant. They shall take effect six months after their promulgation, and thereafter all laws in conflict therewith shall be of no further force or effect.

Sec. 2. The court may at any time unite the general rules prescribed by it for cases in equity with those in actions at law so as to secure one form of civil action and procedure for both: Provided, however, That, in such union of rules, the right of trial by jury as at common law and declared by the seventh amendment to the Constitution shall be preserved to the parties inviolate. Such united rules shall not take effect until they shall have been reported to Congress by the Attorney General at the beginning of a regular session thereof and until after the close of such session.

The text of the relevant portions of Rules 35 and 37 is:

Rule 35. Physical And Mental Examination Of Persons.

(a) Order for Examination. In an action in which the mental or physical condition of a party is in controversy, the court in which the action is pending may order him to submit to a physical or mental examination by a physician. The order may be made only on motion for good cause shown and upon notice to the party to be examined and to all other parties and shall specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination and the person or persons by whom it is to be made.

Rule 37. Refusal To Make Discovery: Consequences.

(a) Refusal to Answer. . . .

(b) Failure to Comply With Order.

(1) Contempt. If a party or other witness refuses to be sworn or refuses to answer any question after being directed to do so by the court in the district in which the deposition is being taken, the refusal may be considered a contempt of that court.

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(2) Other Consequences. If any party . . . refuses to obey . . . an order made under Rule 35 requiring him to submit to a physical or mental examination, the court may make such orders in regard to the refusal as are just, and, among others, the following:

(i) An order that . . . the physical or mental condition of the party . . . shall be taken to be established for the purposes of the action in accordance with the claim of the party obtaining the order;

(ii) An order . . . prohibiting [the disobedient party] . . . from introducing evidence of physical or mental condition;

(iii) An order striking out pleadings or parts thereof, or staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed, or dismissing the action or proceeding or any part thereof, or rendering a judgment by default against the disobedient party;

(iii) An order striking out pleadings or orders or in addition thereto, an order directing the arrest of any party or agent of a party for disobeying any of such orders except an order to submit to a physical or mental examination.


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