348 U.S. 19 (1954), 23, McAllister v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 23
Citation:348 U.S. 19, 75 S.Ct. 6, 99 L.Ed. 20
Party Name:McAllister v. United States
Case Date:November 08, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 19

348 U.S. 19 (1954)

75 S.Ct. 6, 99 L.Ed. 20



United States

No. 23

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 8, 1954

Argued October 19, 1954




1. In reviewing a judgment of a Federal District Court, sitting without a jury in admiralty, an appellate court exercises no greater scope of review than it exercises under Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A reviewing court may not set aside the judgment below unless it is "clearly erroneous." Pp. 20-21.

2. On the record in this case under the Suits in Admiralty Act, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the finding of the District Court that petitioner contracted polio as a result of the negligence of the master of his ship in taking aboard, transporting, and exposing the crew to contacts with, Chinese soldiers, truck drivers, and mechanics from Shanghai, where the master knew polio to be prevalent, and the District Court's judgment for petitioner was not "clearly erroneous." Pp. 21-23.

207 F.2d 952 reversed.

MINTON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner brought suit against the United States under the Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C. § 741 et seq., to recover damages for negligence in creating conditions aboard ship whereby he contracted polio, and for negligence in the treatment thereof. The District Court, sitting without a jury, made findings of fact and stated its conclusions of law thereon (Admiralty Rules, No. 46 1/2) in which it found that respondent not guilty of negligence in the treatment of the petitioner after he became ill, but found it guilty of negligence in permitting conditions

Page 20

to exist on board ship which were conducive to the transmission of polio whereby the petitioner was unduly exposed, and thereby contracted the disease. Judgment for damages was entered against respondent, and, on appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that no proximate cause was shown between the negligence and the contraction of polio. We granted certiorari. 347 U.S. 932.

The first question presented is whether the Court of Appeals, in reviewing [75 S.Ct. 8] the District Court's findings, applied proper standards. In reviewing a judgment of a trial court, sitting without a jury, in admiralty, the Court of Appeals may not set aside the judgment below unless it is clearly erroneous. No greater scope of review is exercised by the appellate tribunals in admiralty cases than they exercise under Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Boston Ins. Co. v. Dehydrating Process Co., 204 F.2d 441, 444; C. J. Dick Towing Co. v. The Leo, 202 F.2d 850, 854; Union Carbide & Carbon Corp. v. United States, 200 F.2d 908, 910; Koehler v. United States, 187 F.2d 933, 936; Walter G. Hougland, Inc. v. Muscovalley, 184 F.2d 530, 531, cert. denied, 340 U.S. 935; Petterson Lighterage & Tow Corp. v. New York Central R. Co., 126 F.2d 992, 994-995. A finding is clearly erroneous when,

although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court, on the entire evidence, is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.

United States v. Oregon State Medical Society, 343 U.S. 326, 339; United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395. We do not find that the Court of Appeals departed from this standard, although we do disagree with the result reached under the application of the standard. In relation to the District Court's findings, we stand in review in the same position as the Court of Appeals. The question,

Page 21

therefore, is whether the findings of the District Court are clearly erroneous.

The petitioner was second assistant engineer on board the S.S. Edward B. Haines, which was in Chinese waters from September 13, 1945, to December 3, 1945. During this time, the master of the ship was informed that polio and other contagious diseases were prevalent in Shanghai, and a bulletin was posted on ship warning the crew thereof and directing them, while ashore, to exercise care in eating and drinking, and to avoid association with the inhabitants ashore. So concerned was the master about this condition that he mustered the members of the crew on several occasions and warned them to the same effect. The District Court found that the petitioner obeyed these warnings, and there was no evidence in the record to the contrary. While the ship was in port at Shanghai, November 11, 1945, the record does not show that the petitioner went ashore. The last time he was ashore was November 1. On November 11, a number of Chinese stevedores came aboard to do some work, and there were also taken aboard at that time forty or fifty Chinese soldiers and fifty truck drivers and mechanics to be transported to Tsingtao. These soldiers, truck drivers, and mechanics, fresh from Shanghai, the area infested by polio, were permitted wide use of the ship, including toilet facilities and the only drinking fountain, which was located on deck. To supplement the toilet facilities, an open wooden trough was laid along the deck and discharged over the side of the ship. A hose was provided for flushing the trough, and, on several occasions, the petitioner had to go on deck to turn the water on to flush it. There was...

To continue reading