Sibbach v. Wilson & Co. – Case Brief
Summary of Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 61 S.Ct. 422, 85 L.Ed. 479 (1941).
Facts: Sibbach (P) brought a personal injury suit in diversity against Wilson (D) in Illinois District Court for injuries sustained in Indiana. Wilson denied the allegations and moved for an order pursuant to FRCP 35 requiring Sibbach to submit to a physical examination to determine the nature and extent of her injuries. The trial court ordered the examination and Sibbach refused to comply.
Such an order for a physical examination was not permitted under Illinois state court rules of procedure. Such orders were permitted however under the rules of procedure in Indiana state courts. Neither state had a statute governing the issue.
Sibbach refused to comply, arguing that Illinois state procedural law should govern and such an order was therefore invalid. The trial court held Sibbach in contempt and ordered that she be committed. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed and the United States Supreme Court granted cert.
Issue: Does a procedural rule that affects a substantial and important right necessarily exceed the rulemaking authority granted to the court under the Rules Enabling Act?
Holding and Rule (Roberts): No. A procedural rule that affects a substantial and important right does not necessarily exceed the rulemaking authority granted to the court under the Rules Enabling Act.
Congress has the power to regulate the practice and procedure of federal courts and may delegate authority to federal courts to make rules of procedure not inconsistent with federal statutes or the U.S. Constitution. The Rules Enabling Act of June 19, 1934 was limited to matters of pleading, practice, and procedure in the federal courts. The Court held that FRCP 35 is within the authority granted to the Court under the Rules Enabling Act and does not abridge, enlarge, or modify the substantive rights of any litigant.
Although the Court held that Rule 35 was valid and the trial court could order Sibbach to submit to a physical examination, the Court held that refusal to comply with the order was exempt from punishment as a contempt under FRCP Rule 37(b)(2)(iv). The Court held that it was plain error for the district court to order imprisonment for Sibbach as punishment for contempt for failure to comply with the district court’s order.
Dissent (Frankfurter): The invasion of a person is very different from matters pertaining to the discovery of documents, pretrial procedure, and other devices for the effective coordination of litigation. The Rules are not acts of Congress and cannot be treated as such. The changes Rule 35 embodies would require explicit legislation.