Surowitz v. Hilton Hotels Corp. – Case Brief
Surowitz v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 383 US 363, 86 S.Ct. 845, 15 L.Ed.2d 807 (1966).
Facts: Surowitz (P), who had a limited education and could not speak English well, invested a little more than $2,000 in Hilton Hotels (D). Surowitz received a notice from Hilton Hotels announcing a stock repurchase plan. P inquired about the plan with her son in law, a professional business advisor and graduate of Harvard Law School. P’s son in law suspected that D was involved in a fraudulent scheme. P agreed to file suit. She signed an extensive complaint after it had been explained to her. The complaint alleged that D had defrauded stockholders and illegally depleted corporate assets to enrich individual defendants. The attorney also verified the complaint as required by FRCP 11.
D moved for P to submit to an oral examination. It was shown that P did not understand the complaint. D moved to dismiss. P’s attorney then filed affidavits showing the extensive investigation. The judge held that P did not understand the complaint and therefore her verification was not valid and dismissed the complaint as a sham complaint. The court of appeals affirmed.
Issue: Must a party completely understand a complaint for it to be valid?
Holding and Rule (Black): No. Verification of a complaint under FRCP 23(b) is not required if the party has been advised by a competent individual that the allegations contained in the complaint are true.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure serve first and foremost to insure that justice is served and that parties to a lawsuit receive a fair trial. P did not have to completely understand the pleadings. P’s attorney verified the complaint and P was told by her son in law that the allegations were true. Rule 23(b) was created to discourage suits where a complaint is without merit and filed with the expectation that it would be settled out of court to avoid the expenses of litigation. It is obvious from the affidavits that P intended no harm to D nor was there any sign of bad faith by P or her attorney in filing the suit. The court was supplied with affidavits showing the extensive investigation that had been made.
Disposition: Reversed and remanded.
Concurring (Harlan): The Rule requires that the complaint be verified by oath. There is nothing in the rule that requires the plaintiff to verify the complaint herself.