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SCHLAGENHAUF V. HOLDER, 379 U. S. 104 (1964)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104 (1964)

Schlagenhauf v. Holder

No. 8

Argued October 13, 1964

Decided November 23, 1964

379 U.S. 104


A bus collided with the rear of a tractor-trailer, and a diversity action for damages was brought by certain bus passengers in the District Court. The defendants -- the bus company, petitioner its driver, the owners of the tractor and the trailer (hereinafter codefendants), and the tractor driver -- filed answers denying negligence. The bus company cross-claimed against codefendants for damage to its bus, claiming that the collision resulted from their negligence. Co-defendant tractor owner answered the cross-claim, denied negligence, and alleged that petitioner was "not mentally or physically capable" of driving a bus at the time of the accident and that his negligence proximately caused damage to the bus. Codefendants petitioned the District Court for an order that petitioner submit to multiple mental and physical examinations under Rule 35(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. That Rule provides for an order for examination on motion "for good cause shown" in an action where the mental or physical condition of a party is "in controversy." Codefendant trailer owner answered the bus company's cross-claim and itself cross-claimed against the bus company and petitioner for damage to its trailer, alleging negligence by the bus company and petitioner through the latter's having been permitted to drive the bus despite a known visual deficiency. Respondent District Court Judge, over petitioner's opposition, granted an order for internal medicine, ophthalmological, neurological, and psychiatric examinations of petitioner under Rule 35(a). To set aside that order, petitioner applied for mandamus against respondent in the Court of Appeals, which that court denied.


1. Under the circumstances of this case, mandamus was an appropriate remedy to review the challenged power of the District Court to order the mental and physical examinations of a defendant. Pp. 379 U. S. 109-112.

(a) Though not a substitute for appeal, mandamus is an appropriate remedy for usurpation of power, a substantial issue in chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 379 U. S. 105

this case, involving as it did the first challenge to a district court's power under Rule 35(a) to require examination of a defendant. P. 379 U. S. 110.

(b) Whether the District Court exceeded its power by holding that petitioner's mental and physical condition was "in controversy" within the meaning of Rule 35(a) was properly before the Court of Appeals. P. 379 U. S. 111.

(c) The Court of Appeals did not resolve the related question whether "good cause" was shown for ordering the examinations, though it should have done so, since the allegation of usurpation of power was before it, and to do so would avoid piecemeal litigation and settle new and important problems. P. 379 U. S. 111.

(d) Since the issues presented here concern construction of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which it is the duty of this Court to formulate and put in force, this Court will consider the merits of such issues and formulate necessary guidelines, rather than remand the cause to the Court of Appeals to reconsider the issue of "good cause." Pp. 379 U. S. 111-112.

2. Rule 35(a) applies to the physical or mental examination of defendants, as well as plaintiffs, and, as so applied, is constitutional, and authorized by the Rules Enabling Act. Pp. 379 U. S. 112-114.

3. Though the person to be examined under Rule 35(a) must be a "party" to the action, he need not be an opposing party vis-a-vis the movant. Pp. 379 U. S. 115-116.

4. The necessarily related requirements of Rule 35 that the mental or physical condition of the party sought to be examined be "in controversy" and that "good cause" be shown for the examination are not met by mere conclusory allegations of the pleadings -- nor by mere relevance to the case. P. 379 U. S. 118.

5. Rule 35 requires discriminating application by the trial judge, who must decide, as an initial matter in each case, whether the party requesting a mental or physical examination or examinations has adequately demonstrated the existence of the Rule's necessarily related requirements of "in controversy" and "good cause." Pp. 379 U. S. 118-119.

6. A movant under Rule 35 for a mental or physical examination of a party who has not asserted his mental or physical condition either in support of or in defense of a claim must, by appropriate means, affirmatively show that the condition sought to be examined is really and genuinely in controversy, and that good cause exists for the particular examination requested. Pp. 379 U. S. 119-120. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 379 U. S. 106

7. A sufficient showing was not made in this case to support any except perhaps a visual examination of petitioner, and the District Court should reconsider its order, including that for the eye examination, in the light of the guidelines set forth herein. Pp. 379 U. S. 120-121.

321 F.2d 43 vacated and remanded.

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