Dimick v. Schiedt
293 U.S. 474 (1935)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474 (1935)

Dimick v. Schiedt

No. 78

Submitted November 9, 1934

Decided January 7, 1935

293 U.S. 474

Syllabus

1. Under the Seventh Amendment, a federal court, finding a verdict inadequate, is without power to add to it by refusing to grant the plaintiff a new trial if the defendant will accept an increase which the court deems sufficient. So held in an action for personal injuries due to negligence.

2. In order to ascertain the scope and meaning of the Seventh Amendment, resort must be had to the appropriate rules of the common law established at the time of the adoption of that constitutional provision in 1791. P. 293 U. S. 476.

English cases examined on the power of the courts to increase damages, super visum vulneris, in actions for mayhem, and upon writ of inquiry, and in actions of debt.

3. Upon an examination of many English authorities, it is concluded that, while there was some practice to the contrary in respect of decreasing damages, the established practice and the rule of the common law, as it existed in England at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, forbade the court to increase the amount of damages awarded by a jury in actions sounding in tort, such as the present one. P. 293 U. S. 482.

4. The authority exercised by federal courts of denying a motion for a new trial because of an excessive verdict if the plaintiff will remit the excess is embedded in long practice, and has plausible support in the view that what remains of the recovery was found by the jury in the sense that it was included in the verdict along with the unlawful excess, the effect of the remittitur being merely to lop off an excrescence; but where the verdict is too small, an increase by the court is a bald addition of something never included in the verdict. The trial court cannot, by assessing an additional amount of damages with the consent of the defendant only, bring the constitutional right of the plaintiff to an end in respect of a matter of fact which no jury has ever passed upon, either explicitly or by implication. P. 293 U. S. 482.

5. In the discharge of its duty of construing and upholding the Constitution, the Court must ever be alert to prevent the subversion of

Page 293 U. S. 475

fundamental principles through the extension of doubtful precedents by analogy. P. 293 U. S. 485.

6. Maintenance of the jury as a factfinding body is of such importance, and occupies so firm a place in our history and jurisprudence, that any seeming curtailment of the right to a jury trial should be scrutinized with the utmost care. P. 293 U. S. 486.

7. The effect of the Seventh Amendment was to adopt the common law rules of jury trial as they existed in 1791, and these, being in effect part of the Constitution, cannot be altered now under pretense of adapting the common law to altered conditions. P. 293 U. S. 487.

70 F.2d 558 affirmed.

Certiorari to review the reversal of a judgment for damages in an action for personal injuries, entered on denial of the plaintiff's motion for a new trial, after the plaintiff had declined to accept an increase offered by the court and agreed to by the defendant.

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