Gardner v. Panama R. Co.,
342 U.S. 29 (1951)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gardner v. Panama R. Co., 342 U.S. 29 (1951)

Gardner v. Panama Railroad Co.

No. 22

Argued October 11, 1951

Decided November 5, 1951

342 U.S. 29


1. Upon the facts of this case, laches was not a defense to petitioner's suit in admiralty against respondent to recover damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained while a passenger on respondent's steamship, although an action at law was barred by the local statute of limitations. Pp. 342 U. S. 30-32.

(a) Although the question of laches is one primarily addressed to the discretion of the trial court, it should not be determined merely by a reference to, and a mechanical application of, the statute of limitations; the equities of the parties must also be considered. Pp. 342 U. S. 30-31.

(b) Where there has been no inexcusable delay in seeking a remedy, and where no prejudice to the defendant has ensued from the mere passage of time, relief should not be denied on the ground of laches. P. 342 U. S. 31.

2. Public Law 172, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., 63 Stat. 444, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(m), which excluded claims against the Panama Railroad Company from the provisions of the Tort Claims Act, is not to be interpreted as summarily cutting off the remedy of all who had sued the United States for torts which had been committed by the company during the year preceding its enactment, but as permitting outstanding claims upon which suit had been instituted against the United States to be enforced by prompt proceedings directly against the company. Pp. 342 U. S. 31-32.

185 F.2d 730, reversed.

Petitioner's suit in admiralty against respondent was dismissed by the District Court on the ground of laches. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 185 F.2d 730. This Court granted certiorari. 341 U.S. 934. Reversed, p. 342 U. S. 32.

Page 342 U. S. 30

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