1. In reviewing a judgment of a Federal District Court, sitting
without a jury in admiralty, an appellate court exercises no
greater scope of review than it exercises under Rule 52(a) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A reviewing court may not set
aside the judgment below unless it is "clearly erroneous." Pp.
348 U. S.
2. On the record in this case under the Suits in Admiralty Act,
the evidence was sufficient to sustain the finding of the District
Court that petitioner contracted polio as a result of the
negligence of the master of his ship in taking aboard,
transporting, and exposing the crew to contacts with, Chinese
soldiers, truck drivers, and mechanics from Shanghai, where the
master knew polio to be prevalent, and the District Court's
judgment for petitioner was not "clearly erroneous." Pp.
348 U. S.
207 F.2d 952 reversed.
MR. JUSTICE MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner brought suit against the United States under the
Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C. § 741 et seq.,
recover damages for negligence in creating conditions aboard ship
whereby he contracted polio, and for negligence in the treatment
thereof. The District Court, sitting without a jury, made findings
of fact and stated its conclusions of law thereon (Admiralty Rules,
No. 46 1/2) in which it found that respondent not guilty of
negligence in the treatment of the petitioner after he became ill,
but found it guilty of negligence in permitting conditions
Page 348 U. S. 20
to exist on board ship which were conducive to the transmission
of polio whereby the petitioner was unduly exposed, and thereby
contracted the disease. Judgment for damages was entered against
respondent, and, on appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed on the
ground that no proximate cause was shown between the negligence and
the contraction of polio. We granted certiorari. 347 U.S. 932.
The first question presented is whether the Court of Appeals, in
reviewing the District Court's findings, applied proper standards.
In reviewing a judgment of a trial court, sitting without a jury,
in admiralty, the Court of Appeals may not set aside the judgment
below unless it is clearly erroneous. No greater scope of review is
exercised by the appellate tribunals in admiralty cases than they
exercise under Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Boston Ins. Co. v. Dehydrating Process Co.,
204 F.2d 441,
444; C. J. Dick Towing Co. v. The Leo,
202 F.2d 850, 854;
Union Carbide & Carbon Corp. v. United States,
F.2d 908, 910; Koehler v. United States,
187 F.2d 933,
936; Walter G. Hougland, Inc. v. Muscovalley,
530, 531, cert. denied,
340 U.S. 935; Petterson
Lighterage & Tow Corp. v. New York Central R. Co.,
F.2d 992, 994-995. A finding is clearly erroneous when,
"although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court,
on the entire evidence, is left with a definite and firm conviction
that a mistake has been committed."
United States v. Oregon State Medical Society,
343 U. S. 326
343 U. S. 339
United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.
, 333 U. S. 395
We do not find that the Court of Appeals departed from this
standard, although we do disagree with the result reached under the
application of the standard. In relation to the District Court's
findings, we stand in review in the same position as the Court of
Appeals. The question,
Page 348 U. S. 21
therefore, is whether the findings of the District Court are
The petitioner was second assistant engineer on board the S.S.
Edward B. Haines,
which was in Chinese waters from
September 13, 1945, to December 3, 1945. During this time, the
master of the ship was informed that polio and other contagious
diseases were prevalent in Shanghai, and a bulletin was posted on
ship warning the crew thereof and directing them, while ashore, to
exercise care in eating and drinking, and to avoid association with
the inhabitants ashore. So concerned was the master about this
condition that he mustered the members of the crew on several
occasions and warned them to the same effect. The District Court
found that the petitioner obeyed these warnings, and there was no
evidence in the record to the contrary. While the ship was in port
at Shanghai, November 11, 1945, the record does not show that the
petitioner went ashore. The last time he was ashore was November 1.
On November 11, a number of Chinese stevedores came aboard to do
some work, and there were also taken aboard at that time forty or
fifty Chinese soldiers and fifty truck drivers and mechanics to be
transported to Tsingtao. These soldiers, truck drivers, and
mechanics, fresh from Shanghai, the area infested by polio, were
permitted wide use of the ship, including toilet facilities and the
only drinking fountain, which was located on deck. To supplement
the toilet facilities, an open wooden trough was laid along the
deck and discharged over the side of the ship. A hose was provided
for flushing the trough, and, on several occasions, the petitioner
had to go on deck to turn the water on to flush it. There was
expert testimony by doctors that polio derives from a virus usually
spread by people who are carriers of the disease to healthy persons
who are susceptible. The virus is carried by human beings who have
the organism in their intestinal tract or in their nose and throat.
Page 348 U. S. 22
the respiratory or the intestinal tract of the susceptible
person, and is carried to the central nervous system, where the
disease produces injury.
The petitioner first reported his symptoms on November 24, 1945.
The usual period of incubation for the virus causing polio is
believed to be about two weeks, with a maximum of two and one-half
weeks. There was expert testimony that the producing cause of polio
in the petitioner was contact with the Chinese stevedores,
soldiers, truck drivers, and mechanics who came aboard the ship.
According to the expert testimony, polio usually does not occur
unless there have been previous cases of the disease or contact
with persons who have it. The petitioner had an uneventful trip of
months before reaching the Orient with individuals who had no
polio; then, suddenly, he is thrown in contact with Chinese from
the Shanghai area, where polio is prevalent, and thereafter, within
the normal period of incubation, he comes down with the
On evidence showing these facts, including the opinion of the
experts, we think there was substantial evidence from which the
District Court could and did find that respondent was negligent in
permitting these Chinese, from the infested area of Shanghai, to
have the run of the ship and use of its facilities, and in
furnishing the crude and exposed latrine provided on the deck of
the ship, by reason whereof the petitioner contracted polio.
Of course, no one can say with certainty that the Chinese were
the carriers of the polio virus and that they communicated it to
the petitioner. But, upon balance of the probabilities, it seems a
reasonable inference for the District Court to make from the facts
proved, supported as they were by the best judgment medical experts
have upon the subject today, that petitioner was contaminated by
the Chinese who came aboard the ship November 11, 1945, at
Shanghai. Certainly we cannot say on review
Page 348 U. S. 23
that a judgment based upon such evidence is clearly erroneous.
Myers v. Reading Co., 331 U. S. 477
331 U. S.
-486; Tennant v. Peoria & P.U. R. Co.,
321 U. S. 29
think it was an allowable judgment of the District Court, and the
judgment of the Court of Appeals is
MR. JUSTICE REED would affirm on the grounds stated by the Court
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER.
The petition on the basis of which a writ of certiorari was
sought in this case presented two questions of law claimed to have
general importance. The course of the argument at the bar left no
doubt that these were not the questions which were involved in the
decision of the Court of Appeals under review. Neither is the
question which this Court is now deciding. Both counsel and this
Court have viewed the case as no more than an ordinary action for
negligence, giving rise, as is frequently the case, to conflict in
evaluation of the evidence. In short, the Court of Appeals read the
evidence one way, and this Court another. If there is any class of
cases which plainly falls outside the professed considerations by
which this Court exercises its discretionary jurisdiction, it is
cases involving only interpretation of facts bearing on the issue
of causation or negligence. The standards of judgment in this type
of litigation are well settled. The significance of facts becomes
the bone of contention. And the facts stir differences that derive
from the very elusiveness of the meaning of the myriad unique sets
of circumstances in negligence cases. One's deep sympathy is, of
course, aroused by a victim of the hazards of negligence litigation
in situations like the one before us. But the remedy for an
obsolete and uncivilized system of compensation for loss of life or
limb of crews on ships and trains is
Page 348 U. S. 24
not intermittent disregard of the considerations which led
Congress to entrust this Court with the discretion of certiorari
jurisdiction. The remedy is an adequate and effective system of
The present case is one of those instances when a full
appreciation before the writ was granted of what the argument
developed should have led to a denial of the writ. If this Court is
to entertain a negligence case solely because we stand in review in
the same position as the Court of Appeals with relation to the
District Court, and disagree with the result which the Court of
Appeals reached in the application of the right standards, the
opportunity that is afforded in this case for a review of the Court
of Appeals is an opportunity that should generally be afforded when
the Court of Appeals reverses a District Court. (Incidentally, this
Court is not reviewing the District Court. It reviews the Court of
Appeals' review of the District Court. *
Again and again and again has it been authoritatively announced
that controversies such as this are not for this Court. Nor does it
follow that, because the case in fact was brought here and has been
argued, the merits should be decided. The short answer is that to
entertain this kind of a case inevitably will encourage petitions
for certiorari in other like cases tendering an issue of more
general importance which close examination proves wanting. Thus
will again begin demands on the Court which it wisely cannot
discharge and for which legislative relief had to come, or a
feeling of discrimination will be engendered in taking some cases
that ought not to be taken and rejecting others.
Page 348 U. S. 25
These controlling considerations were thus put by Mr. Chief
Justice Taft on behalf of the entire Court:
"If it be suggested that as much effort and time as we have
given to the consideration of the alleged conflict would have
enabled us to dispose of the case before us on the merits, the
answer is that it is very important that we be consistent in not
granting the writ of certiorari except in cases involving
principles the settlement of which is of importance to the public,
as distinguished from that of the parties, and in cases where there
is a real and embarrassing conflict of opinion and authority
between the Circuit Courts of Appeals. The present case certainly
comes under neither head."
Layne & Bowler Corp. v. Western Well Works, Inc.,
261 U. S. 387
261 U. S. 393
With due regard to the Court's jurisdiction on writ of
certiorari, Revised Rules of the Supreme Court, No. 19, and to the
effective adjudication of those cases, inevitably abundant, for
which the Court sits, the Court has again and again dismissed the
writ as improvidently granted after a preliminary and necessarily
tentative consideration of the petition. United States v.
Rimer, 220 U. S. 547
Furness, Withy & Co. v. Yang-Tsze Ins. Assn.,
242 U. S. 430
Tyrrell v. District of Columbia, 243 U. S.
; Layne & Bowler Corp. v. Western Well Works,
Inc., 261 U. S. 387
Southern Power Co. v. North Carolina Pub. Serv. Co.,
263 U. S. 508
Keller v. Adams-Campbell Co., 264 U.
; Wisconsin Electric Co. v. Dumore Co.,
282 U.S. 813; Sanchez v. Borras,
283 U.S. 798;
Franklin-American Trust Co. v. St. Louis Union Trust Co.,
286 U.S. 533; Moor v. Texas & N.O. R. Co.,
297 U. S. 101
Texas & New Orleans R. Co. v. Neill,
302 U.S. 645;
Goodman v. United States,
305 U.S. 578; Goins v.
306 U.S. 622; McCullough v. Kammerer
Corp., 323 U. S. 327
McCarthy v. Bruner,
323 U.S. 673.
I would dismiss the writ as improvidently granted.
* See Labor Board v. Pittsburgh S.S. Co., 340 U.
, 340 U. S.
"This is not the place to review a conflict of evidence, nor to
reverse a Court of Appeals because, were we in its place, we would
find the record tilting one way rather than the other, though
fair-minded judges could find it tilting either way."