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Sibbach v. Wilson & Co

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Sibbach (Plaintiff) appealed a contempt citation, claiming that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to create Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 35 and 37. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The Supreme Court has the authority to regulate procedure and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 35 and 37 are proper exercises of that authority.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff sued Wilson (Defendant) in federal court in Illinois for injuries sustained in Indiana. Defendant moved the court to require Plaintiff to undergo a physical examination. The district court issued the order for the physical examination pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35. Plaintiff argued that the order was not allowed in Illinois, where the court was located, and refused to comply.  The district court then cited Plaintiff for contempt pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. Plaintiff appealed the finding of contempt, claiming that Rules 35 and 37 did not fall within the authority granted to the Supreme Court by Congress. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court and upheld the orders. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    Issue.

    Are Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 35 and 37 procedural rules and therefore within the Supreme Court’s authority to promulgate?

    Held.

    (Roberts, J.) Yes. The Supreme Court has the authority to regulate procedure and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 35 and 37 are proper exercises of that authority. Congress gave the Supreme Court the authority to create rules governing the practice and procedure in civil actions tried in federal court. Rule 35, which allows a federal court to order a physical examination, and Rule 37, which allows for a federal court to order the arrest of an individual disobeying a court order, regulate procedure. The original order requiring Plaintiff to undergo a physical examination was proper. However, Rule 37 has an exception that does not allow the arrest of an individual for refusing to undergo a physical examination. The order of arrest was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court.          

    Dissent.

    (Frankfurter, J.) Physical examinations implicate the rights of individuals to privacy and should not be treated the same as procedural rules concerning discovery or other means of ensuring efficient and fair litigation. 

    Discussion.

    The Constitution is the source of congressional power.  Just as Congress must stay within the limits of that power, the Supreme Court must stay within the authority granted by congress. Actions taken by the Court that extend beyond that authority will be void.


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