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Payne v. S.S. Nabob

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Payne (Appellant), brought a personal injury admiralty suit and identified in a pretrial memo, which the judge relied on in his pretrial report, the condition Appellant was relying on to prove his cause of action. At trial, Appellant’s attorney stated a different condition was responsible for the action. The trial court disallowed this showing as well as the presentation of two witnesses for Appellant who were not included in Appellant’s pretrial memo.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Attorneys at the pretrial stage owe a duty to the court and opposing counsel to make a full and fair disclosure of their views as to what the real issues at trial will be.

    Facts. In a personal admiralty action, the Appellant brought a personal injury admiralty action and filed a pretrial memorandum that stated he was relying upon the condition of a winch to prove his cause of action. The judge noted that in his pretrial report. When the case went to trial, the Appellant’s attorney, in his opening statement added that the loading had been handled improperly as an important element of his proof of unseaworthiness. The impleaded stevedore employer objected as it was outside the scope of the pretrial memo and report and the trial court sustained the objection. Two witnesses on behalf of the Appellant, not witnesses on the pretrial memo, were not allowed to testify. Appellant’s attorney moved for continuance and was denied.

    Issue. Whether a court can disallow an amendment to a pretrial memorandum that states a different basis as its cause of action and omits witnesses to be presented at trial.

    Held. Yes. Attorneys at the pretrial stage owe a duty to the court and opponents to make a full and fair disclose as to what issues will arise at trial. The judge could not allow the amendment because the pretrial procedure routine in the Eastern District was enforced strictly. District court decree affirmed.

    Discussion. The Appellant was not forced into an admission he did not want to make. The Appellant voluntarily stated his basis of claim in the pretrial memo and never once objected to its presence in the judge’s report. The Appellant had five and a half months up until trial to make objections and never did. Courts take the pretrial processes very seriously, hence, the reason why the judge could not allow the amendment.


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