LA BUY V. HOWES LEATHER CO., INC., 352 U. S. 249 (1957)

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U.S. Supreme Court

La Buy v. Howes Leather Co., Inc., 352 U.S. 249 (1957)

La Buy v. Howes Leather Co., Inc.

No. 27

Argued October 17-18, 1956

Decided January 14, 1957

352 U.S. 249


Petitioner is a Federal District Judge who had pending before him two civil antitrust actions brought by private parties. Over a period of years, he had ruled upon many preliminary pleas and motions, requiring, in several instances, the hearing of oral arguments, the consideration of briefs, and the writing of opinions and memoranda. Confronted with motions to set the cases for trial and a statement that it would take six weeks to try one of them, he sua sponte entered orders under Rule 53(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure referring both cases to a master for hearings and the preparation of findings of fact and conclusions of law. As exceptional conditions requiring the references, he cited "an extremely congested calendar," the complexity of the cases, and the fact that they would take considerable time to try. The Court of Appeals issued writs of mandamus requiring petitioner to vacate his orders of reference.

Held: the Court of Appeals properly issued the writs of mandamus. Pp. 352 U. S. 250-260.

1. Since the Court of Appeals could at some stage of the antitrust proceedings entertain appeals in these cases, it had discretionary power under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), in proper circumstances to issue writs of mandamus reaching them. Pp. 352 U. S. 254-255.

2. In the exceptional circumstance of these cases, the Court of Appeals properly exercised its discretionary power to issue the writs of mandamus, since it was justified in finding that the orders of reference were an abuse of petitioner's power under Rule 53(b), amounting to little less than an abdication of the judicial function and depriving the parties of trials before the court on the basic issues involved in the litigation. Bankers Life & Casualty Co. v. Holland, 346 U. S. 379, and Parr v. United States, 351 U. S. 513, distinguished. Pp. 352 U. S. 255-260.

(a) The use of masters is to aid judges in the performance of specific duties as they arise in the progress of a cause -- not to displace the court. P. 352 U. S. 256.

Page 352 U. S. 250

(b) Congestion of the calendar in itself is not such an exceptional circumstance as to warrant reference to a master. P. 352 U. S. 259.

(c) That the cases referred had unusually complex issues of fact and law is not justification for reference to a master, but rather an impelling reason for trial before a regular experienced judge. P. 352 U. S. 259.

(d) Nor does petitioner's claim of the great length of time these trials will require offer exceptional ground for reference to a master. P. 352 U. S. 259.

(e) The detailed accounting required in order to determine the damages suffered by each plaintiff might be referred to a master after the court has determined the over-all liability of defendants, provided the circumstances indicate that the use of the court's time is not warranted in receiving the proof and making the tabulation. P. 352 U. S. 259.

3. Supervisory control of the District Courts by the Courts of Appeals is necessary to proper judicial administration in the federal system, and the All Writs Act confers on the Courts of Appeals the discretionary power to issue writs of mandamus in the exceptional circumstances existing here. Pp. 352 U. S. 259-260.

226 F.2d 703 affirmed.

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