BYRD V. BLUE RIDGE RURAL ELEC. COOP., INC., 356 U. S. 525 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Elec. Coop., Inc., 356 U.S. 525 (1958)

Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.

No. 57

Argued January 28, 1958

Restored to the calendar for reargument March 3, 1958

Reargued April 28-29, 1958

Decided May 19, 1958

356 U.S. 525


Basing jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship, petitioner sued in the Federal District Court to recover for injuries allegedly caused by respondent's negligence. Respondent asserted as an affirmative defense that petitioner was respondent's employee for purposes of the State Workmen's Compensation Act, and that the Act provided petitioner's exclusive remedy. After hearing respondent's evidence on this issue, the trial judge struck the defense without hearing petitioner's evidence. The Court of Appeals, holding that, under state law, respondent had established its defense, reversed and directed that judgment be entered for respondent.

Held: judgment reversed and cause remanded. Pp. 356 U. S. 526-540.

1. The Court of Appeals erred in directing judgment for respondent without allowing petitioner an opportunity to present evidence on the issue of respondent's affirmative defense. Pp. 356 U. S. 528-533.

2. Notwithstanding state decisions holding that this statutory defense must be decided by the judge alone, petitioner is entitled in a federal court to have the factual issues raised by the defense presented to the jury. Pp. 356 U. S. 533-540.

(a) The state rule requiring judge determination of this defense is not so bound up with state-created rights and obligations as to require its application in federal courts under Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U. S. 64. Pp. 356 U. S. 535-536.

(b) Although jury determination of the issue may substantially affect the outcome of the case, the policy of Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U. S. 99, does not invariably prevail over an affirmative federal policy favoring jury determination of disputed factual questions. Pp. 356 U. S. 536-539.

Page 356 U. S. 526

(c) There is here no such strong possibility that the outcome of the suit would be affected by jury determination of the defense as to require federal practice to yield in the interest of uniformity. Pp. 356 U. S. 539-540.

238 F.2d 346 reversed, and cause remanded.

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