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Eisenberg v. Smith

decided: February 13, 1959.

MORRIS EISENBERG AND FANNIE EISENBERG, APPELLANTS,
v.
FRANCIS R. SMITH, COLLECTOR OF INTERNAL REVENUE. HERMAN SCHAEFFER AND ROSE SCHAEFFER, APPELLANTS, V. FRANCIS R. SMITH, COLLECTOR OF INTERNAL REVENUE.



Author: Goodrich

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and GOODRICH and STALEY, Circuit Judges.

GOODRICH, Circuit Judge.

These are suits by the taxpayers, Eisenberg and Schaeffer, to recover on what they claim to be incorrect exactions of income tax for the years 1945 to 1949, inclusive.*fn1 Plaintiffs have paid their tax and now seek to get it back. They lost in the lower court. The focal legal controversy is whether they were improperly taxed as the sole partners in a concern called Bailey's Furniture Company instead of bearing their fractional proportion of what is claimed as being a partnership made up of nine partners.*fn2 There are three principal issues in the case.

I. Are the Plaintiffs Properly in Court?

The Government raises a number of questions concerning whether the plaintiffs have standing in this Court to pursue their appeal. It is pointed out that instead of the appeal being taken from the judgments of the district court bearing date November 18, 1957, they are appealing from an order denying alternative motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial. As to the first the Government says that the new trial is a matter within the discretion of the trial court and is not reviewable on appeal. But on an appeal properly taken this Court has a limited review to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion, even where, as in this case, a new trial was sought on the ground that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. See John E. Smith's Sons Co. v. Lattimer Foundry & Machine Co., 3 Cir., 1956, 239 F.2d 815, 816; Hill v. Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines, Inc., 3 Cir., 1949, 174 F.2d 171, 172. 6 Moore, Federal Practice 59.08 [5], p. 3820 (2d ed. 1953).

The Government next says that the plaintiffs are not entitled to consideration of their motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, because they made no motion for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the presentation of all the evidence. F.R. Civ. P. 50(b), 28 U.S.C., provides that "* * * a party who has moved for a directed verdict may move to have the verdict and any judgment entered thereon set aside and to have judgment entered in accordance with his motion for a directed verdict * * *." Rule 50(a) states that "A motion for a directed verdict shall state the specific grounds therefor." These plaintiffs, in the first of their requested points for charge to the jury, did ask for the following: "On the basis of the evidence and the applicable law, you are directed to find a verdict for the Plaintiffs."*fn3

This request, thrown in along with a considerable list of points for charge, is not, we think, a compliance with the rule as stated in section 50(a) and quoted above. It certainly gives the trial judge no hint of what the position of the party making the motion is, except that he wants the lawsuit decided in his favor. The purpose of the rule requiring the stating of grounds is, of course, to let the trial judge and opposing counsel see what the problem is so that the decision will be the best that can be had. 5 Moore, Federal Practice 50.04, p. 2321 (2d ed. 1951). Virginia-Carolina Tie & Wood Co., Inc. v. Dunbar, 4 Cir., 1939, 106 F.2d 383, 385; Ryan Distributing Corp. v. Caley, 3 Cir., 1945, 147 F.2d 138, 140.

In addition to what has been said above, we must also notice Rule 73 dealing with "Appeal to a Court of Appeals." That rule provides as follows:

"(a) When and How Taken. * * *

"A party may appeal from a judgment by filing with the district court a notice of appeal. * * *

"(b) Notice of Appeal. The notice of appeal shall specify the parties taking the appeal; shall designate the judgment or part thereof appealed from; and shall name the court to which the appeal is taken. * * *"

As already pointed out this appeal was not from the judgment.*fn4 How can we say that Rule 73 is complied with?

All this leaves the plaintiffs in a rather unhappy procedural position. We should prefer not to have the case rest on this ground alone, however. The rules of civil procedure are designed to assist civil business in an ordinary fashion but surely should not be so literally interpreted as to prevent a fair result in a meritorious ...


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