Lavender v. Kurn
327 U.S. 645, 66 S. Ct. 740, 90 L. Ed. 916 (1946)

  • Haney, a switch operator for train company, was found dead on the railroad tracks. The cause of death was in doubt:
    • His estate (represented by Lavender) argued that he was hit by a mail hook protruding from one of the mail cars.
      • The railroad countered that it would have been difficult for Haney to have been in a position to get hit by a mail hook.
    • The railroad (represented by Kern) argued that he was murdered by a hobo, as his wallet was found several feet away from him with no money in it.
      • Haney’s wife countered that he didn’t have any money.
  • The Trial Court found for Lavender and awarded Haney’s estate $30k. Kurn appealed.
  • The Missouri Supreme Court reversed. Lavender appealed.
    • The Missouri Supreme Court found that there was no substantial evidence of negligence to support the submission of the case to a jury.
      • Basically, they were saying that Kern should have won on summary judgment since there was insufficient evidence.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed the Missouri Supreme Court.
    • The US Supreme Court found that there was sufficient evidence of negligence for the Trial Court to submit the case to the jury, and Appellate Courts should abide by such a decision.
      • The Court found that all a court needs is sufficient evidence to make a decision one way or the other.
    • The Court felt that the Appellate Courts had weighed the evidence, which is not something Appellate Courts are empowered to do. It’s not up to the Appellate Courts to determine what is reasonable evidence and what is not.
    • Kern had argued that the jury’s verdict involved speculation and conjecture. But the Court felt that all jury decisions involve some speculation and conjecture. In fact, that’s why you have a jury in the first place!
  • Basically, reversal is only appropriate when there is a complete lack of probative facts to support a conclusion. As long as there is some basis for the jury’s verdict, the jury is free to discard or disbelieve whatever facts are inconsistent with its conclusion.
    • It is completely immaterial that an Appellate Court might feel that the opposite conclusion is more reasonable.
    • Sometimes this is known as the scintilla of evidence test, meaning that, as long as there is one tiny piece of evidence to support a jury’s decision, that decision cannot be overruled by a higher court.