Buchanan v. Stanships, Inc.

485 U. S. 265

March 21, 1988

A widow and her child sued a cargo ships company (Stanships) for her husband’s wrongful death. She lost, but appealed. Shortly afterward, the ship company successfully filed a motion to be awarded court costs. When the widow did not subsequently renew her request for appeal, Stanships tried to get the case dismissed because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure required re-filing when a court amends its final judgment.

The Supreme Court slapped down Stanships in an 8-1 per curiam decision. The aforementioned rule only applied when the judgment on the legal merits was altered or amended, not when the totally separate issue of costs was re-examined. A careful parsing of the Federal Rules related to court costs bolstered this conclusion. Thus, the widow could go ahead with her appeal without needing to re-file. Marshall, as always, dissented, and opined that the Court should have heard oral argument before reaching a verdict.

Usually, the Supreme Court is a cold and callous organization which does not care about establishing justice. But on very rare occasions, like in Rose, it will remember the Bible’s warning: “cursed [is] anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19). And so, on that beautiful day in March of 1988, eight Justices protected Mercilyn Buchanan against the abusive ship company, just as they had protected Carrie Rose sixteen months earlier. Obedience to God must not be so vanishingly rare, but I suppose a tiny amount of obedience is better than none.

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