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Supreme Court of the United States
October 21, 1952, Argued ; March 9, 1953, Decided
[*2] [**529] [***730] MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion [****4] of the Court.
These suits under the Tort Claims Act 1 arise from the death of three civilians in the crash of a B-29 aircraft at [*3] Waycross, Georgia, on October 6, 1948. Because an important question of the Government's privilege to resist discovery 2 is involved, we granted certiorari. 343 U.S. 918.
The aircraft had taken flight for the purpose of testing secret electronic equipment, with four civilian observers aboard. While aloft, fire broke out in one of the bomber's engines. Six of the nine crew members and three of the four civilian observers were killed in the crash.
The widows of the three deceased civilian observers brought consolidated suits against the United States. In the pretrial stages the plaintiffs moved, under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 3 [****6] for [**530] production of the Air Force's official accident investigation [***731] report and [****5] the statements of the three surviving crew members, taken in connection with the official investigation. The Government moved to quash the motion, claiming that these matters were privileged against disclosure pursuant [*4] to Air Force regulations promulgated under R. S. § 161. 4 The District Judge sustained plaintiffs' motion, holding that good cause for production had been shown. 5 The claim of privilege under R. S. § 161 was rejected on the premise that the Tort Claims Act, in making the Government liable "in the same manner" as a private individual, 6 had waived any privilege based upon executive control over governmental documents.
[****7] Shortly after this decision, the District Court received a letter from the Secretary of the Air Force, stating that "it has been determined that it would not be in the public interest to furnish this report. . . ." The court allowed a rehearing on its earlier order, and at the rehearing the Secretary of the Air Force filed a formal "Claim of Privilege." This document repeated the prior claim based generally on R. S. § 161, and then stated that the Government further objected to production of the documents "for the reason that the aircraft in question, together with the personnel on board, were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force." An affidavit of the Judge Advocate General, United States Air Force, was also filed [*5] with the court, which asserted that the demanded material could not be furnished "without seriously hampering national security, flying safety and the development of highly technical and secret military equipment." The same affidavit offered to produce the three surviving crew members, without cost, for examination by the plaintiffs. The witnesses would be allowed to refresh their memories from any statement made by them to the Air Force, and authorized [****8] to testify as to all matters except those of a "classified nature."
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345 U.S. 1 *; 73 S. Ct. 528 **; 97 L. Ed. 727 ***; 1953 U.S. LEXIS 2329 ****; 32 A.L.R.2d 382
UNITED STATES v. REYNOLDS ET AL.
Subsequent History: Related proceeding at Herring v. United States, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18545 (E.D. Pa., Sept. 10, 2004)
Prior History: [****1] CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.
In a suit under the Tort Claims Act, the District Court entered judgment against the Government. 10 F.R.D. 468. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 192 F.2d 987. This Court granted certiorari. 343 U.S. 918. Reversed and remanded, p. 12.
Reynolds v. United States, 192 F.2d 987, 1951 U.S. App. LEXIS 3821 (3d Cir. Pa., 1951)
Disposition: 192 F.2d 987, reversed.
claim of privilege, secret, Air, documents, military, privileged, disclosure, electronic, invoke
Civil Procedure, Discovery, Methods of Discovery, Inspection & Production Requests, Military & Veterans Law, National Defense, Tort Liability, Armed Forces, Organization, US Department of Defense, Administrative Law, Sovereign Immunity, Torts, Liability, Federal Tort Claims Act, General Overview, Discovery & Disclosure, Misconduct During Discovery, Evidence, Privileges, Self-Incrimination Privilege, Elements, Governments, Courts, Court Personnel, Government Privileges, Procedural Matters, State Secrets Privilege, Federal Government, Domestic Security