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Pursuant to the express power to submit interrogatories under Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 49(b), there is to be implied a power to withdraw these same interrogatories in proper cases.
Plaintiff Julio Diniero, a Junior Third Assistant Engineer aboard the S. S. Pioneer Land, owned by Defendant United States Lines Company, claimed to have suffered such repeated strains in his back in the performance of his duties as to cause a ruptured disc with resultant pain and suffering, culminating some years later in a fusion operation and the removal of the disc. Plaintiff fled an action against defendant seeking damages for the alleged injuries. At the close of the evidence, the trial judge submitted the case to the jury in a wholly unexceptionable charge. In an endeavor to assist the jury in its deliberations, however, and pursuant to F.R.Civ.P., Rule 49(b), 28 U.S.C.A. he submitted eight questions to be signed and returned as the verdict of the jury. The last two were in the form of a general verdict for plaintiff or defendant, questions 2 to 6 inclusive were in the common form relating to unseaworthiness, negligence, contributory negligence and proximate cause. After some hours of deliberation and the receipt of a number of communications from the jury, the trial judge withdrew all the questions, told the jury to disregard them and bring in a general verdict in the usual form; and, after further deliberations the jury brought in a verdict in favor of plaintiff. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial judge committed error by the withdrawal of the questions originally submitted. According to the defendant, F.R.Civ.P., Rule 49(b) authorized the submission of written interrogatories but did not authorize the withdrawal of such interrogatories, after they had once been submitted and the jury has commenced its deliberations thereon.
Did the trial judge err in withdrawing the questions previously submitted to the jury?
Upon appeal, the court affirmed. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by withdrawing the jury questions for the purpose of eliminating the confusion caused by the formulation of an ambiguous question where the interrogatory could not fairly be considered a material question or necessary to the verdict. The court found that pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 49(b), there was an implied authorization for the withdrawal of submitted jury interrogatories in certain cases and that the trial court properly exercised its discretion because the evidence indicated that a jury question confused the jurors and an attempted explanation by the trial judge did not clear the confusion.