La Buy v. Howes

352 U.S. 249, 77 S. Ct. 309 (1957)



As a general rule, land possessors owe a duty to invitees to discover unreasonably dangerous conditions on the land and to either correct them or warn of them. However, the open and obvious doctrine states that land possessors cannot be held liable to invitees who are injured by open and obvious dangers. 


Finding the cases burdensome after hearing motions, presiding over discovery, and becoming knowledgeable about the facts and theories of the cases, petitioner judge ordered that two antitrust actions before his court be referred to a master for further evidentiary hearings and commencement of trial. The parties moved to have the order vacated which the trial court denied. The litigants appealed, and a writ of mandamus was issued to vacate the order pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C.S. § 1651(a) (Act). Petitioner appealed on grounds that the court of appeals had no power to issue the writ.


Can a writ of mandamus to compel a district judge to vacate an order referring antitrust cases for trial before a master when such authority is discretionary to the district judge?




The United States Supreme Court noted that petitioner had authority to refer the cases under Fed. R. Civ. P. 53(b), but because petitioner had become so highly involved in the cases and was more fully qualified to hear the merits of the complex antitrust claims, his referral was an abuse of discretion. The Act empowered the court of appeals to grant extraordinary remedy where necessary for proper judicial administration. The writ of mandamus was therefore a proper exercise of the court of appeals' authority under the Act and prevented petitioner from abdicating his function and depriving the litigants of a fair trial on the merits in his court.

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