Hynes v. New York Central Argument
Conclusion: “We think that considerations of analogy, of convenience, of policy, and of justice, exclude him from the field of the defendant’s immunity and exemption, and place him in the field of liability and duty.”
Argument by analogy (FGH): two boys walking in the country (A, B, A->C, A=B…B->C)
(i) Two boys are killed on the border of a public territory by falling wires. The property owner is liable for the boy sitting under the tree but not for the boy standing on it because the latter was on his property.
(ii) Previous courts have ruled that the railroad company is not liable for the boy because he was standing on the plank. If he were standing next to the plank, however, he would not have been liable.
(iii) The differing remedies for the two boys are absurd.
(iv) The differing remedies are absurd because the locations of the two boys were so similar as to be accidental.
(v) Therefore, unless there are countervailing considerations (and there are not), the previous courts’ decisions that the diving boy is at fault are also absurd.
Argument by convenience (practical reasoning) (A->B, A, therefore B)
(i) The plank, though it is technically a fixture, is so close to the river that the two are inextricable, and to consider the plank strictly private property would be splitting hairs.
(ii) Law should not be taken to such a “dryly logical extreme.”
(iii) The court should not consider the plank strictly private property.
Argument against precedent (A->B, ~B, therefore ~A)
(i) If there is precedent which is applicable to this case, it should be respected.
(ii) The pertinent trespassing laws were framed alio intuitu, or with substantively different cases in mind.
(iii) Precedent does not conflict with Cardozo’s decision.
Argument by policy (goal-oriented justification) (A->B, A, therefore B)
(i) The plank belongs to both the private and public spheres.
(ii) The plank belongs to the private sphere in a technical and artificial sense, to the public sphere in a realistic one.
(iii) The realist’s view is to be preferred. (somewhat hidden)
(iv) The court considers the plank part of the public sphere.
Hynes v. New York Central Essay
The major classification dispute in this case is whether the plank is private or public property. Cardozo doubts this point, but he accepts it for the sake of the argument. Rather, he claims that applying previous trespassing laws and decisions would be too simplistic because the board intrudes into public property and is so accessible from it. (The boy was also occupying the publicly-owned air above the plank, Cardozo notes.) The justice classifies the plank as an intersection of private and public property but decides it is ultimately more practical to consider the scene of the crime as public property. That is enough for the plaintiff.
Cardozo employs the story of the two traveling boys as a reductio ad absurdum against previous interpretations of the case. The diver would have died if he’d been on the public property anywhere near the wires, so the justice creates a similar image to drive that concept into readers’ minds. The example is similar to the actual case, but unfortunately, the example has not been settled in cases previously, nor does it have a clear answer. So its effectiveness depends upon its appeal to the rationality and emotions of its readers.
Patterson’s characterization of Cardozo’s argument as “ingenious casuistry” implies he does not fully support Cardozo’s decision. He says this decision will encourage courts to avoid marginal cases like Hynes; in other words, Cardozo has complicated legal classifications without helping anyone. I believe that strictly drawn principles are still possible, however; there may simply be cases where property ownership is not resolved until it enters a legal dispute. The Harlem River plank is one such example. The rail company could have resolved the issue in order to force boys off the plank but deferred; ironically, this acquiescence would hurt it in the end.
Jerome Frank wrote that the arguments of justices are often rationalizations for the conclusions they wished to reach all along. I suspect this may be true of Justice Cardozo, who in both MacPherson and Hynes made landmark liability decisions in favor of an individual over a corporation. His arguments are not invalid, but they do take the law in unusual directions in the name of mercy. The Most Outrageous Consequences illustrates reasonable people could disagree with MacPherson, for instance.
I question whether Cardozo has investigated precedent to its fullest extent. The “fixture” must have legal recognition because the concept had import to a previous case, and I would like to know how those cases were decided. In MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., Cardozo said the law must adapt to changing times. Has technological progress affected this case? I imagine accidents have happened on property borders before.
How did the boys access the plank? In my opinion, if they could access it directly from the riverbank, Hynes has a stronger case. The plank is more obviously railroad property if the boys had to trespass to get there. This brings me to a potential countervailing argument against Cardozo’s “two boys” example: in the story, the boys are travelers who are resting. In real life, the young people of Harlem had been using the plank as a diving board, for their own entertainment, for at least five years. So the real boys deserve less sympathy than the travelers, who knew nothing of the risks near the trees.
Finally, a couple of the Speluncean Explorers judges would argue that the realist’s view is not preferable because strict, technical interpretation is what makes the law fair.