Procedures Limiting Jury's Role

Procedures Limiting Jury's Role.—As was noted above, the primary purpose of the Amendment was to preserve the historic line separating the province of the jury from that of the judge, without at the same time preventing procedural improvement which did not transgress this line. Elucidating this formula, the Court has achieved the following results: it is constitutional for a federal judge, in the course of trial, to express his opinion upon the facts, provided all questions of fact are ultimately submitted to the jury,52 to call the jury's attention to parts of the evidence he deems of special importance,53 being careful to distinguish between matters of law and matters of opinion in relation thereto,54 to inform the jury when there is not sufficient evidence to justify a verdict, that such is the case,55 to require a jury to answer specific inter-rogatories in addition to rendering a general verdict,56 to direct the jury, after the plaintiff's case is all in, to return a verdict for the defendant on the ground of the insufficiency of the evidence,57 to set aside a verdict which in his opinion is against the law or the evidence, and order a new trial,58 to refuse defendant a new trial on the condition, accepted by plaintiff, that the latter remit a portion of the damages awarded him,59 but not, on the other hand, to deny plaintiff a new trial on the converse condition, although defendant accepted it.60 Nor can a Court of Appeals reverse the jury's finding on the issue of reasonableness of petitioner's conduct, in an indemnity action for damages respondent had paid petitioner's employee, on the ground that as a matter of law petitioner had not acted reasonably; "[u]nder the Seventh Amendment, that issue should have been left to the jury's determination."61

“In numerous contexts, gatekeeping judicial determinations prevent submission of claims to a jury's judgment without violating the Seventh Amendment.”1 Thus, in order to screen out frivolous complaints or defenses, Congress “has power to prescribe what must be pleaded to state the claim, just as it has the power to determine what must be proved to prevail on the merits. It is the federal lawmaker's prerogative, therefore, to allow, disallow, or shape the contours of — including the pleading and proof requirements for . . . private actions.”2 A “heightened pleading rule simply ‘prescribes the means of making an issue,’ and . . . , when ‘[t]he issue [is] made as prescribed, the right of trial by jury accrues.’”3

52 Vicksburg & Meridian R.R. v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545, 553 (1886); United States v. Philadelphia & Reading R.R., 123 U.S. 113, 114 (1887).

53 Vicksburg & Meridian R.R. v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545 (1886) (citing Carver v. Jackson, 29 U.S. (4 Pet.) 1, 80 (1830); Magniac v. Thompson, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 348, 390 (1833); Mitchell v. Harmony, 54 U.S. (13 How.) 115, 131 (1852); Transportation Line v. Hope, 95 U.S. 297, 302 (1877)).

54 Games v. Dunn, 39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 322, 327 (1840).

55 Sparf and Hansen v. United States, 156 U.S. 51, 99-100 (1895); Pleasants v. Fant, 89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 116, 121 (1875); Randall v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R., 109 U.S. 478, 482 (1883); Meehan v. Valentine, 145 U.S. 611, 625 (1892); Coughran v. Bigelow, 164 U.S. 301 (1896).

56 Walker v. New Mexico So. Pac. R.R., 165 U.S. 593, 598 (1897).

57 Treat Mfg. Co. v. Standard Steel & Iron Co., 157 U.S. 674 (1895); Randall v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R., 109 U.S. 478, 482 (1883), and cases cited therein.

58 Capital Traction Co. v. Hof, 174 U.S. 1, 13 (1889).

59 Arkansas Cattle Co. v. Mann, 130 U.S. 69, 74 (1889).

60 Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 476-78 (1935).

61 International Terminal Operating Co. v. N. V. Nederl. Amerik Stoomv, Maats., 393 U.S. 74, 75 (1968). But see Neely v. Martin K. Eby Construction Co., 386 U.S. 317 (1967), where the Court held that the Seventh Amendment does not bar an appellate court from granting a judgment n. o. v. insofar as "there is no greater restriction on the province of the jury when an appellate court enters judgment n. o. v. than when a trial court does." Id. at 322. A federal appellate court may also review a district court's denial of a motion to set aside an award as excessive under an abuse of discretion standard. Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415 (1996) (New York State law which requires a review of jury awards to determine if they "deviate materially from reasonable compensation" may be adopted by federal district, but not appellate, court exercising diversity jurisdiction).

1 Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 327 n.8 (2007).

2 551 U.S. at 327.

3 551 U.S. at 328 (quoting Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md. v. United States, 187 U.S. 315, 320 (1902)).

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