21 September 2009

Is The Seventh Amendment Substantive?

Usually, federal law constitutional law has more of an impact on state law, than visa versa. For example, in Colorado, neither the federal nor the state constitution, nor any federal or state law requires that the right to a jury trial in civil cases be based upon the distinction between law and equity at common law. But, in fact, the courts have applied the same test for a right to a jury trial in a civil case in Colorado's state courts as the test used under the U.S. Constitution's 7th Amendment.

But, a recent article. on the U.S. Supreme Court's new ruling in Iqbal suggests that there might be a borrowing in the other direction.

Many state constitutions other than Colorado's do have a right to a civil jury trial. And, in those states, that right has frequently been interpreted as a substantive rather than merely a procedural right. It has been interpreted in those states as a right to a meaningful civil remedy enforceable through a jury trial to harms that were historically remediable by jury trial at common law.

Under this theory, a law or procedural rule that allows a defendant to escape the enforcement mechanism of a civil jury trial when a defendant might in fact have committed such a civil wrong or breach of contract is unconstitutional.

This substantive right is not a part of current 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution jurisprudence. But, part of the lack of case law is that the federal government doesn't have a strong history of depriving people of the right to a jury trial in civil cases. Federal statutes have long afforded people a right to sue for a wide variety of federal legal theories in federal court. Federal court jurisdiction in federal question cases was expanded around the same time that the courts increased their recognition of the federal constitutional rights of individuals. Pleading rules have been lenient for most of the history of the federal rules of civil procedure. A meaningful pre-trial dismissal option on motions for summary judgment is a few decades old, and has been interpreted by erring on the side of allowing cases to go forward.

The enunciation of a new substantive federal right to a civil jury trial would be a development on a par with the developments of the criminal jury trial right led by Justice Scalia, that led to the invalidation of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the invalidation of many state death sentences, and many reforms in state sentencing schemes, on the theory that juries, rather than judges, must make any findings of fact that increase the maximum available sentence in a criminal case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What has happened to my Bill of Rights? The federal courts violate the Seventh Amendment.
I requested a jury trial in a federal civil claim (seeking monetary damages for copyright infringement). In a pretrial hearing, the court acted as a trier of fact, weighed the evidence (using material outside the complaint) and dismissed the case. The court performed a test that is reserved for the jury. The court's "test" goes against the Seventh Amendment and is the basis for the dismissal. It is not a frivolous case but it is an erroneous test! Since when are we required to pass such an extensive a test in order to sue someone?
The federal court ignored the rules of civil procedure and case law; the court essentially tried the case before it can be tried. The federal court also dismissed my state claim; this only adds to their 7th Amendment violation.
My opponent is a corporate giant and I am a mere US citizen. Things would likely be different if the roles were reversed.