No jury trial waiver = reverse and remand

seventh-amendment-est-1791-sticker-p217898255011801286b2o35-400Allstate did not request a jury trial in its original complaint, but did in response to the defendant’s answer and counterclaim (which also included a jury demand, and which Allstate was entitled to rely upon).  After a summary judgment ruling, Allstate made a limited jury waiver on the remaining issue of damages.  The district court then vacated its summary judgment ruling and held a bench trial on all issues in the case — liability and damages.

The Fifth Circuit found that, “[a]lthough deference is generally accorded to a trial judge’s interpretation of a pretrial order,” this was “[a]t the very least . . a ‘doubtful situation'” that did not support the finding of “a knowing and voluntary relinquishment of the right” to jury trial pursuant to the Seventh Amendment. The Court also found harm because Allstate’s case could survive a JNOV motion, noting that “the district court relied heavily on its weighing of the credibility of the witness’s testimony at trial” in its fact finding.  Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for jury trial.  Allstate Ins. Co. v. Community Health Center, Inc., No. 14-30506 (March 16, 2015, unpublished).

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