Continuously opining, intermittently publishing.

The Defendant’s Right to Jury Trial in Jones Act Claims

Posted by oshane | Leave a comment at the end of this post.

The Seton Hall Circuit Review at Seton Hall University School of Law graciously published my article, entitled The Defendant’s Right to Jury Trial in Jones Act Claims: Washington State’s Endicott Opinion Invites Much Needed Supreme Court Review near the end of December.

Plaintiffs in Jones Act claims have the ability to elect to have the claims heard in federal court or in state court. When a federal court hears the claim, the plaintiffs may elect to have it heard in admiralty (with no jury trial) or under another form of jurisdiction where either party can elect to have a jury determine the facts of the case. This is because the Seventh Amendment demands that the right to trial by jury be preserved except in a few special circumstances. The Supreme Court long ago ruled that admiralty trials were one of those exceptions.

At issue is that the plaintiff can elect to have the claim heard in admiralty or not in federal court, and because plaintiffs can amend their complaints (often as a matter of right), a plaintiff may first elect a form of trial that requires a jury and then amend the complaint to switch it back to admiralty. When this happens, some courts say the switching back is okay because even though the jury trial right should have attached in the first form of jurisdiction, because the plaintiff had the power to elect in the first place, there’s no harm done. Other courts say that so long as you keep the claim in admiralty, there is no jury trial right, but once you elect to have the case heard in another jurisdictional form, the jury trial right attaches irrevocably.

My article explores that split of authority and argues the latter courts are right. If you quote this article, please do so with the following attribution (amended as your citation framework may direct): O. Shane Balloun, The Defendant’s Right to Jury Trial in Jones Act Claims: Washington State’s Endicott Opinion Invites Much Needed Supreme Court Review, 9 Seton Hall Cir. Rev. 1 (2012).

If you want to read the predicate opinion by the Washington Supreme Court, Endicott v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc., 224 P.3d 761 (2010), it is here.

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