Brief Fact Summary.
The local rule promulgated by the district court allowed the use of six-man juries in civil cases.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A six-man jury for civil cases does not violate the Seventh Amendment.
Colgrove (Plaintiff) filed an action against Battin (Defendant) in federal court. The case was heard as a diversity action and Plaintiff requested a jury trial. Local Rule 13(d)(1) allowed a six-man jury to hear civil cases. Plaintiff filed a writ of mandamus, seeking to compel the use of a 12-man jury, claiming that the Seventh Amendment requires 12 to serve. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the writ and the Supreme Court granted certiorari
Does the Seventh Amendment require the use of a 12-man jury in civil cases?
(Brennan, J.) No. A six-man jury for civil cases does not violate the Seventh Amendment. The Seventh Amendment ensures that parties can request a jury trial in civil cases heard in federal court. The size and composition of such a jury is not expressed in the Amendment. Nothing in the history of the Constitution shows that a 12-man jury is required. The question for the Court then becomes simply whether the number proposed will serve the interests of justice underlying the right to request a jury trial. A six-man jury is adequate to protect the interests addressed by the Seventh Amendment. The rule is valid and the Court of Appeals denial of the writ is affirmed.
(Marshall, J.) The Court is intruding upon the rights granted by the Seventh Amendment and abandoning judicial history by abandoning the 12-man jury. The Court does so without Constitutional amendment or legislative action.
Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970) was the first case to question the necessity for a 12-person jury. In Williams, the Court held that a state did not have to provide a 12-person jury in all criminal cases. It found that the number 12 held no historical significance. Since Williams, almost half of the federal districts and many states have lowered the number of jurors in civil cases. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure allows parties to agree to a number less than 12 if they wish.