Seventh Amendment

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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Page 129

The Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

In suits at COMMON LAW, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

The Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in most civil suits that are heard in federal court. However, before the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial attaches, a lawsuit must satisfy four threshold requirements. First, it must assert a claim that would have triggered the right to a jury trial under the English common law of 1791, when the Seventh Amendment was ratified. If a lawsuit asserts a claim that is sufficiently analogous to an eighteenth-century English common-law claim, a litigant may still invoke the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial even though the claim was not expressly recognized in 1791 (Markman v. Westview Instruments, 517 U.S.370, 116 S. Ct. 1384, 134 L. Ed. 2d 577 [1996]). Claims brought under a federal statute that confer a right to trial by jury also implicate the Seventh Amendment (Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers, Local No. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 110 S. Ct. 1339, 108 L. Ed. 2d 519 [1990]).

Second, a lawsuit must be brought in federal court before a litigant may invoke the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. This right is one of the few liberties enumerated in the BILL OF RIGHTS that has not been made applicable to the states through the doctrine of selective incorporation (Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad v. Bombolis, 241 U.S. 211, 36 S. Ct. 595, 60 L. Ed. 961 [1916]). The Seventh Amendment does not apply in state court even when a litigant is enforcing a right created by federal law. However, most state constitutions similarly afford the right to trial by jury in civil cases.

Third, a lawsuit must assert a claim for more than $20. Because nearly all lawsuits are filed to recover much larger sums, this provision of the Seventh Amendment is virtually always met.

Fourth, a lawsuit must assert a claim that is essentially legal in nature before the Seventh Amendment applies. There is no right to a jury trial in civil actions involving claims that are essentially equitable in nature (Tull v. United States, 481 U.S. 412, 107 S. Ct. 1831, 95 L. Ed. 2d 365 [1987]). Lawsuits that seek injunctions, SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE, and other types of nonmonetary remedies are traditionally treated as equitable claims. Lawsuits that seek money damages, conversely, are traditionally treated as legal claims...

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