Today is July 4, 2017, the 241st anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and the United States’ declaration of national sovereignty. Among the many grievances against King George was one for “depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury.”
The right to trial by jury – arguably the cornerstone of our civil justice system – is enshrined in the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides:
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 phrase “suits at common law” has been interpreted “to refer to suits in which only legal rights and remedies were at issue, as opposed to equitable rights and remedies.” Carver v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon, No. 15-CV-10180 (JPO), 2017 WL 1208598 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017).
Regardless of whether the 7th Amendment provides for a jury trial in a particular case, it is indisputable that the civil jury is the one thing that may level the playing field between an injured plaintiff, on the one hand, and a relatively larger alleged wrongdoer, on the other.