Amdt7.1.1.3 Courts in Which the Guarantee Applies

Seventh Amendment:

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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

The Amendment governs only courts that sit under the authority of the United States, 1 including courts in the territories 2 and the District of Columbia, 3 and does not apply generally to state courts. 4 But when a state court is enforcing a federally created right, of which the right to trial by jury is a substantial part, the state may not eliminate trial by jury as to one or more elements. 5 Ordinarily, a federal court enforcing a state-created right will follow its own rules with regard to the allocation of functions between judge and jury, a rule the Court based on the interests of the federal court system, eschewing reliance on the Seventh Amendment but noting its influence. 6 Where the interests of the state and federal systems can be reconciled, however, a court should endeavor to implement the rules of the state courts. 7

Footnotes

  1.  Pearson v. Yewdall, 95 U.S. 294, 296 (1877); Edwards v. Elliott, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 532, 557 (1874); The Justices v. Murray, 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 274, 277 (1870); Walker v. Sauvinet, 92 U.S. 90 (1876); St. Louis & K.C. Land Co. v. Kansas City, 241 U.S. 419 (1916).
  2.  Webster v. Reid, 52 U.S. (11 How.) 437, 460 (1851); Kennon v. Gilmer, 131 U.S. 22, 28 (1889).
  3.  Capital Traction Co. v. Hof, 174 U.S. 1, 5 (1899).
  4.  Minneapolis & St. Louis R.R. v. Bombolis, 241 U.S. 211 (1916). See also Melancon v. McKeithen, 345 F. Supp. 105 (E.D. La.) (three-judge court), aff'd per curiam, 409 U.S. 943 (1972); Alexander v. Virginia, 413 U.S. 836 (1973).
  5.  Dice v. Akron, C. & Y. R.R., 342 U.S. 359 (1952). Four dissenters contended that the ruling was contrary to the unanimous decision in Bombolis.
  6.  Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Elec. Coop., 356 U.S. 525 (1958) (citing Herron v. Southern Pacific Co., 283 U.S. 91 (1931)).
  7.  Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415 (1996). In Gasperini, the Court examined whether New York law, which required that state trial courts and courts of appeals review jury awards to determine if they deviate materially from reasonable compensation, should be applied by federal courts exercising diversity jurisdiction. The Court, in what has been characterized as a state-friendly decision, Leading Cases, 110 Harv. L. Rev. 266 (1996), found that absent inconsistent federal interests, the state standard of review should be applied by the federal courts. The Court held that a district court could apply such a standard consistent with Seventh Amendment precepts, but that the court of appeals could only review an award under an abuse of discretion standard. 518 U.S. at 434-35.