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Jury Trials as Affected by Consolidation or Counterclaim

In certain situations, admiralty and civil claims can be tried together by a jury.  When two claims arise from the same injury and connected facts, it will be best to have one fact finder for better judicial efficiency.[i] When an admiralty case is consolidated with an action for damages, a jury can try the factual issues in both cases.

An admiralty counterclaim is triable by jury if interposed in a case in which the plaintiff has demanded a jury trial for his/her nonadmiralty claim.  There must be an independent jurisdictional basis to support a permissive counterclaim.  Set off which is recognized as a permissive counterclaim is an exception to this general rule and no separate federal jurisdictional basis for the set off must be established.[ii] Whereas, compulsory counterclaims fall within the ancillary jurisdiction of the court and it does not require an independent jurisdictional basis.[iii]

If a person alleges both admiralty and diversity jurisdiction, s/he has the right to elect to have his/her admiralty claim by identifying his/her claim as lying in admiralty.  As long as there is no conflict exists with the opposite party’s constitutional right to trial by jury, this election cannot be defeated by the opposite party’s jury trial demand.[iv] The decision to proceed in admiralty by a party will not deprive the other party’s right of jury trial on the properly joined counterclaims, even if the result is a trial of the entire case before a jury.[v]

The court must evaluate each consolidated case separately in order to determine the jurisdictional premise upon which each case law stands.[vi] Although consolidation does not eliminate the independent existence of the actions, they can be treated similarly for purposes of the notice of appeal.

[i] Bartel v. A-C Prod. Liab. Trust, et. al, 461 F. Supp. 2d 600 (N.D. Ohio 2006)

[ii] Finora Co. v. Amitie Shipping, 852 F. Supp. 1298, 1309 (D.S.C. 1994)

[iii] Kuehne & Nagel v. Geosource, Inc., 874 F.2d 283 (5th Cir. Tex. 1989)

[iv] Wilmington Trust v. United States Dist. Court, 934 F.2d 1026 (9th Cir. Haw. 1991)

[v] Id

[vi] EEOC v. West Louisiana Health Services, Inc., 959 F.2d 1277 (5th Cir. La. 1992)

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