Right to a jury trial is a constitutional right. Fed. R. Civ. P. 38(a) provides that the right to a jury trial, as guaranteed by U.S. Const. amend. VII, is to be preserved inviolate.[i] Rule 38(b) provides for the manner in which a demand for a jury trial is to be made, and Rule 38(d) provides that unless a party serves a demand as required by Rule 38(b), and files it, the party waives a trial by jury. Rule 38(d) also specifies that once a demand for trial by jury has been made, it may not be withdrawn without the consent of the parties.
Rule 38(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides: “Any party may demand a trial by jury of any issue triable of right by a jury by serving upon the other parties a demand therefor in writing at any time after the commencement of the action and not later than 10 days after the service of the last pleading directed to such issue. Such demand may be indorsed upon a pleading of the party.” A demand complying with Federal Rule 38(b) may therefore be made either in a separate written instrument or indorsed upon a pleading.
In Camrex (Holdings), Ltd. v. Camrex Reliance Paint Co., 90 F.R.D. 313 (E.D.N.Y. 1981), the court held that there is right to jury trial in admiralty claims. The court held that the civil right to trial by jury depends on the nature of the issue to be tried rather than the character of the overall action. To determine the nature of an issue, the court must consider the historic legal and equitable practices applicable to such issues in light of the remedy sought and the practical abilities and limitations of juries. Therefore, the court should determine whether the rights and remedies involved in the parties’ claims are of the sort traditionally enforced in an action at law.
A defendant may be entitled under the Seventh Amendment and “saving to suitors” clause to a jury trial of its compulsory counterclaims, where the counterclaims are premised upon the nonadmiralty jurisdictional ground of diversity of citizenship. However, even where a defendant may have a right to a jury trial on its common-law counterclaims, that right may be waived where the counterclaim is designated in admiralty. A defendant in an admiralty action cannot obtain a jury trial by asserting a nonadmiralty defense. The plaintiff in a nonadmiralty action cannot be deprived of a jury trial by the defendant’s action in setting up an admiralty defense; the court can decide the admiralty defense while the remainder of the case is tried to a jury.
[i] Pradier v. Elespuru, 641 F.2d 808 (9th Cir. Or. 1981)