The Michigan Supreme Court Diminishes the Right to Trial by Jury in Civil Cases
33 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2008
Date Written: April 10, 2008
In this paper, I have analyzed the right to trial by jury in civil cases as reflected in decisions of the Michigan Supreme Court over approximately a 20 year period dealing with three areas affecting the right to trial by jury in civil cases: (1) entitlement to a jury trial; (2) summary disposition; and (3) directed verdicts. The study was constructed to cover cases over a substantial period of time, so that it would be possible to analyze whether the changing composition of the Michigan Supreme Court, beginning in the late 1990's, impacted on the Court's decisions in these three areas.
The conclusion that emerges from the is that the Court, as currently constituted, has diminished the right to trial by jury in civil cases in Michigan. The Court is more inclined than it was prior to 1999 to hold in more cases that there is no genuine issue of material fact, justifying summary disposition, and has now heard cases in which it has held that the defendant is entitled to a directed verdict. And the fact that the Court is more inclined to uphold the granting of summary disposition and directed verdicts is likely to have a demonstrable impact on these kinds cases when they are presented to the Court of Appeals and the trial courts. These courts, following the precedents of the Supreme Court and the results of the cases coming before that Court, will be more likely to rule in favor of granting motions for summary disposition and motions for directed verdicts.
Given the Court's view of the diminished role of the jury in resolving factual disputes in civil cases, litigating lawyers must make the best of a bad situation and do everything that they can in order to protect the right to trial by jury in civil cases. They must try to ensure in the early stages of the litigation that their cases are strong enough to survive a motion for summary disposition and get to the jury, and at the trial they must make a determined effort to present sufficient evidence to survive a directed verdict. Hopefully the Court's view of the diminished role of the jury will not have dealt a fatal blow to the right to trial by jury in civil cases in Michigan. Time will tell how well the lawyers of Michigan have succeeded in preserving this fundamental constitutional right.
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