The Defendant's Right to Jury Trial in Jones Act Claims: Washington State's Endicott Opinion Invites Much Needed Supreme Court Review
34 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2014
Date Written: December 31, 2012
The Jones Act seaman has de facto power over whether a jury will hear his claim through his ability, under Panama Railroad v. Johnson, to elect that his claim proceed at law or in admiralty. A significant conflict of laws exists between the federal circuits and several state courts regarding whether this election power means the seaman may divest the defendant of the right to a jury trial by later amending his complaint from law to admiralty. The Fifth Circuit has held that a plaintiff whose at-law Jones Act claim rests on non-diversity jurisdiction may amend his complaint to elect admiralty jurisdiction, even if the defendant previously demanded a jury trial. Several federal circuits that have opined on the issue, including the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, have adopted similar views.
Nevertheless, and although a state high court's opinion on how cases proceed in federal court is purely dicta, Illinois has rejected the Fifth Circuit's view, placing it squarely in conflict with the Seventh Circuit. Moreover, the Washington Supreme Court, in Endicott v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc., has adopted Illinois's view as its own, placing it in conflict, at least nominally, with the Ninth Circuit. This article evaluates Endicott in light of the confusion created by the jurisdictional split and argues that the State of Washington's entry into the fray is more likely to invite review by the Supreme Court of the United States, which should grant certiorari to resolve the conflict of laws.
Keywords: admiralty, maritime law, Jones Act, jury trial, right to jury trial, Seventh Amendment, seaman, Rule 9(h), Rule 9(h) election, plaintiff's election, plaintiff's election power
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