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Legal Memorandum: Waiver of the Right to a Jury Trial

Issue: When will an arbitration clause act as a waiver of the right to a jury trial?

Area of Law: Business Organizations & Contracts, Constitutional Law, Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Waiver of the right to a jury trial; Arbitration clauses
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 304 U.S. 458; 116 P.3d 479; 400 F.3d 370; 359 F.3d 292; 232 F. Supp. 2d 462; 930 F.2d 1390; 405 U.S. 174; 565 F.2d 255; 182 U.S. 244; 145 F.3d 619; 344 F.3d 352
Cited Statutes: 5 V.I.C. § 321; 48 U.S.C. § 1561; 5 V.I.C. § 815
Date: 12/01/2008

The right to a trial by jury in civil cases is a fundamental right guaranteed by the federal Constitution.  See U.S. Const. amend. VII; Bouriez v. Carnegie Mellon Univ., 359 F.3d 292, 294 (3d Cir. 2004) (“The right to a jury trial is a fundamental right that is expressly protected by the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.”).  As one federal court of appeals has observed, “It is elementary that the Seventh Amendment right to a jury is fundamental and that its protection can only be relinquished knowingly and intentionally.  Indeed, a presumption exists against its waiver.”  Nat’l Equip. Rental, Ltd. v. Hendrix, 565 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1977) (citations omitted).  The Seventh Amendment right to a civil jury trial applies in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  See 5 V.I.C. § 321; 48 U.S.C. § 1561; Univ. of V.I. v. Petersen-Springer, 232 F. Supp. 2d 462, 471 (D.V.I. 2002), case dismissed, 90 F. App’x 436 (3d Cir. 2003).

Additionally, a party’s fundamental right of access to the courts is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  See Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 282 (1901).  This right applies in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Id.; 48 U.S.C. § 1561.  The law in the Virgin Islands, as amended on September 1, 2006, clearly provides that “[a]n agreement that waives a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, is unenforceable, unless the waiver of the […]

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