Reliance upon the District Court's mistakenly setting a jury trial was misplaced

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Commercial Litigation Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa

Posted on 11/08/2016 at 07:30 AM by Mollie Pawlosky

Litigants wishing to have a jury trial must make sure to timely demand a jury.  As is shown by the Iowa Court of Appeals in Calahan v. Philbrook, No. 16-0194 (Oct. 12, 2016), a party will not be able to try the party’s case before a jury if a jury was not timely demanded, even if the court erroneously schedules a jury trial.

Calahan sued Philbrook for personal injuries from a car accident.  The matter was initially scheduled for a jury trial, even though neither side had demanded a jury.  The court rescheduled the matter as a non-jury trial.  Calahan, who was representing himself pro se, wrote to the court and demanded reinstatement of a jury trial.  The district court issued a notice, scheduling the matter for a non-jury trial.  After a bench trail, the court ruled that Calahan failed to provide evidence that his injuries resulted from the accident, and the court entered judgment for Philbrook.  Calahan appealed, claiming that the court abused its discretion by denying Calahan a jury trial, and that substantial evidence did not support the judge’s findings.

According to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.902(2), a party must make a written demand for a jury trial not later than ten days after the last pleading directed to that issue; failure to meet this deadline waives the jury trial.  The district court may also grant a jury trial, if there is a showing of “good cause.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, holding that by the time Calahan wrote to the court, the deadline to demand a jury had already expired.  Also, Calahan failed to show good cause to support his late request.  The Court of Appeals also affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Philbrook, because Calahan had presented no evidence connecting his medical conditions to the accident.

The Court of Appeals makes little reference to the fact that court had, in error, originally scheduled a jury trial.  The only reference is that Calahan had “simply relied on the fact that the matter was inadvertently scheduled for a jury trial.”  It may seem harsh to deny a jury trial in these circumstances, but a review of the court docket reflects that the deadline to demand a jury had already passed by the time that the court, in error, scheduled the trial as a jury trial.  The answer was filed on June 11, making the jury demand due by June 21.  The order erroneously setting the jury trial was not entered until July 14, after the June 21 deadline had passed.  Thus, litigants are reminded to pay close attention to the timelines set out in the rules, as rights may be waived that cannot be resurrected by the court or the parties.

For further information regarding litigation and Iowa civil procedure, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

Mollie Pawlosky


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