Monday, October 01, 2007, 8:39 PM

Fourth Circuit Writ of Mandamus: Right To Jury Trial In Admiralty Action

Last Thursday the Fourth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus in a dispute between Lockheed Martin and its insurer with respect to a Lockheed-owned ship damaged at sea. Lockheed requested a jury trial on its counterclaims. Admiralty claims generally don't garner a jury trial. The district court struck Lockheed's request for a jury trial on the ground that the case fell within the court's admiralty jurisdiction. But Lockheed filed a petition for writ of mandamus. The insurer first argued that mandamus was an improper remedy, because Lockheed could raise the issue later on appeal from a final judgment. Citing cases from 1964 and 1959, the Fourth Circuit held that "[i]n this circuit, a petition for a writ of mandamus is the proper way to challenge the denial of a jury trial." Then, after analyzing the bizarre and complex framework for determining whether or not a right to a jury trial applies in an admiralty action (including the so-called "savings-to-suitors" clause), the Fourth Circuit held that Lockheed had a right to a jury trial.

Needless to say, most of us don't do admiralty work, but if you ever do, you might want to read this case to determine whether or not a jury trial may be had.


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