November 12, 2019 | Damages Actions Against Federal Agents for Constitutional Violations
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
In federal cases where somebody sues someone for more than $20, and when the case comes from old laws before the Constitution, the people get to have a trial by jury. No fact examined by a jury can be re-examined in any federal court, except according to the current rules.
|Right to a Jury Trial in Civil Suits||Important Cases|
|Unlike in a criminal case (for criminal juries, see the 6th Amendment), a civil case cannot end where one party goes to prison. Instead, civil suits are cases where one party is asserting that the other party owes a certain amount of money, the so-called “amount in controversy.” According to the 7th Amendment, then, provided the amount in controversy is over $20 (though today’s practical rules do not always permit access to the federal courts for an amount that small), parties to a case have the right to have their case heard by a jury. However, the language of the 7th Amendment is key. The right to a jury is “preserved.” This actually means that the Constitution was preserving whatever rights were available to litigants in civil trials under English law as it was before the Constitution. English law had some particularities that are still relevant today. Under English law, a party had a right to a civil suit at law but not in equity. The distinction is subtle and, in modern law, much less discernible. But for the sake of simplification, suits at law involved specific areas of the law that had concretely developed in early English society. Suits in equity involved areas of the law that were less defined and required more case-by-case adjudication, and more tailored remedies, than cases at law. Today, generally, areas of the law that are descendants of old suits at law do trigger the 7th Amendment. But areas that stem from suits in equity do not.|
Additionally, the 7th Amendment includes a requirement that the jury be the last word in facts. In other words, while a judge has the responsibility of understanding and explaining and ruling on matters of law, juries decide things like credibility and who did what at what time. As such, today, it is much more difficult for a judge or a higher level court to overturn a fact decision by a jury than to overturn a decision of law by a judge.
|The Justices v. Murray (1869)|
Slocum v. New York Insurance Co. (1913)
Dimick v. Schiedt (1935)
Galloway v. United States (1943)
Pernell v. Southall Realty (1974)
Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc. (1996)
Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc. (1998)