Impaneling Multiple Juries in Civil Suits

Article excerpt

Impaneling multiple juries in civil suits, although not without potential difficulties, may serve as an appropriate, innovative strategy to overcome otherwise insurmountable evidentiary problems when there are multiple defendants with somewhat conflicting interests.

The question of whether judges hearing civil suits against multiple defendants may impanel multiple juries was considered by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in In re High Fructose Com Syrup Antitrust Litigation, 361 F.3d 439 (7th Cir. 2004). Purchasers of high-fructose com syrup brought a class-action suit under the Sherman Act against suppliers Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, Chargill, and American Maize-Products Company. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois originally granted summary judgment to the suppliers, but the Seventh Circuit, rejecting the lower court's conclusion that "no reasonable jury could find in [the plaintiffs'] favor on the record presented," reversed the lower court's holding and remanded the case for trial. 295 F.3d 651 (7th Qr. 2002).

Upon remand, the district court faced a problem in that "very damaging" evidence from a criminal trial against ADM was properly to be admitted against ADM but not against the other defendants. The evidence was so damning that the judge did not believe that a jury could ignore the evidence as to the other defendants, even if instructed to do so. The judge thus denied a motion to sever the trial of one defendant from the others but certified the question of whether he could impanel two juries to sit simultaneously. 2004 WL 102476.

Writing for a unanimous appeals court, Judge Posner began by noting that the criteria for severing claims or parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 were not satisfied in this case, so the lower court could not use that rule to sever ADM from the other defendants. …