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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, October 26, 2009

We The Jury: Eastern District Of Louisiana Finds Rule 606(b) Precludes Jury Impeachment On Issue Of Whether Unanimous Verdict Was Reached

Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) provides that

Upon an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations or to the effect of anything upon that or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing the juror to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning the juror's mental processes in connection therewith. But a juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention, (2) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form. A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying.

In Imperial Trading Co., Inc. v. Travelers Property Cas. Co. of America, 2009 WL 2922307 (E.D. La. 2009), the plaintiffs claimed that evidence that the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict fell under the exception contained in subsection (3). They were wrong.

In Imperial Trading, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

presided over a six-day jury trial regarding an insurance dispute that arose from commercial property damaged by Hurricane Katrina....During closing statements, plaintiffs asked that the jury award (1) over $10 million in damages for defendant's alleged breach of the insurance policy between the parties, (2) bad-faith penalties...for arbitrary and capricious failure to pay over $12 million within thirty days of receiving a satisfactory proof of loss, and (3) further bad-faith penalties...for the $3.6 million in consequential damages plaintiffs allegedly suffered from defendant's failure to pay within sixty days of receiving a proof of loss....On August 13, the jury returned a verdict of $1,757,588 in damages for breach of contract....The jury also awarded penalties under § 22:658 for arbitrarily and capriciously failing to pay $1,250,000 within thirty days of receiving a satisfactory proof of loss. The jury did not award any bad-faith penalties.

Thereafter,

According to plaintiffs, one of the jurors in the case visited plaintiffs' property later that afternoon and spoke to Freddie Bailey and Gabe Corchiani, employees of plaintiffs who testified during trial. During this interaction, the juror explained that she did not agree with the amounts announced in open court, and she did not understand how the amounts were calculated.

The plaintiffs thus moved for leave to interview the three jurors “for the purpose of obtaining sworn statements regarding the failure of the jury to render a unanimous verdict.” According to the plaintiffs, if these jurors confirmed that the jury had not reached a unanimous verdict, they could impeach the jury's verdict under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b)(3) because there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form.

The Eastern District of Louisiana disagreed, noting that Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b)(3) only applieswhen the jurors unanimously agree upon a verdict but then incorrectly enter that verdict on the verdict form. So, if the jury agreed to award the plaintiffs $3 million but accidently wrote $2 million of the verdict form, there could be jury impeachment.

Conversely, the court noted that Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) precludes jury impeachment on the issue of whether a verdict was unanimous. This conclusion is correct and borne out by the Advisory Committee Note to Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which states that the Rule was based upon the common law rule that prevented jurors from testifying that they had reached a compromise verdict, i.e., a decision made by a jury in which the jurors split the difference between the high amount of damages which one group of jurors feel is justified and the low amount other jurors favor, or quotient verdict, i.e., an award of money damages set by a jury in a lawsuit in which each juror states in writing his/her opinion of what the amount should be.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/10/606b3imperial-trading-co-inc-v-travelers-property-cas-co-of-americaslip-copy-2009-wl-2922307edla2009.html

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