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Simler v. Conner

Supreme Court of the United States

January 9, 1963 to January 10, 1963, Argued ; February 18, 1963, Decided

No. 59


 [*221]   [***692]   [**610]  This Court granted certiorari, 368 U.S. 966, to review the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, holding that in a diversity action in the Federal District Court, state law, here that of Oklahoma, governs in determining whether an action is "legal" or "equitable" for the purpose [****2]  of deciding whether a claimant has a right to a jury trial. Applying Oklahoma law, the Court of Appeals decided that a jury trial, although asked for by petitioner, was not here appropriate. 295 F.2d 534.

In this Court respondent frankly concedes that, contrary to the Court of Appeals holding, federal law governs in determining the right to a jury trial in the federal courts. Respondent seeks to sustain the result reached by the Court of Appeals, however, on the twin grounds  [*222]  that, applying federal law, no jury was required in this case because (1) the District Court properly granted summary judgment for respondent under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and (2) the present action is "equitable" and not "legal" in character.

 [***693]   We agree with respondent that ] the right to a jury trial in the federal courts is to be determined as a matter of federal law in diversity as well as other actions. The federal policy favoring jury trials is of historic and continuing strength.   Parsons v. Bedford, 3 Pet. 433, 446-449; Scott v. Neely, 140 U.S. 106; Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc., 356 U.S. 525, 537-539;  [****3]   Beacon Theatres, Inc., v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500; Dairy Queen, Inc., v. Wood, 369 U.S. 469. Only through a holding that the jury-trial right is to be determined according to federal law can the uniformity in its exercise which is demanded by the Seventh Amendment 1 be achieved. In diversity cases, of course, the substantive dimension of the claim asserted finds its source in state law, Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64; see Cities Service Oil Co. v. Dunlap, 308 U.S. 208;  [**611]   Palmer v. Hoffman, 318 U.S. 109, but the characterization of that state-created claim as legal or equitable for purposes of whether a right to jury trial is indicated must be made by recourse to federal law.

 [****4]  However, we do not agree with respondent that in this case a summary judgment was warranted or that this is an "equitable" action not requiring a jury trial.

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372 U.S. 221 *; 83 S. Ct. 609 **; 9 L. Ed. 2d 691 ***; 1963 U.S. LEXIS 2096 ****; 6 Fed. R. Serv. 2d (Callaghan) 803



Disposition:  295 F.2d 534, reversed.


Appeals, equitable, right to a jury trial, federal law, jury trial, summary judgment, diversity, matter of federal law, obligation to pay, retainer contract, contingency fee, amount of fees, federal court, common law, state law, Seventh Amendment

Civil Procedure, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Erie Doctrine, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Trial by Jury in Civil Actions, Declaratory Judgments, State Declaratory Judgments, General Overview, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Requests for Instructions