Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Shaw v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 21, 2014)

One of the topics that I do not cover at length in my first-year Civil Procedure class is when parties have a right to a jury trial.  Not that this issue is uninteresting, or unimportant.  Far from it.  There's neat historical stuff, plus the whole law-and-equity distinction, at issue.  Were it exclusively an issue of what's interesting to an academic, "right to jury" stuff would clearly be up there.

But you can't cover everything in the first year.  Not even close.  And my excuse for leaving out this subject is an immensely practical one.

Most of the underlying issues have simply already been decided.  Want to know if there's a jury trial in a workers compensation case?  Look it up.  There's a simple yes-or-no answer.  FLSA?  Ditto.

That's true for pretty much everything.  Because (1) you're rarely the first person to have ever litigated the particular cause of action at issue, (2) it's pretty important whether a party has the right to a jury, and (3) the answers are typically binary -- either there's a right or there's not.  No gray area.

Which is not to say that the first couple of cases that decide whether there's a right to a jury trial are easy.  They're not.

But once you've got an answer, there you go.  Precedent.  Judges follow it.  Done deal.  This is not an area where the facts of one case arguably create a different result.  If one Alien Torts Act case entitles a party to a jury trial, most likely, so does the next.

So while we spend a lot of time in law school teaching will-be lawyers how to reason and argue, with a focus on complicated cases, we sometimes leave out ones the answers to which are now settled.  Ones that don't come up that much in actual practice.

I say all this as backdrop to this opinion.  Which relates to whether a cause of action under Section 1278.5 of the Health and Safety Code, which prohibits a health care facility from retaliating against any of its employees for complaining about the quality of care or services provided by that facility, entitles the parties to a jury trial.

Justice Croskey does the necessary historical analysis.  Is this the type of claim that would have been a legal one that entitled a party to a jury trial back in the 1850s?  Holding that, yeah, it is.  Notwithstanding the contrary opinion by the trial court below.

You won't read cases like this in law school.  Or even much in practice.

But you see it now.