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Copyright (c) 2009 Board of Trustees, for Northern Illinois University
Northern Illinois University Law Review

Article: The Effect of State Law on the Judge-Jury Relationship in Federal Court

Fall, 2009

Northern Illinois University Law Review

30 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 109


Richard C. Worf, Jr.*


Rules governing the relationship between judge and jury are some of the most important in any piece of litigation. The allocation of issues to judge or jury determines who will ultimately decide the case. Rules relating to sufficiency of the evidence determine whether the case will even go to the jury. Commentators have long maintained that judge-jury rules are solely matters of federal law, even in cases where state law provides the rule of decision. 1 This view relies not on the Seventh Amendment, but instead on a single, old Supreme Court case, Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc., which purportedly establishes an enclave of federal law around the judge-jury relationship. 2

This article challenges the conventional wisdom, and shows that under standard Erie principles, state law should exert meaningful influence in the judge-jury area. In a relatively recent decision-Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc.-the Supreme Court held that the standard for granting a new trial, on the ground of excessive compensatory damages, is provided by state law. 3 Because the Court held that this crucial judge-jury issue is governed by state law, it is no longer possible to assert that federal law has a monopoly in the judge-jury field.

Yet courts and commentators have, to this point, failed to integrate Gasperini into theories of the judge-jury relationship in diversity cases. 4 In the first Part of this article, I rectify this deficiency in the literature. Gasperini proves that courts should normally apply the ...
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