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Court Responsible for Jury Demand

The court of appeals for the second circuit held that checking a box on a civil cover sheet constituted a timely demand for a jury trial. Tyrone Wright, a New York state prisoner, filed suit claiming he was beaten by prison guards. When Wright filed suit he did not include a jury demand in his complaint, but he checked a box on the civil cover sheet indicating he wanted a jury trial. The case eventually proceeded to trial before a magistrate, who ruled in favor of the guards, holding that Wright had waived his right to a jury trial. The appeals court reversed and remanded holding Wright was entitled to a jury trial.

In Favors v. Coughlin, 877 F.2d 219 (2nd Cir. 1989) the court held that a pro se plaintiff waived his right to a jury trial when he failed to timely serve his jury demand on the opposing parties. Like Wright, Favors had checked the box on the cover sheet but had not included it in his complaint. "Despite the similarity to Favors, we find that the outcome of Wright's case is determined by his in forma pauperis status. By granting Wright leave to pursue his § 1983 claim in forma pauperis, Magistrate Smith shifted the responsibility for serving the complaint from Wright to the court.." Because the marshals service served the complaint and summons the court held that Wright did not waive his right to a jury trial.

The court held that because the district court was required to review the complaint on its merits, the court should have recognized Wright's desire for a jury trial through service of the cover sheet. "Second, the forms Wright was required to use to make his complaint were misleading in that they provided no place on the actual complaint form to request a jury trial specifically: the only place to do so was on the civil cover sheet. Given that the court itself supplied prisoners with these confusing forms, it seems only fair that the court be required to read them carefully for a jury demand and to serve the civil cover sheet if it is the only place the demand appears." Courts are required to assume a presumption against a waiver of parties' right to a jury trial.

"Given that the responsibility for review and service of Wright's complaint lay with the court, we hold that Wright's civil cover sheet indicating his jury demand should have been served by the court on the other parties. When a prisoner is granted in forma pauperis status for a § 1983 claim in the Northern District of New York, he is justified in relying on the court to interpret its own forms and to provide notice of a jury demand through appropriate service." The case was remanded to the lower court for a jury trial on the merits. See: Wright v. Lewis, 76 F.3d 57 (2nd Cir. 1996).

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