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Entourage Custom Jets, LLC v. Air One MRO, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 30, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Entourage Custom Jets, LLC's f/k/a Genesis Custom Jetliners, LLC, (“Plaintiff”) motion to strike Air One MRO, LLC's jury trial demand (“Defendant”). [D.E. 105]. Defendant responded to Plaintiff's motion on October 18, 2019 [D.E. 106] to which Plaintiff replied on October 25, 2019. [D.E. 107]. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion to strike is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this case on May 23, 2018 [D.E. 1] for actions that took place in June 2016. During that month, the parties agreed that Defendant would perform maintenance and upgrades to a Boeing MD87 aircraft in exchange for compensation. The services were performed at Defendant's facility in Opa Locka, Florida. Plaintiff delivered the aircraft for servicing. The aircraft was equipped with a variety of operational avionics at the time of delivery. On September 29, 2016, Defendant left passenger-boarding stairs unsecured near the aircraft. Overnight, thieves used the stairs to break into the aircraft to steal valuable aviation equipment from the cockpit dashboard.

         Plaintiff then filed suit against Defendant for bailment and negligent security. Plaintiff did not include a jury trial demand in its complaint and neither did Defendant include one in its answer. On January 17, 2019, Defendant filed a counterclaim [D.E. 37] for breach of contract with allegations that Plaintiff violated a General Terms Agreement[1] (“GTA”) that the parties signed on June 7, 2016. Defendant's counterclaim alleges that Plaintiff violated the GTA when Plaintiff failed to purchase insurance that named Defendant as an additional insured. The counterclaim also includes a jury trial demand. Plaintiff objects to Defendant's demand because it violates the terms of the GTA. Because the parties have been unable to agree on whether Defendant is entitled to a jury, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike that is now ripe for disposition.

         II. ANALYSIS

         “[T]he right to a jury trial in the federal court is to be determined as a matter of federal law.” Phillips v. Kaplus, 764 F.2d 807, 812 (11th Cir. 1985). Rule 38 provides for a jury trial only where the right is “declared by the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution” or “provided by a federal statute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 38(a).[2] Rule 39(a) clarifies that, when a jury trial is demanded, the action must be tried by a jury on all issues so demanded “unless . . . the court, on motion or on its own, finds that on some or all of those issues there is no federal right to a jury trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 39(a)(2). Determining whether a right to a jury trial exists turns on whether the claims are historically cognizable at law or considered equitable. See Phillips, 764 F.2d at 813. “For those claims which traditionally were cognizable at law, the right to a jury is generally preserved; for those claims which historically were considered equitable, no jury trial is mandated.” Id. In other words, “the right to a jury trial does not extend to cases in which only equitable rights are at stake.” Waldrop v. Southern Co. Servs., 24 F.3d 152, 156 (11th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).

         A. Whether Plaintiff Consented to a Jury Trial

         Plaintiff argues that Defendant has no right to a jury trial because it knowingly[3] waived that right when it drafted and signed the GTA. See Bakrac, Inc. v. Villager Franchise Sys., Inc., 164 Fed.Appx. 820, 823 (11th Cir. 2006) (“A party may validly waive its Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial so long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary.”) (citing See Brookhart v. Janis, 384 U.S. 1, 4-5 (1966); see also Leasing Service Corp. v. Crane, 804 F.2d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 1986)). Plaintiff claims that the waiver is conspicuous, that the parties are sophisticated, and that there is no evidence of a gross disparity in bargaining power that might undermine the enforceability of the agreement.

         Plaintiff also argues that failing to enforce the jury waiver will unnecessarily waste judicial resources because it could lead to an inconsistent verdict. Plaintiff is concerned, for example, that - if Defendant proceeds with a jury trial - the Court would be the trier of fact for claims related to bailment and negligent security while a jury would be used for any all other purposes. Because no party has demanded a jury trial under Rule 38(b)(1), Plaintiff concludes that Defendant cannot do so at this late stage of the case. See Burch v. P.J. Cheese, Inc., 861 F.3d 1338, 1348 (11th Cir. 2017) (“A party waives his right to a jury trial unless a timely and proper demand is made upon the courts.”) (citing LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1545 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         Defendant concedes that the GTA includes a jury waiver. Defendant argues, however, that this is immaterial because the GTA does not apply to the facts of this case. Defendant also claims that Plaintiff explicitly agreed to a jury trial when the parties filed their joint conference report on October 26, 2018 [D.E. 30] and that this constitutes a waiver of the contractual agreement to the extent it even applies. The joint conference report explicitly states that “[t]he parties anticipate that a jury trial will require approximately five (5) days.” [D.E. 30 at 3].

         Plaintiff claims, on the other hand, that there is no question that the GTA controls and that it should be given full effect. Defendant disagrees and argues that the question of whether the GTA controls is not dispositive because courts have repeatedly found that an agreement in a joint conference report takes priority over a prior jury waiver. See, e.g., Gulf Bay Capital, Inc. v. Textron Financial Corp., 2016 WL 4009942, at *2 (M.D. Fla. July 27, 2016) (“[T]he Court finds that Textron consented to a trial by jury by signing a joint case management report containing that election.”); Galle v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, 2017 WL 2972072, at *2 (M.D. Fla. July 12, 2017) (concluding that a party waived its right to enforce jury waiver by “agreeing to a jury trial in the [case management report] and wait[ing] six weeks after the [trial order] was issued to file a motion to strike”); Coleman v. Lazy Days RV Center, Inc., 2007 WL 2696789, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 12, 2007) (denying motion to strike jury trial demand where the defendant waited more than two years from the date this case was originally filed” to strike the jury trial demand and also “agreed to a jury trial in the Case Management Report by a way of signature”).

         In addition, Defendant claims that it demanded a jury trial “on all issues so triable” in a counterclaim filed on January 17, 2019. [D.E. 37]. Defendant states that the demand encompasses the issues raised in Plaintiff's complaint - including the issues raised in Defendant's counterclaim - and that the jury demand is timely preserved under Rule 38. See Phillips v. Kaplus, 764 F.2d 807, 811 (11th Cir. 1985) (“On our reading of the pleadings, plaintiffs' assertion of waiver is incorrect. [Defendant's] demand for a jury trial was not confined to the counterclaim; it specifically requested ‘trial by jury of all issues so triable.”'). For these reasons, Defendant concludes that the agreement in the joint conference report supersedes the contractual waiver (to the extent it even applies) and that every triable issue should proceed to a jury trial.

         Plaintiff maintains, however, that the GTA controls and that the jury waiver must be given full effect. Plaintiff also argues that the joint conference report cannot confer a jury trial on all the issues presented because the parties filed their joint conference report on October 26, 2018 - three months prior to Defendant filing a counterclaim on January 17, 2019. [D.E. 30, 37]. ...

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