Summary jury trials are coming to the New York Commercial Division by year-end.
In the latest procedural innovation designed to facilitate increased efficiency in resolving business disputes, Rule 3 of the Rules of Practice for the Commercial Division has been amended to provide for this alternative dispute resolution mechanism most commonly utilized in personal injury cases. This amendment, which is effective December 1, 2015, was authorized by an Administrative Order dated October 26, 2015.
Summary jury trials typically involve a binding one-day trial in which each party calls a very limited number of live witnesses. In addition, evidentiary rules typically are relaxed; the time devoted to jury selection, opening statements and summations is limited; and parties waive their right to move for a directed verdict or to appeal the outcome at trial. Parties must consent to the expedited procedure, in which jurors are selected from among the existing jury pool.
The Commercial Division Advisory Council recommended the rule change last summer as part of an ongoing effort to ensure that the Commercial Division facilitates the cost-effective resolution of business disputes. The Advisory Council concluded that summary jury trials “have the potential to provide an efficient and expeditious way to resolve commercial disputes.” Judges who had presided over summary jury trials in other contexts were polled and they reported that they believed the expedited procedure could be used effectively in appropriate commercial cases.
Rule 3, titled “Alternative Dispute Resolution,” previously had merely provided that at any stage in a litigation, a court may direct or counsel may seek the appointment of an uncompensated mediator. The amendment, which signals an increased emphasis on encouraging the introduction of a broader spectrum of ADR mechanisms into the mix, adds the following provision:
Additionally, counsel for all parties may stipulate to having the case determined by a summary jury trial pursuant to any applicable local rules or, in the absence of a controlling local rule, with permission of the court.
According to the Advisory Council, six of the ten counties or judicial districts in New York with Commercial Division courts have existing rules governing summary jury trials. Those rules are in place in New York, Kings, Queens, Westchester and Suffolk Counties, as well as the 8th Judicial District (based in Buffalo and covering Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming Counties). In the 7th Judicial District (based in Rochester and encompassing Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates Counties), a justice is assigned as regional summary jury trial coordinator. Summary jury trials also have been used successfully in Nassau County. The local rules in Albany and Onondaga Counties do not address summary jury trials. In those jurisdictions without existing local procedures for summary jury trials, the courts either will have to establish appropriate rules or approve the procedures agreed to by the consenting parties.
The Advisory Council's recommendation was set forth in a memorandum dated June 11, 2015, which the Office of Court Administration released for public comment on July 14, 2015.