Ex parte North American Adjusters, Inc.: In Alabama under Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 38, a jury demand is required to be endorsed, but not signed.
It’s time for a bit of transparency – in my years of practice, it hasn’t occurred to me to question the sufficiency of a jury demand. Maybe it should have. And maybe I didn’t question it because, in all but a handful of instances, I wanted my case to be tried by a jury. But recently in Alabama the question arose of whether a jury demand was sufficient if it was only endorsed and not signed.
In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Alabama decided the matter of Ex parte North American Adjusters, Inc. [Ms. 1150278], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016), wherein the Court decided whether an unsigned jury demand endorsement on the plaintiff’s complaint was sufficient to entitle the plaintiff to a trial by jury.
In the underlying case Jeffery Saulsberry v. Green Tree Financial, LLC, In the Circuit Court of Wilcox County, CV-2013-000007, filed a complaint, and included at the end a demand for “A Trial By a Struck Jury” and in each of his claims, he asserted that damages were to be determined by jury. Saulsberry, in an amended complaint, attempted to withdraw his jury demand on the that it was “without proper attestation.” North American Adjusters was opposed to the withdrawal of the jury demand and argued that the demand had been properly attested under Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 38(d), which reads in pertinent part: “A demand for trial by jury made as herein provided may not be withdrawn without the consent of that parties….” North American Adjusters did not consent to withdrawal of the jury demand. The trial court ruled against North American Adjusters, finding that the jury demand was not endorsed (signed).
Rule 38(b) establishes the requirements for invoking the right to trial by jury: (1) the jury demand, which may be endorsed on the pleading, must be in writing, and (2) the jury demand must be made any time after the filing of the action but not later than thirty days after the service of the last pleading directed to such issue. The Alabama Supreme Court held: “Nothing in Rule 38(b) requires that an endorsement of a jury demand on a complaint be signed. Rather, Rule 38(b) requires only that the demand be in writing and that it be timely served.”
The Court further found that Saulsberry had timely filed his endorsed jury demand, and thus he could not withdraw the jury demand without consent of the parties. Therefore, the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying a jury trial.
If you practice takes you to federal court, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 38 requires that a jury demand be served on the other parties in writing, but likewise does not require that it be signed.