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Avena v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 29, 2019

JEFFREY AVENA
v.
MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY

         SECTION "F"

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the defendant's motion to strike the plaintiff's jury demand. For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.

         Background

         On October 10, 2018, Jeffrey Avena filed a complaint in this Court alleging that the defendant, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, arbitrarily and capriciously terminated his disability benefits. The plaintiff did not demand a jury. On November 9, 2018, the defendant answered the complaint and did not demand a jury. On November 28, 2018, more than 14 days after the defendant answered the complaint, the plaintiff moved for leave to file an amended complaint, which was granted. Notably, the defendants did not oppose the plaintiff's request for leave to amend his complaint. The only amendment was a jury demand. A jury trial was then set for September 23, 2019.

         The defendant now moves to strike the plaintiff's jury demand on the ground that the jury demand in the amended complaint was untimely, and the plaintiff has waived his right to demand a jury by failing to comply with Rule 38 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff does not dispute that his jury demand is untimely; however, he argues that this Court is vested with the discretion to grant jury trials in unique situations where the requisites of Rule 38 have not been met.

         I.

         Under Rule 38(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party is entitled to a jury trial on any issue triable by a jury if a demand is served “not later than 14 days after the service of the last pleading directed to such issue. . .” Under Rule 38(d), a party's failure to timely request a jury trial constitutes a waiver of that party's right to a jury trial. The defendant asserts that the plaintiff made an untimely jury demand and has, therefore, waived his right. The plaintiff does not dispute the demand is untimely. Given the amended complaint's only amended allegation is a jury demand, the Court finds the demand untimely, and now turns to the issue of whether the Court should permit the untimely demand.

         II.

         Rule 39(b) vests the Court with “discretion to grant jury trials in unique situations which call for them where, nevertheless, the requisites of Rule 38 have not been met.” Pinemont Bank v. Belk, 722 F.2d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1984) (reversing a district court for abuse of discretion under Rule 39(b)). A motion under Rule 39 should be granted absent “strong and compelling reasons to the contrary.” Swafford v. B & W, Inc., 336 F.2d 406, 409 (5th Cir. 1964) (holding that a party's untimely request for a jury trial could be construed as a motion for relief under Rule 39), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 962 (1964). The Court must “approach each application under Rule 39(b) with an open mind and an eye to the factual situation in that particular case, rather than with a fixed policy against granting the application or even a preconceived notion that applications of this kind are usually denied.” Pinemont Bank, 722 F.2d at 257.

         When exercising its discretion as to whether to order a jury trial under Rule 39, the Court considers the following five factors:

  1. Whether the case involves issues which are best tried to a jury;

  2. Whether granting the motion would result in a disruption of the Court's schedule or that of an adverse party;

  3. The degree of prejudice to the adverse party;

  4. The length of delay in having requested a jury trial; and

  5. The reason for the movant's tardiness in requesting a jury trial.

Daniel Int'l Corp v. Fishbach & Moore, Inc., 916 F.2d 1061, 1064 (5th Cir. 1990). On balance, consideration of these factors favors permitting the untimely jury demand.

         First, this case is a dispute over an insurance contract involving the alleged breach of contract and bad faith handling of a disability benefits policy. The plaintiff also clearly seeks monetary damages. These sorts of issues are frequently triable to a jury. See Richardson v. Allstate Indemnity Company, No. 07-5066, 2009 WL 10680780, *9 (E.D. La. 2009) ...


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