Caterpillar Jury Trial Vacated Because Juror’s Spouse Was an Employee

Caterpillar v. Sturman (Fed. Cir. October 28, 2004). 

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) today vacated a jury verdict in a trade secret and contract dispute involving Caterpillar. 

The technology at issue involved the use of residual magnetic latching in a fuel injector.  (See, for example, U.S. Patent 3,646,898).  The Appellate Panel, led by Judge Newman, decided several important issues in this case.  One of the most interesting involved Juror No. 3 whose spouse was a current Caterpillar employee.

At the beginning of trial, during the jury selection process, Sturman moved to dismiss for cause any current or former Caterpillar employees and their spouses. The district court denied Sturman’s blanket objection, but specifically allowed Sturman to show cause for individual jurors. . . . Sturman did not individually challenge for cause Juror No. 3, the spouse of a current Caterpillar employee, nor did it use one of its peremptory challenges to have her removed. Juror No. 3 ultimately sat on the jury.

Sturman appealed the district court’s opinion to allow Juror No. 3 to sit on the jury.

Potential for bias reviewed de novo.

Normally, the question of whether an individual juror is biased is a factual determination entitled to deference on appeal.  However, the CAFC ruled that a district court’s decision on “implied bias, as opposed to actual bias” is reviewed de novo.

Spouse of Employee is Biased as a Matter of Law.

Applying Seventh Circuit law, the court found that implied bias is demonstrated by “showing that the juror has a personal connection to the parties or circumstances.” 

Juror No. 3 had a financial interest in this case because her husband worked for Caterpillar at the time of the trial. As noted in Polichemi, even a tiny financial interest is enough to warrant dismissal. And it is legally irrelevant whether this financial interest arose due to his employment in management or under a union contract. . . . In addition, we find no distinction in the law between the financial interest of an at-will management employee and the interest of an employee under a union contract, nor do we advocate creating one.

Jury verdict vacated. Case remanded for a new trial.