Caterpillar Petitions Supreme Court on Issue of Implied Bias of Jury Members

Caterpillar v. Sturman (on petition for writ of certiorari).

In 2004, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a jury verdict in a trade secret and contract dispute involving Caterpillar. [Article].  The problem involved Juror No. 3, whose spouse was a current Caterpillar employee — and thus potentially biased.

Normally, the question of whether an individual juror is biased is a factual determination entitled to deference on appeal.  However, the CAFC ruled that the district court’s decision was based on “implied bias, as opposed to actual bias” and thus is reviewed de novo.  Applying Seventh Circuit law, the court found the implied bias is demonstrated by “showing that the juror has a personal connection to the parties or circumstances.”  As such, the spouse’s presence on the jury created an implied bias sufficient to vacate the judgment.

Now, Caterpillar has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.  In its petition for writ of certiorari, Caterpillar argues that the CAFC’s decision to “automatically disqualify the spouse of an employee of a party” is in conflict with the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Seventh and Eleventh circuits.  The petition cites Smith v. Phillips (1982) for the proposition that “implied bias doctrine is not viable for parties challenging jurors on a per se basis.  Caterpillar also argues that Sturman should not be able to argue implied bias because the company failed to use its peremptory challenges to protect against potentially biased jurors.

In its brief filed in opposition, Sturman argues that (i) there is “no circuit split” on the issues raised by Caterpillar; (ii) that the CAFC properly applied Seventh Circuit and Supreme Court law; and (iii) that Caterpillar did not raise its current argument below.  Sturman notes that the implied bias has a long history of application “stretching back to Blackstone’s day.”  Sturman also dismisses the importance of the case — since the CAFC’s interpretation of Seventh Circuit law is not binding precedent.