Traditionally, the right to trial by jury in civil cases has been restricted to legal matters rather than equitable matters. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States provides that the trial of crimes shall be by jury. The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution, being part of the Bill of Rights which ensured ratification of the Constitution as the law of the land, preserved the right of trial by jury "in suits at common law" where the value in controversy exceeds twenty dollars. Why then, are our chancery courtrooms outfitted with jury boxes?
The Illinois constitution does not grant a right to trial by jury in equitable matters, however it likewise does not preclude it.1 The Code of Civil procedure speaks to the issue of jury trials in two separate sections: 2-701 (d) and 2-1111.
Section 2-1111 provides in pertinent part: "The court may in its discretion direct an issue or issues to be tried by a jury, whenever it is judged necessary in any action seeking equitable relief."2 Section 2-701, governing declaratory judgments, provides in pertinent part: "If a proceeding under this Section involves the determination of issues of fact triable by a jury, they shall be tried and determined in the same manner as issues of fact are tried and determined in other civil actions in the court in which the proceeding is pending."3
The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the provisions of section 2-701 of the Code of Civil Procedure regarding determination of factual disputes in Declaratory Judgment cases are procedural and do not create the absolute right to a jury.4 Rather, that decision is left to the discretion of the court.5
The key inquiry therefore comes down to the nature of the case to be determined. If the case seeks solely equitable relief (as in merely a declaratory judgment and no legal remedy), the right to a trial by jury is determined by an examination of the predominant characteristics of the factual issues.6 If the case seeks more than a mere declaration of rights, the nature of the additional relief determines the right to a trial by jury.7
Even if a jury demand is properly made at the initiation of the lawsuit, as counts are resolved by motion practice, the right to a jury may disappear. In that event, counsel should consider filing a motion to strike the jury demand if it is determined that a bench trial is preferable.
1 Lazarus v. Northbrook, 31 Ill2d 46 (1964)
2 735 ILCS 5/2-1111
3 735 ILCS 5/2-701 (d)
4 See Berk v. County of Will, 34 Ill. 2d 588, 218 N.E. 2d 98 (1966).
5 Wieneke v. Weitekamp, 229 Ill. App. 3d 520, 593 N.E.2d 158, 170 Ill. Dec. 616 (5th Dist. 1992).
6 Lazarus v. Northbrook.