OPINION AND ORDER
JOHN E. STEELE, Senior District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Jury Demand (Doc. #136) filed on October 13, 2016. Plaintiff filed a Response in opposition (Doc. #144) on October 25, 2016. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to strike is denied.
In the First Amended Complaint, plaintiff, the special trustee of the Trusts
Defendant asserts that plaintiff's demand for jury trial should be stricken due to the equitable nature of plaintiff's claim and the equitable relief sought. (Doc. #136.) Defendant argues that plaintiff's civil theft claim is "essentially cloaking a simple breach of fiduciary duty claim" and the damages sought are "essentially restitution." (Doc. #136, p. 2.) Plaintiff responds that this is a legal action which seeks a legal remedy therefore, plaintiff is entitled to a trial by jury. (Doc. #144.)
The basic principles are well established, and do not appear to be disputed by the parties. First, while jurisdiction is based upon diversity of citizenship and plaintiff's claim is a Florida state law cause of action, the issue of whether a party is entitled to a jury trial is a matter of federal law.
Second, there are two possible sources of plaintiffs' right to a jury trial, a federal statute and the federal Constitution.
Third, the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution preserves the right to a jury trial "[i]n suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars." Determination of entitlement to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment is a two-step inquiry when a federal statute does not explicitly provide for a jury trial.
Defendant asserts that both prongs of the inquiry show that plaintiff is not entitled to a jury trial in this case. First, defendant asserts plaintiff's civil theft claim will only succeed if defendant breached its fiduciary duties and that disputes involving trusts are exclusively equitable in nature. Defendant is correct that generally an action for breach of a trustee's fiduciary duties would have been brought in courts of equity in eighteenth century courts of England prior to the merger of the courts of law and equity.
The Court finds that the issue in this case — whether Wells Fargo committed civil theft by intentionally and wrongfully delaying the transfer of trust assets to the successor trustee — would not have been brought in courts of equity in eighteenth century courts of England prior to the merger of the courts of law and equity. Therefore, the first factor weighs in favor of a jury trial.
As to the second prong, Wells Fargo argues plaintiff's civil theft claim seeks the equitable recovery of funds on behalf of the Trusts. Defendant asserts plaintiff does not seek direct money damages but rather equitable restitution for the money that was improperly withheld from the Trusts. (Doc. #136, pp. 5-6.) Plaintiff counters that he is seeking monetary relief that is punitive in nature thus, entitling him to a jury trial. (Doc. #144, pp. 3-5.)
As an initial matter, Florida courts have not been consistent in determining whether the primary purpose of damage awards under the civil theft statute are remedial or punitive.
Here, plaintiff seeks treble damages in the amount of $19,394,171.88 and reasonable attorney fees and costs. (Doc. #125, p. 7.) Plaintiff calculated this amount by alleging the Trustee suffered actual damages of $6,464,723.96 and is entitled to three time the actual damages pursuant to Florida Statute § 722.11. (
Consequently, the monetary relief sought in this case is the imposition of personal liability for Wells Fargo's wrong doing. The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that, as a general rule, monetary relief is legal in nature, and that claims for such relief give rise to a right to trial by jury.
Therefore, the Court concludes that the issue raised in plaintiff's claim and the relief sought are legal in nature and therefore, plaintiff is entitled to a trial by jury.
Accordingly, it is hereby
Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Jury Demand (Doc. #136) is