Litigation in the time of Covid

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the proclamation of a pandemic has been making most human activities challenging.  Litigation is no different: at present I’m looking at an array of hearing dates being pushed off into the ether for want of a jury.

For better or worse, the Courts can order matters to proceed as judge-alone trials rather than jury trials.  A short decision from the Supreme Court of Victoria gives some idea what factors will be considered in the time of Covid.

In the matter in issue the plaintiff alleged that he was sexually abused at a Victorian school.  Proceedings were issued in the Supreme Court of Victoria and both parties requested that it be heard by a jury.  The plaintiff subsequently asked for the matter to be heard without a jury, which the defendant opposed.

Photo by cottonbro on

Macaulay J noted that –

It is not currently known how long the suspension of jury trials will last. Doing the best I can, I think the projection is likely to be of the order of many weeks not just days. It could be a number of months.

He also noted that the effect of this would be to cause significant delays and extra strain on the Court system.  While the Court had a discretion to dispense with a jury in the interests of justice, a jury would generally decide the matter if a party so requested.  His Honour also observed that the Civil Procedure Act 2010 obliged him to promote the just, efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of the issues in dispute.

The factors Macaulay J particularly considered relevant to the justice of the case were –

  1. The nature of the plaintiff’s injuries and the impact of the litigation process on him
  2. The “unprecedented nature of the current coronavirus crisis means that it is totally uncertain when this case could be heard again before a jury”
  3. What the case would be heard again it would be competing for a hearing date with many other matters.
  4. There was no factor in the case which would make a judge-alone trial unjust.
  5. The delay and the uncertainty as to a new hearing date stood to cause “real injustice to the plaintiff”.
  6. There was a public interest in cases being dealt with in an orderly, timely and cost-effective way.  This contended against deferring cases in a situation of uncertainty

The Court decided that the matter should proceed without a jury.

Mulquiney v Reynolds [2020] VSC 119

State v Native Wholesale Supply (2014) H&FLR 2014-32

State of Oklahoma ex rel. E. Scott Pruitt v Native Wholesale Supply (2014) H&FLR 2014-32

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

10 June 2014

Coram: Colbert CJ, Reif VCJ, Watt, Winchester, Taylor, Kauger and Gurich JJ.

Appearing for the Plaintiff: E. Clyde Kirk and Ryan R Chaffin (Assistant Attorneys-General)
Appearing for the Defendant: David L. Kearney, Gregory T. Metcalfe and Paula M. Williams (of Gable Gotwals)

Catchwords: Oklahoma – tobacco – health care expenses – contraband cigarettes – disgorgement – settled law of the case – jury trial

Facts: In 1999 and 2004 the Oklahoma legislature enacted two statutes in relation to the sale of tobacco products* (Acts). The effect of the Acts was to require tobacco product manufacturers whose products were sold in Oklahoma to pay money into escrow accounts to cover health care expenses resulting from cigarette smoking. The State’s Attorney-General would publish a directory of cigarette brands that may be sold in Oklahoma and a list of tobacco product manufacturers who had complied with the Acts. The Acts made it unlawful for a person to sell or possess for sale cigarettes which were not listed in the directory or where the manufacturer had not complied with the Acts.

In August 2006 ‘Seneca’ brand cigarettes and their manufacturer (Grand River Enterprises Six Nations Ltd) were removed from the directory. In 2007 and 2008 the defendant, Native Wholesale Supplies (NWS), brought Seneca cigarettes into the State. In May 2008 the Attorney-General commenced proceedings seeking disgorgement and payment to the State of NWS’ gross proceeds of sale of the contraband cigarettes. After an intervening dispute over jurisdiction (State ex rel. Edmonson v Native Wholesale Supply, 2010 OK 58, 237 P.3d 199) (NWS I), the Oklahoma County District Court on 9 May 2013 entered judgment against NWS for $47,767,795.20. NWS appealed.

Held: By Colbert CJ, Reif VCJ, Watt, Winchester, Taylor and Kauger JJ, dismissing the appeal, that –

1. The “settled-law-of-the-case doctrine” forbids parties re-litigating issues which are finally settled by an appellate decision or which a party failed to raise on appeal. Accordingly, the factual conclusions in NWS I were binding on the parties and the District Court.

Smedsrud v Powell, 2002 OK 87, 61 P.3d 891, followed.

2. The defendant was not entitled to a jury trial on the unsettled factual issues because the Acts did not provide for a jury trial andf neither the Federal nor State constitutions required one to be held. The right to a jury trial recognised in the Oklahoma Constitution referred to the right as it existed at the time of the Constitution’s adoption.

A.E. v State, 1987 OK 76, 743 P.2d 1041; Maryland National Insurance Co v District Court of Oklahoma County, 1969 OK 73, 455 P.2d 690; Keeter v State, 1921 OK 197, 198 P. 866, followed

A dissenting judgment was entered by Gurich J.


The Court’s judgment is available here.
* The “Escrow Statute“, 37 O.S. Supp 1999 §§600.21-600.23 and the Master Settlement Agreement Complementary Act, 68 O.S. Supp. 2004 §§360.1 et eq.