Warger v. Shauers

PETITIONER: Gregory P. Warger
RESPONDENT: Randy D. Shauers
LOCATION: Highway 385 and Sheridan Lake Road

DOCKET NO.: 13-517
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 574 US (2014)
GRANTED: Mar 03, 2014
ARGUED: Oct 08, 2014
DECIDED: Dec 09, 2014

ADVOCATES:
Kannon K. Shanmugam - for the petitioner
Sheila L. Birnbaum - for the respondent
Sarah E. Harrington - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent

Facts of the case

In 2006, Gregory Warger was involved in an automobile collision with another car driven by Randy Shauers. Warger filed suit against Shauers for damages resulting from the crash, and Shauers filed a counter-suit. After an initial mistrial, a jury found for Shauers. Warger appealed on the basis that, following the verdict, Warger's attorney had been contacted by a jury member who expressed concern that the jury foreperson had improperly gained the sympathy of the other jurors by informing them all that her daughter had been in a similar type of automobile accident and that the verdict would have had a negative impact on her life had she been found responsible. Warger claimed that the foreperson's alleged misconduct should result in a new trial because it was improper outside influence, which tainted the jury's verdict, and because it was evidence that the foreperson had lied during jury selection.

The district court ruled that the concerned jury member's statement was inadmissible based on Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which bars the testimony of a juror concerning any statements made during the jury's deliberations for purposes determining the validity of a verdict, with an exception for testimony regarding whether an improper outside influence was used to persuade any juror. Specifically, the court ruled that the past life experiences of the foreperson did not constitute improper outside influence. While 606(b) does not explicitly bar juror testimony for the purposes of proving dishonesty by a potential juror during jury selection, in this case the evidence was barred by 606(b) because it was based on statements the foreperson made during the jury's deliberations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Question

Does Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) bar the testimony of a juror regarding statements made during deliberations for the purpose of showing alleged dishonesty by a prospective juror during jury selection?

Media for Warger v. Shauers

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 2014 in Warger v. Shauers

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 09, 2014 in Warger v. Shauers

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Sotomayor has our first signed opinion in this term in case 13-517, Warger v. Shauers.

Sonia Sotomayor:

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and concerns the interpretation of Federal Rule of Evidence 606 (b).

That rule provides that certain juror testimony regarding what occurred in a jury room is inadmissible during an inquiry into the validity of the verdict.

The question presented is whether this rule precludes the use of juror deliberations evidence during a proceeding in which a party seeks a new trial on the ground that a juror had lied during jury selection.

Petitioner was injured when while riding a motorcycle, he was struck by a truck driven by the respondent.

He sued for negligence in Federal District Court but the jury returned a verdict for respondent.

After trial, one of the jurors approached petitioner's counsel to voice concerns about the conduct of another juror.

The complaining juror signed an affidavit stating that during deliberations this other juror had discussed the motor vehicle collision in which her daughter was at fault and a man had died.

According to the affidavit the juror had related that if her daughter had been sued it would have ruined her life.

Petitioner moved the court for a new trial.

He contended that this affidavit demonstrated that the juror who discussed her daughter's accident had lied when during jury selection she affirmed that she would be fair and impartial and would be able to award damages in this sort of case.

The District Court refused to grant a new trial.

It concluded that the only evidence that would support petitioner's motion, the affidavit, was barred by Federal Rule of Evidence 606 (b).

The Eighth Circuit affirmed, rejecting petitioner's argument that Rule 606 (b) was inapplicable in these circumstances.

We affirm, as the Eighth Circuit correctly concluded Rule 606 (b) is fully applicable during a proceeding in which a party seeks a new trial on the ground that a juror lied during voir dire.

The rule by its terms applies during an inquiry into the validity of a verdict and a post verdict motion for a new trial on the ground of voir dire dishonesty plainly requires such an inquiry.

As we held in McDonough Power Equipment v. Greenwood, if a party shows that a juror was dishonest during voir dire and an honest response would have provided a valid basis to challenge that juror for cause the verdict must be invalidated.

Moreover Congress based Rule 606 (b) on the restrictive version of the common-law rule, precluding jurors from impeaching their own verdicts and the vast majorities of courts applying this rule had held that juror deliberations evidence was inadmissible even if used to support a new trial motion predicated on the assertion that a juror lied prior to trial.

We also conclude that the juror affidavit here fell outside Rule 606 (b) (2)'s exception for evidence as to whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the juror's attention.

This exception generally enables parties to show that external information related to the case was introduced into the jury room.

Here petitioner argues that because the juror's alleged lies would, if revealed, have led her to be excluded from the jury anything she said in the jury room was necessarily extraneous, but this reading of the extraneous information exception would swallow much of the rest of Rule 606 (b) and we have implicitly rejected it before.

The judgment of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed.

This opinion is for a unanimous Court.

Sarah from Law Aspect

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