Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Jury Selection — Presumed Bias — Standards

The plaintiffs lost a medical malpractice action in Allen v. Brown Clinic, PLLP, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 14207 (8th Cir. July 2, 2008), and challenged the trial judge’s refusal to strike 6 of 10 members of the venire who had doctor/patient relationships with the defendant doctor or defendant clinic. The standards:

A trial court's decision to disqualify prospective jurors is reviewed for abuse of discretion. See, e.g., United States v. Tibesar, 894 F.2d 317, 319 (8th Cir. 1990). To challenge a juror for cause, a party must show actual partiality growing out of the nature and circumstances of the case. United States v. Tucker, 137 F.3d 1016, 1029 (8th Cir. 1998). "A district court is required to strike for cause any juror who is shown to lack impartiality or the appearance of impartiality, and, '[a]bsent abuse of discretion, we will not interfere with the District Court's determination of juror qualifications.'" United States v. Elliott, 89 F.3d 1360, 1365 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting Tibesar, 894 F.2d at 319). "The district court is given broad discretion in determining whether to strike jurors for cause because it is in the best position to assess the demeanor and credibility of the prospective jurors." Id. (citing United States v. Graves, 5 F.3d 1546, 1554 (5th Cir. 1993)).

Appellants must clear a high hurdle to obtain reversal of a district court's decision regarding the dismissal of a juror for cause. The courts presume that a prospective juror is impartial, and a party seeking to strike a venire member for cause must show that the prospective juror is unable to lay aside his or her impressions or opinions and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court. Essentially, to fail this standard, a juror must profess his inability to be impartial and resist any attempt to rehabilitate his position.

Moran v. Clarke, 443 F.3d 646, 650 (8th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

"[T]he idea of presumed bias is reserved for extreme cases, such as when a juror is a close relative of a party or victim in the case." United States v. Tucker, 243 F.3d 499, 509 (8th Cir. 2001) (discussing presumed bias in the context of a criminal prosecution). "[E]xtreme situations that would warrant a finding of implied bias . . . 'include a revelation that a juror is an actual employee of the prosecuting agency, that the juror is a close relative of one of the participants in the trial or the criminal transaction, or that the juror was a witness or somehow involved in the criminal transaction.'" Id. (quoting Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 222 (1982) (J. O'Connor concurring)).

The factual basis for Edwin's claim of implied or presumptive juror bias falls well short of the showing necessary to support such a claim. Each juror pledged to be fair and impartial, and neither the long-past professional relationship with Brown Clinic or the relatively distant familial connections leads us to conclude the jurors were so closely associated with the defendants they could not be impartial. Accordingly, there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision to deny the challenges for cause.

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