Do You Have a Jury Waiver Clause in Your Lease?

Jury waiver clauses are enforceable in residential leases in Alabama.  This is REALLY important, as you’ll understand after reading a story from my past.

I was once a defendant in a boundary line lawsuit in which the plaintiff demanded a jury. The case went all the way to trial over her complaints against my husband and me, “the evil developers.”

The surveyors testified the line was where we said it was. The plaintiff’s adverse possession claim failed because there was no possession at all of the piece of scrub land.  We proved that our predecessor in interest and the plaintiff erected t-posts on the correct boundary line 25 years earlier (as revealed in a home movie taken by the plaintiff!) Despite that, the plaintiff wanted $150,000 in actual damages for destroying her “old growth hardwoods” (hackberries, privet and poison ivy) when we bulldozed the 1/2 acre in dispute, plus another $1 million  in punitive damages.

The jury ruled our favor. But, it took them an entire day. The first vote was 6 for the plaintiff and 6 for us. Then it was 1 for the plaintiff and 11 for us. The holdup?  The jurors noticed that we had two “big city lawyers” defending us. They figured we had insurance. Our surveyor, who was also sued, had two big city lawyers defending him. He must have had insurance. The plaintiff was a little old lady in a faded cotton dress. Her lawyer looked like a young champion of the downtrodden in his mismatched pants and jacket, his scuffed shoes and longish hair.  Why not find in favor of the plaintiff and give her some insurance company money as a windfall to help out her retirement?  The jury finally followed the judge’s instructions, and found in our favor.

If they had found in favor of the plaintiff, that is called jury nullification. It’s when they do what they think is “fair” despite the law and the facts. It could happen to you, if you are sued by a tenant.  So, make sure you have a jury waiver clause in your lease.

The case of Ex parte Coble, 72 So.3d 656 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011) involved the following clause:

“WAIVER OF JURY TRIAL. To minimize legal expenses and, to the extent allowed by law, [Tenant] and [Landlord] agree that a trial of any lawsuit based on statute, common law, and/or related to this Lease Contract shall be to a judge and not a jury.”

Coble, the tenant, sued his landlord over various grievances. He demanded a jury, but the court denied it, based on the clause above. Coble claimed the clause was unenforceable under the Alabama Residential Landlord Tenant Act. The appeals court disagreed with Coble, and said the clause did not violate the Act, and was therefore enforceable.

Review your lease to see if you have a jury waiver clause. If not, talk to your lawyer about adding one.