464 U.S. 548 (1984), 82-958, Mcdonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood

Docket NºNo. 82-958.
Citation464 U.S. 548, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663
Party NameMcDONOUGH POWER EQUIPMENT, INC., Petitioner v. Billy G. GREENWOOD et al.
Case DateJanuary 18, 1984
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 548

464 U.S. 548 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663

McDONOUGH POWER EQUIPMENT, INC., Petitioner

v.

Billy G. GREENWOOD et al.

No. 82-958.

United States Supreme Court.

Jan. 18, 1984

Argued Nov. 28, 1983.

A judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas was in favor of defendants in a products liability action, but the Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, 687 F.2d 338, reversed and remanded. Certiorari was granted, and the Supreme Court, Justice Rehnquist, held that: (1) to invalidate result of three-week trial because of juror's mistaken though honest response to question is to insist on something closer to perfection than our judicial system can be expected to give, and (2) generally, motions for new trial are committed to the discretion of the district court, and Court of Appeals was mistaken in deciding that respondents were entitled to new trial because juror failed to respond affirmatively to question on voir dire seeking to elicit information about previous injuries to members of the juror's immediate family.

Judgment of Court of Appeals reversed.

Justice Blackmun filed concurring opinion in which Justice Stevens and Justice O'Connor joined.

Justice Brennan filed opinion, concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Marshall joined.

[104 S.Ct. 846] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

Respondent parents and son sued petitioner in Federal District Court to recover damages sustained by the son when his feet came in contact with the blades of a riding lawnmower manufactured by petitioner. After a trial that extended over a 3-week period, the District Court entered judgment for petitioner upon a jury verdict and denied respondents' motion for a new trial. One of the grounds alleged for a new trial was that the District Court had erred in denying respondents' motion to approach the jury after the judgment was entered because one of the jurors had not responded to a question on voir dire seeking to elicit information about previous "injuries ... that resulted in any disability or prolonged pain or suffering" to members of the juror's immediate family when in fact the juror's son had sustained a broken leg as a result of an exploding tire. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the juror's failure to respond affirmatively to the question on voir dire had prejudiced respondents' right of peremptory challenge.

Held: Respondents are not entitled to a new trial unless the juror's failure to disclose denied them their right to an impartial jury. Courts should exercise judgment in preference to the automatic reversal for "error" and ignore errors that do not affect the essential fairness of a trial. To invalidate the result of a 3-week trial because of a juror's mistaken, though honest, response to a question, is to insist on something closer to perfection than our judicial system can be expected to give. It ill serves the important end of finality to wipe the slate clean simply to recreate the peremptory challenge process because counsel lacked an item of information that he should have obtained from a juror on voir dire examination. The Court of Appeals' standard is contrary to the practical necessities of judicial management reflected in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 61 and the harmless-error statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2111. To obtain a new trial in such a situation, a party must first demonstrate that a juror failed to answer honestly a material question on voir dire and then further show that a correct response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause. Pp. 848 - 850.

687 F.2d 338 (CA10, 1982), reversed.

COUNSEL

Page 549

Donald Patterson argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Gene E. Schroer argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief wasDan L. Wulz.*

* Jerry L. Beane filed a brief for Southern Union Co. as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Donald Patterson, Topeka, Kan., for petitioner.

Gene E. Schroer, Topeka, Kan., for respondents.

OPINION

Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents, Billy Greenwood and his parents, sued petitioner McDonough Power Equipment, Incorporated to recover damages sustained by Billy when his feet came in contact with the blades of a riding lawn mower manufactured by petitioner. The United States District Court for the District of Kansas entered judgment for petitioner upon a jury verdict and denied respondents' motion for new trial. On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the judgment of the District Court and ordered a new trial. It held that the failure of a juror to respond affirmatively to a question onvoir dire seeking to elicit information about previous injuries to members of the juror's immediate family had "prejudiced the Greenwoods' right of peremptory challenge," Greenwood v. McDonough Power Equipment, Inc., 687 F.2d 338, 342 (CA10 1982), and that a new trial was necessary to cure this error. We granted certiorari, 462 U.S. 1130, 103 S.Ct. 3109, 77 L.Ed.2d 1365 (1983), and now hold that respondents are not entitled to a new trial unless the [104 S.Ct. 847] juror's failure to disclose denied respondents their right to an impartial jury.

During the voir dire prior to the empaneling of the six-member jury, respondents' attorney asked prospective jurors the following question:

Page 550

"Now, how many of you have yourself or any members of your immediate family sustained any severe injury, not necessarily as severe as Billy, but sustained any injuries whether it was an accident at home, or on the farm or at work that resulted in any disability or prolonged pain and suffering, that is you or any members of your immediate family?" App., at 19.

Ronald Payton, who eventually became a juror, did not respond to this question, which was addressed to the panel as a whole. After a trial which extended over a three-week period, the jury found for petitioner McDonough. 1 Four days after judgment was entered for petitioner, respondents moved under local Rule 23A for permission to approach the members of the jury. In support of their motion respondents asserted that they were "of information and belief" that juror Payton's son may have been injured at one time, a fact which had not been revealed during voir dire. App., at 68. The District Court ruled that respondents had failed to show just cause to approach the jury. App., at 73.

Undeterred, the next day respondents filed a second motion for permission to approach the jury, attaching an affidavit from respondent John Greenwood,2 who asserted that in

Page 551

the course of his employment as a Navy recruiter, he had reviewed the enlistment application of juror Payton's son. In that application Payton's son stated that he had been injured in the explosion of a truck tire. The District Court granted respondents permission to approach juror Payton regarding the injuries allegedly sustained by his son. The District Court directed that the inquiry should be brief and polite and made in a manner convenient to the juror. The District Court noted that it was not "overly impressed with the significance of this particular situation." App., at 89. No provision was made to record the inquiry of juror Payton.

On the same day that the District Court granted respondents permission to approach juror Payton, respondents moved for a new trial, asserting 18 grounds in justification, including the District Court's alleged error in denying respondents' motion to approach the jury. This was the only instance when respondents even tangentially referred the District Court to the juror's failure to respond as a ground for a new trial. Shortly after the parties placed a telephone conference call to juror Payton, the District Court denied respondents' motion for a new trial, finding that the "matter was fairly and thoroughly tried and that the jury's verdict was a just one, well-supported by the evidence." App., at 106. The District Court was never informed of the results of the examination of juror Payton, nor did respondents ever directly assert before the District Court that juror Payton's non-disclosure warranted a new trial.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals proceeded directly to the merits of respondents' claim that juror Payton's silence had prejudiced their right to exercise peremptory [104 S.Ct. 848] challenges, rather than remanding the case back to the District Court for a hearing. 3 The Court of Appeals simply recited the

Page 552

recollections of counsel for each party of their conference telephone call with juror Payton contained in their appellate briefs, stating that the "unrevealed information" indicated probable bias "because it revealed a particularly narrow concept of what constitutes a serious injury." 687 F.2d, at 343. The Court of Appeals assumed that juror Payton had answered in good faith, but stated:

"Good faith, however, is irrelevant to our inquiry. If an average prospective juror would have disclosed the information, and that information would have been significant and cogent evidence of the juror's probable bias, a new trial is required to rectify the failure to disclose it." Ibid. (citation omitted).

Page 553

This Court has long held that " '[a litigant] is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one,' for there are no perfect trials." Brown v. United States, 411 U.S. 223, 231-232, 93 S.Ct. 1565, 1570-1571, 36 L.Ed.2d 208 (1973), quoting Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 135, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 1627, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968), and Lutwak v. United States, 344 U.S. 604, 619, 73 S.Ct. 481, 490, 97 L.Ed. 593 (1953). Trials are costly, not only for the parties, but also for the jurors performing their civic duty and for society which pays the judges and support personnel who manage the trials. It seems doubtful that our judicial system would have the resources to provide litigants with perfect trials, were they possible, and still keep abreast of...

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1256 practice notes
  • 163 F.Supp.2d 174 (E.D.N.Y. 2001), 96-CV-2205, United States ex rel. Maris Equipment Co., Inc. v. Morganti, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Eastern District of New York
    • September 20, 2001
    ...all parties a fair trial, and is confident that anyone reviewing the record will agree. See McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 553, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984) ("[A] litigant is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one, for there are no perfect tria......
  • 21 F.Supp.3d 1042 (N.D.Cal. 2014), 08-CR-00938-LHK, United States v. Harmon
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit Northern District of California
    • February 28, 2014
    ...yet mistaken answer to a voir dire question rarely amounts to a constitutional violation." Dyer, 151 F.3d at 973 (citing McDonough, 464 U.S. at 555-56). The Court finds that Porter testified honestly when explaining at the hearing why he did not inform Judge Ware during voir dire about......
  • 771 F.2d 496 (Fed. Cir. 1985), 5-112, Sector Refining, Inc. v. Enterprise Refining Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • July 22, 1985
    ...the evidence. Motions for a new trial are committed to the discretion of the district court, McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 104 S.Ct. 845, 850, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984), and the district court's ruling is not to be disturbed unless there has been an abuse of discre......
  • 81 F.Supp.2d 1122 (D.Kan. 2000), 96-2459, Braintree Laboratories, Inc. v. Nephro-Tech, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit District of Kansas
    • January 7, 2000
    ...of the trial court. Hinds v. General Motors Corp., 988 F.2d 1039, 1046 (10th Cir.1993); McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984). They are "not regarded with favor and should only be granted with great caution." United S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1243 cases
  • 163 F.Supp.2d 174 (E.D.N.Y. 2001), 96-CV-2205, United States ex rel. Maris Equipment Co., Inc. v. Morganti, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Eastern District of New York
    • September 20, 2001
    ...all parties a fair trial, and is confident that anyone reviewing the record will agree. See McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 553, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984) ("[A] litigant is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one, for there are no perfect tria......
  • 21 F.Supp.3d 1042 (N.D.Cal. 2014), 08-CR-00938-LHK, United States v. Harmon
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit Northern District of California
    • February 28, 2014
    ...yet mistaken answer to a voir dire question rarely amounts to a constitutional violation." Dyer, 151 F.3d at 973 (citing McDonough, 464 U.S. at 555-56). The Court finds that Porter testified honestly when explaining at the hearing why he did not inform Judge Ware during voir dire about......
  • 771 F.2d 496 (Fed. Cir. 1985), 5-112, Sector Refining, Inc. v. Enterprise Refining Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • July 22, 1985
    ...the evidence. Motions for a new trial are committed to the discretion of the district court, McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 104 S.Ct. 845, 850, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984), and the district court's ruling is not to be disturbed unless there has been an abuse of discre......
  • 81 F.Supp.2d 1122 (D.Kan. 2000), 96-2459, Braintree Laboratories, Inc. v. Nephro-Tech, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit District of Kansas
    • January 7, 2000
    ...of the trial court. Hinds v. General Motors Corp., 988 F.2d 1039, 1046 (10th Cir.1993); McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984). They are "not regarded with favor and should only be granted with great caution." United S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
12 books & journal articles
  • Prejudice, Procedure, and a Proper Presumption: Restoring the Remmer Presumption of Prejudice in Order to Protect Criminal Defendants' Sixth Amendment Rights
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review Nbr. 93-4, May 2008
    • May 1, 2008
    ...prejudice during post-verdict inquiries). Gershman, supra note 3, at 328. Id. at 351 (quoting McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 553 (1984)). Id. See supra Part II.A (discussing a criminal defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial and the presumption of prejudic......
  • THE NEW IMPARTIAL JURY MANDATE.
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    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 117 Nbr. 4, February 2019
    • February 1, 2019
    ...Amendment's Due Process Clause. See Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968). (3.) See, e.g., McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 549 (1984); Kiernan v. Van Schaik, 347 F.2d 775, 778 (3d Cir. 1965); Charles W. Wolfram, The Constitutional History of the Seventh Amendment......
  • The big data jury.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 91 Nbr. 3, March 2016
    • March 1, 2016
    ...intrusion into the juror's privacy and not necessary for the parties to know."). (295) See McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 558 (1984) (Brennan, J., concurring in judgment) ("[T]he bias of a juror will rarely be admitted by the juror himself, 'partly becaus......
  • PEREIRA'S AFTERSHOCKS.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 61 Nbr. 1, October 2019
    • October 1, 2019
    ...course, also review trial court decisions in accordance with the policy reflected in Rule 61. McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 554 (1984) ("While in a narrow sense Rule 61 applies only to the district courts... it is well settled that the appellate courts should......
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