United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER RE: JURY QUESTIONNAIRE
JENNIFER L. THURSTON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
platiniffs contend State Farm wrongfully cancelled their
insurance policy and denied their insurance claim following a
house fire that caused the loss of their personal property.
State Farm argues the Naffs made material misrepresentations
related to their claim which justified the cancellation of
their policy. State Farm asserts its actions were proper and
seeks a declaration of rights in its counterclaim.
matter is set for jury trial on August 9, 2016 and State Farm
wishes to use a jury questionnaire because it is concerned
that there may be jurors who have strong feelings about
insurance companies that, if expressed during normal voir
dire, may contaminate the entire jury panel. The Naffs
contend that this case is not unique and that a questionnaire
is best suited for situations where jurors may be embarrassed
or made uncomfortable by the responses they must give to voir
dire. (Doc. 40 at 3) Ordinarily, the Court would agree.
However, counsel estimate that this trial will last seven to
fifteen days. (Doc. 35 at 29, 30) Also, due to the
unavailability of the Court, there will be a gap during the
middle of trial. These factors will likely result in many
hardship requests and a slimming of the panel of prospective
addition, the panel of potential jurors will not be large
enough to tolerate “contamination” by an overly
vocal prospective juror and the Court will not have immediate
access to additional jurors. Because of the potential to
delay the trial, the Court concludes that a jury
questionnaire will identify those who may require questioning
outside of the presence fellow jurors. The Court anticipates
only minimal delay caused by the use of the questionnaire
and, despite the Court’s earlier inclination to mail
the questionnaires to the jurors, the Court has decided that
the jurors will not be exposed to the content of the
questionnaire until they arrive for jury service. This will
minimize the risk of jurors forming any opinions about the
nature of the case.
other hand, the Court does not find that either proposed
questionnaire achieves the limited goals discussed at the
pretrial conference. The defendant’s proposed
questionnaire asks some questions the answers to which pose
little potential to “weed out” jurors who lack
the ability to be fair and impartial. In contrast, the
plaintiffs’ proposed questionnaire, while identifying
those who may have significant potential for bias, fails to
be broad enough to capture the bulk of this population. Thus,
the Court has constructed its own questionnaire, attached
hereto. The questionnaire is not a substitute for full voir
dire but is intended only to alert the Court to those
prospective jurors who should be examined, at least in part,
outside of the presence of fellow jurors.
the defendant’s request to use a jury questionnaire is
GRANTED in PART and the plaintiffs’ objections are
OVERRRULED. Any objections or proposed changes to the jury
questionnaire may be filed by July 29, 2016.
case involves allegations that an insurance company refused
to pay an insurance claim and that the people making the
insurance claim made false statements about the value of the
items that were insured.
assist the parties and the Court in making jury selection as
efficient as possible, please answer the following questions:
Have you or any member of your immediate family ever been in
a dispute with any insurance company for
any reason including, for example, a dispute over
payment of an insurance claim?
No__ If yes, please explain:
Has any insurance company ever claimed that you or a
member of your immediate family made false ...