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Joining Legal and Equitable Claims Waives The Right to a Trial by Jury

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  • Posted on: Aug 7 2023

By: Jeffrey M. Haber

“The right to a trial by jury is governed by article I (§ 2) of the New York State Constitution,” which provides “that a ‘[t]rial by jury in all cases in which it has heretofore been guaranteed by constitutional provision shall remain inviolate forever.’”1 Enacted in 1938, “[t]his provision, …, is generally interpreted to mean that the guarantee extends to all matters to which the prior Constitution, enacted in 1894, extended the guarantee.”2 “This includes all matters to which a constitutional right attached at the time of adoption of the first Constitution in 1777, i.e., matters traditionally triable before a jury in a court of law or to which the right had been extended by statute prior to 1777, as well as any matters as to which a right to trial by jury was created by statute between 1777 and adoption of the 1894 Constitution.”3 

Article I (§ 2) of the New York State Constitution also provides that the right to a jury trial “may be waived by the parties in all civil cases in the manner to be prescribed by law.” Section 4101 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) provides that the party may demand a jury trial in cases where: (a) the facts set forth in the action “would permit a judgment for a sum of money only”; (b) the party demanding a jury trial files “an action of ejectment; for dower; for waste; for abatement of and damages for a nuisance”; (c) the demanding party files an action “to recover a chattel; or for determination of a claim to real property under article fifteen of the real property actions and proceedings law”; and (d) the demanding party files “any other action in which [the] party is entitled by the constitution or by express provision of law to a trial by jury.” 

Not surprisingly, issues arise with regard to the right to a jury trial when the pleading party asserts both legal and monetary claims. When, as in Pelletier v. Morgan, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 04167 (1st Dept. Aug. 3, 2023) (here), “the complaint either joins legal and equitable causes of action arising out of the same alleged wrong or seeks both legal and equitable relief, there is a waiver of a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial.”4 “However, the right to a jury trial is to be determined by the facts alleged in the complaint and not by the prayer for relief.”5 Indeed, “[t]he fact that [a] plaintiff is seeking money damages ‘does not, in and of itself, guarantee entitlement to a jury trial.’”6 Thus, “[w]here a plaintiff alleges facts upon which monetary damages alone will afford full relief, inclusion of a demand for equitable relief in the complaint’s prayer for relief will not constitute a waiver of the right to a jury trial.”7 

Notably, the party seeking a jury trial cannot reclaim the right by withdrawing equitable claims or requests for equitable relief. “Once the right to a jury trial has been intentionally lost by joining legal and equitable claims, any subsequent dismissal, settlement or withdrawal of the equitable claim(s) will not revive the right to trial by jury.”8 

Against this background, we examine Pelletier v. Morgan.

Plaintiff entered into a land contract with defendant Morgan Shedlock LLC and defendant Robert J. Morgan, the managing member of Morgan Shedlock, to purchase two parcels of land in Tompkins County, New York. Under the contract, plaintiff agreed to make certain monthly payments. Plaintiff further agreed that if she defaulted on the payments, Morgan Shedlock could accelerate the debt and then, if plaintiff failed to make full payment, retain her prior payments as rent and commence an eviction proceeding against her. 

Plaintiff subsequently defaulted. Rather than proceeding through the eviction process, the parties entered into a termination agreement, waiving any claims arising out of the land contract against the other. In return, plaintiff committed to vacating the premises, which defendants would be entitled to possession at such time.

Thereafter, plaintiff commenced the action seeking, among other things, declaratory and injunctive relief, including recission of the termination agreement and damages relating to defendants’ efforts to eject her from the property. 

Following service of an amended complaint, defendants served an amended answer and moved for partial summary judgment. The motion court denied the motion, which the Appellate Division, Third Department affirmed.9 

Thereafter, plaintiff filed a note of issue demanding a trial by jury. Defendants moved to strike the note of issue, which was opposed by plaintiff. The motion court granted the motion. Plaintiff appealed.

The Third Department affirmed.

The Court held that plaintiff “waived her right to a jury trial” because she “joined legal and equitable causes of action arising out of the same transaction — the execution of the termination agreement.”10 In so holding the Court rejected plaintiff’s contention that she could be made whole “solely by a monetary judgment”: “Inasmuch as plaintiff seeks recission of that termination agreement and a declaration that she is the rightful owner of the subject property, contrary to her contention, her relief cannot be obtained solely by a monetary judgment.”11

The Court further rejected plaintiff’s contention that her claims for recission of the termination agreement and a declaration that she was the rightful owner of the subject property were incidental to her claims for monetary damages.12 “Indeed,” said the Court, “plaintiff acknowledged in two of her causes of action that she did not have an adequate remedy at law.”13


Litigants should be mindful of the possibility of a waiver. Pelletier highlights the ease with which a party can waive a jury trial. This is especially true when, as in Pelletier, the pleading party asserts legal and equitable claims, such as rescission, arising from a single transaction.


  1. Hudson View Assocs. v. Gooden, 222 A.D.2d 163, 165 (1st Dept. 1996).
  2. Id.
  3. Id. (citations omitted).
  4. Errant Gene Therapeutics, LLC v. Sloan-Kettering Inst. for Cancer Research, 176 A.D.3d 459, 459 (1st Dept. 2019), lv. dismissed, 35 N.Y.3d 1060 (2020); Matter of Briere v. City of Schenectady, 201 A.D.3d 1189, 1190 (3d Dept. 2022); Margesson v. Bank of N.Y., 291 A.D.2d 694, 698 (3d Dept. 2002).
  5. Hebranko v. Bioline Labs., Inc., 149 A.D.2d 567, 568 (2d Dept. 1989) (citations omitted).
  6. Aroch v. 391 Broadway LLC, 203 A.D.3d 642, 642 (1st Dept. 2022) (quoting, Phoenix Garden Rest. v. Chu, 234 A.D.2d 233, 234 (1st Dept. 1996)).
  7. Id. (citing, Murphy v. American Home Prods. Corp., 136 A.D.2d 229, 232 (2d Dept. 1989)).
  8. See Anesthesia Assoc. of Mount Kisco, LLP v. Northern Westchester Hosp. Ctr., 59 A.D.3d 481, 482 (2d Dept. 2009).
  9. See 215 A.D.3d 1153 (3d Dept. 2023).
  10. Slip Op. at *1.
  11. Id. (citations and footnote omitted).
  12. Id. at *2 (citations omitted).
  13. Id. (citations omitted).

Jeffrey M. Haber is a partner and co-founder of Freiberger Haber LLP.

This article is for informational purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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