Federal Procedure – Trial Practice – Right to Jury Trial on Common Question of Law and Fact

Fox West Coast Theatres instituted an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against petitioner, Beacon Theatres, to determine the reasonableness of motion picture distribution clearance agreements to which it was a party and to enjoin petitioner, pending final decision, from instituting or threatening antitrust suits against Fox or its distributors. Petitioners filed a counterclaim for treble damages, alleging that Fox and its distributors were engaged in a conspiracy in violation of the antitrust laws. Petitioner demanded jury trial of the fact questions in the complaint and counterclaim, since both raised the issues of competition between the theatres and reasonableness of the contract provisions. The district court granted Fox’s motion to try separately the issues of the complaint, and, on the ground that the complaint was “essentially equitable,” granted Fox’s motion to strike petitioner’s demand for jury trial of the common issues. Relying on the discretion impliedly granted by rule 42 (b), the court ordered prior trial of the equitable claim. Petitioner sought mandamus to compel respondent district judge to vacate the orders; the petition was denied by the court of appeals. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, held, reversed, three justices dissenting. When an equitable claimant can be protected in all respects from irreparable harm by use of procedures available under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Declaratory Judgments Act, there is no discretion in the trial judge under rule 42 (b) to deny counter claimant’s right to jury trial of common fact issues by ordering prior trial of an equitable claim. Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500 (1959).