A Jury Trial (Or, Rather, a Non-Jury Trial) Anniversary

On November 1, 1948, the Supreme Court decided Ebling Brewing Co. v. Heirloom, Inc., 1 N.J. 71 (1948). The appeal complained of the Chancery Court’s appointment of a receiver for the defendant corporation. By a 5-1 majority, the Court upheld the appointment. Justice Case wrote the majority opinion. Justice Heher was the dissenter.

The key issue in the case was whether defendant’s demand for a jury trial in the Chancery Court was properly denied. Applying the 1844 Constitution, which governed given the timing of the case, the majority concluded that there was no right to a jury trial of the receivership issue:

“The jurisdiction of Chancery to determine corporate insolvencies, to decide the truth of the facts and allegations in the proofs submitted by the parties and to appoint receivers existed before the adoption of the 1844 Constitution. The substance of R.S. 14:14-3 … and in much the same language, was contained in sec. 6 of an act entitled ‘An Act to prevent frauds by Incorporated Companies’, passed Feb. 16, 1829, Pamph. L. 1828, p. 58, was carried forward into the revision of the statute approved April 15, 1846 (Rev. 1845 — published in 1847 — Title V, chap. 3, p. 129), into the revisions of 1875 (Rev. 1877, p. 175) and of 1896 (Comp. Stat., p. 1640) and so into our present statute. We interpret the provision of the 1844 Constitution that the ‘right of a trial by jury shall remain inviolate’ to mean that the right as it then was should be preserved. As we have seen, Chancery then was and had been for years vested with authority to determine the status of corporations with respect to their insolvency and, upon finding that insolvency existed, to appoint receivers, and, two years after the constitution had been adopted and therefore while its provisions and the reasons for the same were freshly in mind, the legislature, by revision, restated that authority.”

This case has been cited in many of the major decisions regarding the right to a civil jury trial since 1948. It has also been discussed in law review and New Jersey Lawyer articles by the leading scholars of the right to a civil jury trial in New Jersey. [Disclosure: Hon. Gary K. Wolinetz, J.S.C., and I are the authors of those articles. Citations for those works are in the article that was referred to here.]. The decision continues to have relevance and vitality today.

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