Update (March 16, 2017): It is widely known that plaintiffs’ lawyers tend to want juries to decide cases. Defense lawyers tend to want judges to decide cases (aka “bench trials”). The Blue Cross v. Wells Fargo case was no exception.
The Blue Cross v. Wells Fargo case went to a jury, with certain issues reserved for the judge. As described below, the jury ruled in favor of the defendants.
After the fact, guess who wants the jury verdict to have a broad application (that is, to be decisive in the issues reserved for the judge) and who wants the jury verdict applied more narrowly (that is, to have no effect on the decisions yet to be decided by the judge)?
(Hint: U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank (D. Minn.) disclosed after the trial that, in contrast to the jury, he would have found in plaintiffs’ favor.)
You guessed right! Wells Fargo did not want the jury to decide some issues but, when the jury ruled in Wells Fargo’s favor, the bank argued that the jury verdict in its favor should have broad application. Blue Cross’ lawyers, on the other hand, argued that the outstanding issues to be decided by the judge should not be compelled by the jury verdict.
And you might not be surprised to learn that that Judge Frank found that Wells Fargo waived any claim that it might have had that collateral estoppel applied. If the jury verdict were given “collateral estoppel effect,” it would have tied the Court’s hands in reaching conclusions inconsistent though they may be, from the jury verdict.
Minnesota Litigator practice pointer: if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the entire analysis of the case is flipped upside down on appeal, make a 180-degree turn?
Update (October 30, 2014) (under headline: Blue Cross et al. v. Wells Fargo: Taking It Up On Appeal to the Eighth Circuit): The notice of appeal filed yesterday will come as no surprise in Blue Cross v. Wells Fargo, in which the plaintiffs, represented by Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, lost at trial before a jury and before U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank (D. Minn.). The decision to appeal such a loss would be unsurprising in any case with this much at stake. This case had the additional anomaly discussed below in which the trial judge and jury who both heard the evidence reached different conclusions.
Update (April 23, 2014) (Under the subject line: Blue Cross v. Wells Fargo and the Challenge of Hybrid Jury/Bench Trials): Below is a post from last month reflecting a loss of plaintiff Blue Cross (and others) in a case that Blue Cross, represented by the Twin Cities litigation powerhouse of Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, brought against Wells Fargo Bank.
But, post-trial, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank (D. Minn.) held that, in contrast to the jury, the Court would have found that Wells Fargo breached its fiduciary duties owed to the plaintiffs. He continued, however, that the Court was bound by the jury’s conclusion to the contrary (see linked doc, p. 7, ftn. 6).
This is too hard a nut to crack for Minnesota Litigator on a tight deadline, but I can appreciate a sense that the legal system’s integrity and legitimacy, its adherence to the ideal of “truth,” would appear to be in play if one can have a single trial in which (a) a single entity is found to have breached its fiduciary duties owed to plaintiffs, and (b) the same entity is found NOT to have breached its fiduciary duties on the same facts as to the same plaintiffs.
This would seem to be the upshot of accepting both the jury verdict and also the judge’s irreconcilable finding on the same question.
So, where a case is tried before both a judge and a jury and their conclusions conflict, whose truth trumps (or is there a place in our justice system and in our minds for quantum mechanical ambiguity)? (Blue Cross’ argument is here.)
Original Post (March 24, 2014) (Under the subject line: “Robins Kaplan Loses a Big One”): The brilliant lawyers of Robins Kaplan represented Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota in a landmark case against “Big Tobacco” which enriched the firm in the hundreds of millions of dollars.