Warger v. Shauers,
574 U.S. ___ (2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Warger sued Shauers for negligence for injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. After the jury returned a verdict for Shauers, a juror contacted Warger’s counsel, claiming that Whipple, the jury foreperson, had revealed during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal motor vehicle accident and that a lawsuit would have ruined her daughter’s life. With an affidavit from the juror, Warger moved for a new trial, arguing that Whipple had deliberately lied during voir dire about her impartiality and ability to award damages. The district court denied Warger’s motion, citing Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which bars evidence “about any statement made . . . during the jury’s deliberations.” The Eighth Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. Rule 606(b) unambiguously applies to “an inquiry into the validity of [the] verdict,” even to demonstrate dishonesty during voir dire. Warger’s right to an impartial jury remains protected; even if a juror lies to conceal bias, parties may bring to the court’s attention evidence of bias before the verdict is rendered and use nonjuror evidence after the verdict is rendered. The excluded affidavit is “internal.”

  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Sonia Sotomayor)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

WARGER v. SHAUERS

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 13–517. Argued October 8, 2014—Decided December 9, 2014

Petitioner Gregory Warger sued respondent Randy Shauers in federal court for negligence for injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. After the jury returned a verdict for Shauers, one of the jurors contacted Warger’s counsel, claiming that Regina Whipple, the jury foreperson, had revealed during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal motor vehicle accident, and that a lawsuit would have ruined her daughter’s life. Armed with an affidavit from the juror, Warger moved for a new trial, arguing that Whipple had deliberately lied during voir dire about her impartiality and ability to award damages. The District Court denied Warger’s motion, holding that Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which bars evidence “about any statement made . . . during the jury’s deliberations,” barred the affidavit, and that none of the Rule’s three exceptions, see Rule 606(b)(2), were applicable. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Held: 

1. Rule 606(b) applies to juror testimony during a proceeding in which a party seeks to secure a new trial on the ground that a juror lied during voir dire. Pp. 3–10.

(a) This reading accords with the plain meaning of Rule 606(b), which applies to “an inquiry into the validity of [the] verdict.” This understanding is also consistent with the underlying common-law rule on which Congress based Rule 606(b). The so-called “federal rule” made jury deliberations evidence inadmissible even if used to demonstrate dishonesty during voir dire. Both the majority of courts and this Court’s pre-Rule606(b) cases, see McDonald v. Pless, 238 U. S. 264 ; Clark v. United States, 289 U. S. 1 , favored this rule over the “Iowa rule,” which permitted the use of such jury deliberations evidence. The federal approach is clearly reflected in the language Congress chose when it enacted Rule 606(b), and legislative history confirms that Congress’ choice was no accident. See Tanner v. United States, 483 U. S. 107 . Pp. 3–8.

(b) Warger’s arguments against this straightforward understanding are not persuasive. Pp. 8–10.

(1) First, Warger insists that proceedings for a new trial based on voir dire dishonesty do not involve an “inquiry into the validity of the verdict.” His reading would restrict Rule 606(b)’s application to claims of error for which a court must examine the manner in which the jury reached its verdict, but the Rule does not focus on the means by which deliberations evidence might be used to invalidate a verdict. It simply applies during a proceeding in which a verdict may be rendered invalid. Pp. 8–9.

(2) Warger also contends that excluding jury deliberations evidence that shows voir dire dishonesty is unnecessary to fulfill Congress’ objectives, but his arguments would apply to all evidence rendered inadmissible by Rule 606(b), and he cannot escape the scope of the Rule merely by asserting that Congress’ concerns were misplaced. P. 9.

(3) Finally, Warger invokes the canon of constitutional avoidance, contending that only his interpretation protects the right to an impartial jury. But that canon has no application here, where there is no ambiguity. See United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, 532 U. S. 483 . Moreover, this Court’s Tanner decision forecloses any claim that Rule 606(b) is unconstitutional. Similar to the right at issue in that case, Warger’s right to an impartial jury remains protected despite Rule 606(b)’s removal of one means of ensuring unbiased jurors. Even if a juror lies to conceal bias, parties may bring to the court’s attention evidence of bias before the verdict is rendered and use nonjuror evidence after the verdict is rendered. Pp. 9–10.

2. The affidavit at issue was not admissible under Rule 606(b)(2)(A)’s exception for evidence of “extraneous prejudicial information.” Generally speaking, extraneous information derives from a source “external” to the jury. See Tanner, 483 U. S., at 117. Here, the excluded affidavit falls on the “internal” side. Warger contends that any information Whipple shared with the other jurors was extraneous because she would have been disqualified from the jury had she disclosed her daughter’s accident. However, such an exception would swallow up much of the rest of the restrictive version of the common-law rule that Congress adopted in enacting Rule 606(b). Pp. 11–13.

721 F. 3d 606, affirmed.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Primary Holding

Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which provides that certain juror testimony regarding what occurred during jury deliberations is inadmissible "[d]uring an inquiry into the validity of a verdict," precludes a party from seeking a new trial on the basis of one juror's affidavit of what another juror said during deliberations demonstrating the other juror's dishonesty during voire dire.

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