Colgrove v. Battin - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 744 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Case examining whether a six-member jury in civil trials violates the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


The case of Colgrove v. Battin ensues from a 1970 rule change in the United States District Court for the District of Montana which permitted civil trials before a six-member jury instead of the traditionally composed twelve-member jury. The appellants, plaintiff Myron L. Colgrove and his spouse Ruth Colgrove, had filed a personal injury lawsuit over a car accident against appellee Charles J. Battin a United States District Judge. They argued that the reduced jury size violated their Seventh Amendment rights to trial by jury.

The District Court unanimously ruled in favour of Battin, upholding the six-member rule. The decision was predicated on the interpretation of an earlier case, Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970), where the Supreme Court had held that a six-member jury in criminal trials was constitutional.


The case primarily addressed the issue of whether the six-member jury rule is in violation of the Seventh Amendment, which safeguards the right to a trial by jury in civil cases. Specifically, the issue at stake was the historical understanding and interpretation of the number of jury members permissible in a civil trial. The appellants contended that the established common law conception dictated the constitutionally required jury size. The appellees, however, asserted that the Constitution did not require any specific jury number but rather the essence of the jury trial.


The case of Colgrove v. Battin reaffirms the Court's position in Williams v. Florida, extrapolating the constitutionality of six-member juries to civil cases. By this, the Court arguably broadened an understanding of the Seventh Amendment which is not bound to the specific details of the late-18th-century English jury compositions. The decision has since given rise to further debates and scholarly discourse over the Court's interpretation of the precise prescriptions of the Constitution versus the flexible application of its principles.

Despite criticism, the decision has paved the way for modern jury reforms for practical considerations, balancing jury sizes with administration and efficiency of the court system.


The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a six-member jury in civil trials in a 5-4 decision. The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Harry Blackmun, found that the Seventh Amendment did not mandate the number of jurors to be twelve as long as the jury as an entity preserved its essential feature and function. In essence, the Court deemed the number of 12 to be historical accident rather than a conscious design linked with the function of the jury. The Court further noted the increasing practical burdens of larger juries.

However, the dissenting opinion, written by Justice William O. Douglas, argued that the twelve-member jury was an ingrained part of English common law, which the framers of the Constitution intended to preserve.


  • Colgrove v. Battin, 413 U.S. 149 (1973)
  • Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970)

Journalist Brief

The case of Colgrove v. Battin involved a dispute over whether a six-person instead of a traditional twelve-member jury was constitutional for civil trials. The appeal was filed after a rule change in Montana's district court. The plaintiffs argued that this change violated their constitutional right to trial by a jury. However, the courts upheld that historical understandings or traditions do not dictate the number of jurors required by the Constitution. Rather, the focus should be on the functionality of the jury as a whole. The decision reiterated a precedent set in a previous case, where a six-member jury was deemed constitutional for criminal cases.


What was the key legal issue in Colgrove v. Battin?

Answer: The main legal issue was whether a six-member jury in civil trials goes against the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to trial by jury.

What was the Supreme Court's decision in the case?

Answer: The Supreme Court decided that a six-member jury in civil trials does not violate the Seventh Amendment, reiterating that the Constitution does not dictate a specific number of jurors.

What was the impact of Colgrove v. Battin on legal practice?

Answer: The decision led to modern reforms in jury practices, balancing the necessity for larger juries with the need for efficient court administration.

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