The Beaumont Court of Appeals has held that a contractual waiver of jury clause does not extend to non-contractual claims brought against non-signatory joint tortfeasors or alleged conspirators.
In In re Wild Oats Markets, Inc., Kuykendahl-WP Retail, L.L.P. ("Kuykendahl") had a lease agreement with Wild Oats Markets, Inc., which contained a contractual waiver-of-jury-trial clause. Kuykendahl brought suit against Wild Oats for breach of the agreement. Kuykendahl also sued Whole Foods Market, Inc. for tortious interference with the lease and for engaging in a conspiracy with Wild Oats to commit fraud.
The trial court struck Kuykendahl’s jury demand with respect to its claims against Wild Oats, but set Kuykendahl’s claims against Whole Foods for a jury trial. Wild Oats sought mandamus relief, asserting that the contractual waiver necessarily included Kuykendahl’s claims against Whole Foods. Noting that Wild Oats had not shown that Kuykendahl had waived its right to a jury trial on its tortious interference claim against Whole Foods (for conduct occurring prior to Whole Foods’ merger with Wild Oats), the court of appeals denied Wild Oats’ petition for writ of mandamus. From the court’s opinion, it is unclear how the trial court intended to try claims for fraud and conspiracy when part of them were to be tried to a jury and part were to be tried to the bench. The court’s opinion may be found at this link.
Update: Wilds Oats and Whole Foods (which was not a relator in the court of appeals) have now filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the supreme court. See Case No. 09-0278. The supreme court has called for a response.