Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 51

Go to Rule 51 Essential Points

Rule 51. Instructions to the Jury; Objections; Preserving a Claim of Error


(1) Before or at the Close of the Evidence. At the close of the evidence or at any earlier reasonable time that the court orders, a party may file and furnish to every other party written requests for the jury instructions it wants the court to give.

(2) After the Close of the Evidence. After the close of the evi- dence, a party may:

(A) file requests for instructions on issues that could not reasonably have been anticipated by an earlier time that the court set for requests; and

(B) with the court’s permission, file untimely requests for instructions on any issue.

(b) INSTRUCTIONS. The court:

(1) must inform the parties of its proposed instructions and

proposed action on the requests before instructing the jury and before final jury arguments;

(2) must give the parties an opportunity to object on the record and out of the jury’s hearing before the instructions and arguments are delivered; and

(3) may instruct the jury at any time before the jury is discharged.


(1) How to Make. A party who objects to an instruction or the

failure to give an instruction must do so on the record, stating distinctly the matter objected to and the grounds for the objection.

(2) When to Make. An objection is timely if:

(A) a party objects at the opportunity provided under Rule 51(b)(2); or

(B) a party was not informed of an instruction or action on a request before that opportunity to object, and the party objects promptly after learning that the instruction or request will be, or has been, given or refused.


(1) Assigning Error. A party may assign as error:

(A) an error in an instruction actually given, if that party properly objected; or

(B) a failure to give an instruction, if that party properly requested it and—unless the court rejected the request in a definitive ruling on the record—also properly objected.

2) Plain Error. A court may consider a plain error in the instructions that has not been preserved as required by Rule 51(d)(1) if the error affects substantial rights.

Essential Points

  • One of a judge’s most important responsibilities in a civil trial is to instruct the jury as to the law.  Attorneys will typically offer proposed jury instructions and, as you might have guessed, in an adversarial system, attorneys will often argue over the proper instructions.
  • On appeal, parties can argue that the judge gave a wrong instruction – – that he explained the law incorrectly.
  • Normally, parties must object to the jury instructions to save that issue for appeal.  If a party fails to object to the instruction then he can’t argue on appeal that the instruction was wrong.   However, 51(d)(2) provides that if a judge’s instruction was obviously wrong – – “plain error” and affects substantial rights, then an appellate court may consider the issue on appeal even if a party failed to object at the time.
  • Below is a video on appeals in a civil litigation: