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NORTHEAST WOMEN'S CTR., INC. v. MCMONAGLE

March 31, 1988

Northeast Women's Center, Inc.
v.
Michael McMonagle, Dennis Sadler, Deborah Baker, Thomas Herlihy, Anne Knorr, Robert Moran, Joseph P. Wall, Roland Markum, Howard Walton, Henry Tenaglio, Stephanie Morello, Annemarie Breen, Ellen Jones, Susan Silcox, Paul C. Armes, Walter G. Gies, John J. O'Brien, Patricia Walton, Kathy Long, Helen Gaydos, Donna Andracavage, Juan Guerra, Margaret Caponi, Mary Byrne, Linda Corbett, Thomas McIlhenny, and Patricia McNamara



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KELLY

 J. M. KELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 Presently before the court is the motion of the defendants for judgment notwithstanding the verdict pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), or alternatively, a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. At this juncture, the circumstances from which this action arose are well published. Plaintiff, the Northeast Women's Center, Inc., is a Pennsylvania corporation engaged in the business of providing pregnancy testing, gynecological care, counseling, and abortion procedures. Defendants are pro-life activists who have protested vigorously against abortion both in front of and outside of the Center.

 Asserting injury as a result of defendants' activities, the plaintiff brought this civil action seeking money damages and injunctive relief under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1, 15; the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c), and the common law torts of trespass and intentional interference with contractual relations.

 At the close of the plaintiff's case, this court directed the verdict on the plaintiff's anti-trust count. Northeast Women's Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, 670 F. Supp. 1300 (E.D.Pa. 1987). The remaining claims were put to a seven-person jury.

 Following four days of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict, finding all twenty-seven remaining defendants liable under RICO and assessed $ 887.00 in damages. The jury found twenty-four of the defendants liable for trespass and assessed $ 42,087.95 in compensatory damages and $ 48,000.00 in punitive damages. Three defendants were found to have intentionally interfered with plaintiff's employee contracts, but no award was made since the jury found that the Center had sustained no proximate loss as a result. Based on the jury's answers to the Special Interrogatories, the court entered judgment on the verdict on June 8, 1987 for plaintiff against all defendants in the amount of $ 2,661.00 for a violation of RICO, *fn1" against twenty-four defendants in the amount of $ 42,087.95 for trespass, and against three defendants for the intentional interference with a contract, but without money damages awarded. The awardance of punitive damages was set aside by this court, for the reasons set forth in its Memorandum and Order, filed June 8, 1987. Northeast Women's Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, 665 F. Supp. 1147 (E.D.Pa. 1987).

 Presently the court turns to the resolution of the defendants' motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or in the alternative, for a new trial, pursuant to Rule 50(b) and Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Since all defendants join in all cited grounds for the purposes of these post-trial motions, this court will consolidate its Memorandum and Order to apply equally to each defendant.

 Standards of Review

 It is well settled that "the standard for granting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict is precisely the same as the standard for directing the verdict. The motion for judgment can be granted only if the motion for directed verdict should have been granted." 9 Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2537.

 A motion for judgment N.O.V. must be granted cautiously and sparingly, and is appropriate under very limited circumstances. The jury's verdict may be set aside only if manifest injustice will result if it were allowed to stand.

 
to grant a motion for judgment N.O.V., the court must find as a matter of law that the plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient facts to justify the verdict. The motion 'may be granted only when without weighing the evidence, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as the proper judgment.' Where there is conflicting evidence which could lead to inconsistent conclusions, a judgment N.O.V. should not be granted. In considering the motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is made . . . .

 Marian Bank v. Intern. Harvester Credit Corp., 550 F. Supp. 456, 460 (E.D. Pa. 1982) aff'd 725 F.2d 669 (3d Cir. 1983) (citations omitted).

 Defendants have moved for a new trial on numerous grounds. Although Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 does not enumerate the grounds for a new trial, the following have been recognized as general grounds for a new trial: the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence; damages are excessive; the trial was unfair; and that substantial errors were made in the admission or rejection of evidence or the giving or refusal of instructions. 11 C. Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2805 (1971). "A new trial motion on the ground that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence is to be distinguished from a motion for a . . . judgment notwithstanding the verdict which raises the legal sufficiency of the evidence." Rose Hall LTD. v. Chase Manhattan Overseas Banking Corp., 576 F. Supp. 107, 124 (D.Del. 1983) aff'd 740 F.2d 958 (3d Cir. 1984). The Third Circuit enunciated the test as follows:

 
Since the credibility of witnesses is peculiarly for the jury, it is an invasion of the jury's province to grant a new trial merely because the evidence was sharply in conflict. The trial judge, exercising a mature judicial discretion, should view the verdict in the overall setting of the trial; consider the character of the evidence and the complexity or simplicity of the legal principles which the jury was bound to apply to the facts, and abstain from interfering with the verdict unless it is quite clear that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result. The judge's duty is essentially to see that there is no miscarriage of justice. If convinced that there has been, then it is his duty to set the verdict aside; otherwise not.

 Lind v. Schenley Industries, Inc., 278 F.2d 79, 89 (3d Cir. 1960), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 835, 5 L. Ed. 2d 60, 81 S. Ct. 58 (1960) (quoting 6 J. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice, (2d ed. p. 3819).

 I. PRE-TRIAL RULINGS

 A. Preclusion of Justification Defense

 This court did not, as defendants contend, "prohibit testimony of motive and/or intent". Defendants' Supplemental Post-Verdict Motions, filed 12/1/87, (Docket Entry 252, p. 36). The Order of the Court expressly stated that such testimony or evidence could not be extracted or introduced absent a prior demonstration of relevance. Defendants do not point to any ruling at trial denying them an opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of any proposed evidence or testimony of motive and/or intent. Therefore, I find defendants' contention without merit.

 Secondly, it was stipulated between all parties that the defendants' actions were motivated by their moral and/or religious beliefs regarding abortion. The jury was apprised of the reasons underlying defendants' presence and activities at plaintiff's property and was fully instructed on defendants' constitutional rights and privileges in pursuing their protests. There is no question that the jury was apprised of the tenacity of which defendants hold their views on abortion.

 B. Denial of a Stay

 Defendants argue that this court's pretrial denial of their motion for a stay of the proceedings pending the outcome of related state criminal prosecutions was error. To the extent that this court fully addressed this issue in its Memorandum and Order of February 12, 1987, and seeing no error in its prior ruling, defendants' motion for a new trial on this basis is denied. See Northeast Women's Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, No. 85-4845, slip op. at 21-22 (E.D. Pa. February 12, 1987).

 Furthermore, defendants have not shown that they were at all prejudiced by the court's denial of the stay at trial and plaintiff's reference to defendants' silence in not taking the stand in their own defense. The defendants elected not to take the stand and invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Any finding that the defendants were prejudiced by this court's ruling denying the stay due to defendants' rights against self-incrimination would be pure speculation. *fn2"

 C. Names of Clients

 Defendants aver that this court erred by failing to order the release of the names and addresses of plaintiff's clients on the dates the defendants committed the alleged unlawful acts. The resolution of defendants' motion was referred to the Magistrate, who issued an Order on November 7, 1986, denying defendants' access to this information. Upon objection by defendants, this court reviewed the findings of the Magistrate on this issue and found that the Magistrate's preclusion of all such evidence was overbroad. By Order of this court, defendants were permitted to discover the city and state of domicile for each patient encompassed in defendants interrogatories on this issue. See Northeast Women's Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, No. 85-4845, slip op. (E.D. Pa. February 7, 1987). Finding no valid reason to reconsider this ruling, defendants' motion for a new trial on this issue is denied.

 This court notes that defendants make no showing of prejudice from this court's Order or how it prevented defendants from presenting a proper defense.

 Defendants assert that this court erred in its pretrial refusal to issue a protective order for the records of the Pro-Life Coalition of Southeast Pennsylvania, a non-party, stating that the use and admission of this evidence was highly prejudicial to all defendants. Defendants do not state why the evidence was "highly prejudicial".

 This court's Order of July 29, 1986 addressed plaintiff's motion to compel the discovery of and defendants motion for a protective order regarding the discovery of the fundraising, expenditure and corporate records of the Coalition and of any other anti-abortion organizations with which defendant Michael McMonagle has been affiliated with since January 1981. See Northeast Women's Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, slip op. (E.D. Pa. July 29, 1986). Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b), this court stated, inter alia, that such materials as to defendant McMonagle, may assist plaintiff in showing proof of the planning or organization of the predicate offenses and/or offenses ...


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