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Sands v. Wagner

October 9, 2007

CYNTHIA SANDS, PLAINTIFF
v.
SHERRY WAGNER, DONALD W. KLINE, II, STAT NURSE, INC., STAT HEALTH SERVICES, INC., GUARDIAN HEALTH SERVICES, INC., TRIAGE STAFFING INC., GHS HEALTHCARE INC., NORDIC INVESTMENTS, TIR PARTNERS, AND GUARDIAN NURSING SERVICES, INC., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Muir)

Complaint Filed 08/03/01

ORDER

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS: On December 12, 2003, a jury in this case returned a verdict in the form of answers to Special Verdict Questions. On January 7, 2004, after considering those answers and the parties' motions regarding the judgment to be entered based upon the answers, a judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff Cynthia Sands in the amount of $255,892.02 plus interest in compensatory damages, and $1,000,000.00 in punitive damages.

On March 29, 2004, we granted the Defendants' motions for a new trial and vacated the judgment. The parties pursued appeals (which were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction), sought additional discovery, and at our prompting the Defendants filed motions for summary judgment. The matter was also stayed for a period because of a bankruptcy petition filed by Defendant Wagner.

We granted a defense motion to bifurcate the retrial and on March 13, 2007, a single Special Verdict Question was submitted to the jury at the conclusion of the first evidentiary phase of the retrial. When the jury reconvened for the second evidentiary phase of the retrial on March 15, 2007, we declared a mistrial because of egregious remarks by Sands's counsel during his opening statement on the second phase. This case is on our January 2008 Trial List to conduct the second evidentiary phase of the retrial.

On August 10, 2007, Plaintiff Cynthia Sands filed a "Motion for Reinstatement of Jury Verdict Dated December 12, 2003." A supporting brief was filed with the motion. On August 13, 2007, Defendant Sherry Wagner and the corporate entities with which she is affiliated (hereinafter the "Wagner Defendants") filed an opposition brief. On September 4, 2007, Defendant Donald W. Kline, II, and the corporate Defendants with which he is affiliated (hereinafter the "Kline Defendants") filed their opposition brief. On September 14, 2007, Sands filed a reply brief. The time allowed for Sands to file a brief in reply to the Kline Defendants' opposition brief expired on September 21, 2007, and no such brief has been filed.

We note that in her reply brief Sands does address the arguments made in the Kline Defendants' opposition brief. Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution we withheld ruling on the motion until after the September 21, 2007, deadline passed. Sands's motion to reinstate the jury verdict is ripe for disposition.

Although the procedural history of this case is unique, there is a substantial body of case law controlling our disposition of Sands's current motion. Perhaps the most significant general proposition is that where an "issue ... was decided by the jury in an earlier trial, the [party prevailing on that issue] may not be required to relitigate the same issue when the action is retried." Pritchard v. Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., 370 F.2d 95, 95-96 (3d Cir. 1966).

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reaffirmed that principle in the case of Herber v. Johns-Manville Corp., 785 F.2d 79 (3d Cir. 1986). In Herber the plaintiff brought a products liability action against several defendants for damages allegedly resulting from his exposure to asbestos. The jury in Special interrogatories, found that Herber's lungs manifested exposure to appellees' asbestos products, that appellees were liable for any harm caused by this exposure, that Herber had suffered a physical injury ..., but that Herber had suffered no loss for which compensation should be paid. Specifically, the jury found that the plaintiff had experienced an "injury to his lungs," that exposure to appellees' "asbestos containing products" was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury, and that the "sum of money [which] would fairly, reasonably, and adequately compensate plaintiff for injuries attributable to defendants' products" was "none." ... The trial court entered a judgment in favor of appellant in the amount of zero dollars.

Id., at 81.

On appeal by the plaintiff, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case for a retrial because evidentiary rulings made by the district court constituted abuses of discretion which improperly precluded two of the plaintiffs' issues from being submitted to the jury. With respect to the scope of the issues to be retried, the Court of Appeals stated the following:

It follows that the judgment below must be vacated and that this case must be returned to the trial court for further proceedings. It does not follow, however, that those proceedings must involve a retrial of all of the issues in this case. The errors we perceive in the trial record relate solely to issues that should have been submitted to the jury and were not, and we see no reason why the jury's resolutions of the issues which were tried should not stand. Id., p. 85-86. In the penultimate paragraph of its opinion, the court expressly commented that "[t]he jury should be specifically instructed that the prior jury's findings ... are now the law of [the] case and must be accepted as true." Id., p. 90.

We will apply those legal principles to the following historical and procedural facts in considering Sands's motion to reinstate the initial judgment entered in this case.

This is the sixty-second order which we have prepared and issued in this case. The precise details of the prior significant rulings and milestones in this case are set forth in our orders entered on the following dates and need not be repeated here: 1) Order #1 of March 29, 2003 (in which we granted the Defendants' motions for a new trial); 2) order #1 of April 25, 2006 (in which we denied the Defendants' motions for summary judgment); 3) September 11, 2006 (in which we granted the Kline Defendants' motion to bifurcate this case); 4) November 21, 2006 (embodying our rulings on issues regarding the manner in which the bifurcated trial would proceed); 5) July 24, 2007 (in which we denied the Defendants' motions ...


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