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Sands v. Wagner

January 11, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Muir, U.S. District Judge

Complaint Filed 08/03/01

(Judge Muir)



The lengthy and complicated procedural and factual history of this case is set forth in our orders of July 24, 2007, September 14, 2007, and October 9, 2007. We need not repeat those histories in this order. In the most recent order we granted Plaintiff Cynthia Sands's motion to reinstate the judgment in her favor which had initially been entered on January 7, 2004, after a jury trial.

On October 19, 2007, Defendants Sherry K. Wagner, Stat Nurse, Inc., and Triage Staffing (hereinafter collectively the "Wagner Defendants") filed a "Motion to Set Aside Verdict and for New Trial and Motion for Judgment NOV" pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59(a). A brief in support of that motion was filed on October 29, 2007. After receiving an extension of time in which to do so, on December 5, 2007, Sands filed an opposition brief. The Wagner Defendants filed a reply brief on December 10, 2007. We did not consider the motion to be ripe for disposition at that point because of the related motion discussed in the following paragraph.

On October 18, 2007, Defendants Donald W. Kline, II, Stat Health Services, Inc., Guardian Health Services, Inc., GHS Healthcare, Inc., Guardian Nursing Services, Inc., TIR Partners, and Nordic Investments, Inc. (hereinafter collectively the "Kline Defendants"), filed a "Motion to Set Aside Verdict and for New Trial and Motion for Judgment NOV" pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59(a). A brief in support of that motion was filed on November 18, 2007. On December 6, 2007, Sands filed her opposition brief. The Kline Defendants filed a reply brief on December 18, 2007. At that point both post-trial motions became ripe for disposition.

As a threshold matter we note that a number of contentions raised by the Kline Defendants in their post-trial motion are not addressed at all in their supporting brief. For example, in paragraph 17 of the motion, the Kline Defendants assert that

[t]he court's order reinstating the judgment based on the verdict of the first jury, after the retrial of only one phase of the case[,] constitutes a violation of the moving defendants [sic] constitutional right to trial by jury.

(Kline Defendants' Post-trial Motion, p. 5, ¶17)

We are of the view that any contentions raised in the Kline Defendants' motion but not discussed in their supporting brief has been withdrawn. See M.D. Pa. Local Rule 7.30 (providing that if "a supporting brief is not filed within the time provided by this rule, such motion shall be deemed to be withdrawn.") In this order we will discuss further only the issues addressed in the movants' supporting briefs.

Sands's initial response to both post-trial motions is that they should be summarily denied because of the procedural posture of this case. According to Sands, any errors which allegedly occurred during either of the two trials were addressed through the first two [sets of] post-trial motions filed by Defendants at the close of those respective trials. As such, Defendants' filing of post-trial motions for a third time, when there has not been a third trial held, contravenes the purpose behind post-trial motions in that such a motion is not being used to rectify any errors from a trial. Rather, Defendants are using such a Motion to relitigate the same issues previously raised in their prior post-trial motions which were already ruled upon by the Court. (Sands's Brief Opposing Wagner Defendant's Post-trial Motion, p. 12; Sands's Brief Opposing Kline Defendants' Post-trial Motion, p. 9)

This argument would have some merit if we had addressed and ruled upon the substantive merits of every contention raised in the Defendants' prior post-trial motions. However, that is not the case.

In their first set of post-trial motions filed in January of 2004 after the initial jury trial, the Defendants sought a judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. We first considered whether the Defendants were entitled to a new trial and for the reasons stated in our Order #1 of March 29, 2004, we concluded that such relief was appropriate because the jury's answer to a single special verdict question (Question Number 21) was against the weight of the evidence. In the light of that conclusion, we did not consider 1) a number of other challenges by the Defendants to the verdict, or 2) the alternative issue of whether the Defendants were entitled to judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict. Consequently, we did not address a number of contentions which the Defendants had raised in their initial post-trial motions.

We agree with Sands in that no contention should be reconsidered if it has been previously asserted by a Defendant, addressed by the court on the merits, and again raised by the Defendants in their pending post-trial motions. We will reject all such arguments as being improper and untimely attempts to have us reconsider prior rulings.

No Defendant has expressly requested reconsideration of any prior ruling. With respect to any contention which has previously been asserted by a Defendant, we will consider in this order the merits of only those contentions which were not addressed and ruled upon in a prior order.

We next turn to the legal standards controlling our review of the pending post-trial motions.

Our consideration of the pending post-trial motions is governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50 (entitled "Judgment as a Matter of Law in Jury Trials; Alternative Motion for New Trial; Conditional Rulings"), 51 (entitled "Instructions to Jury; Objections; Preserving a Claim of Error"), and 59 (entitled "New Trials; Amendment of Judgments"). Those three rules were affected by amendments that became effective on December 1, 2007. However, the Advisory Committee Notes to those amendments state that the "changes are intended to be stylistic only." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50, 51, and 59, advisory committee's notes. Consequently, we will cite and rely upon the versions of those rules in effect immediately prior December 1, 2007.

We first consider the concepts applicable to the parties' motions for "judgment NOV." The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted that "[t]he motion for judgment n.o.v. is now one of three motions called a motion for 'judgment as a matter of law.'" Starceski v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp. 54 F.3d 1089, 1093 (3d Cir. 1995)(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)). "The standard for granting summary judgment 'mirrors' the standard for judgment as a matter of law, such that 'the inquiry under each is the same.'"

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250- 251, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

When considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law we are to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and [we] may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. ... "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." ... Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe. ... That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the non-movant as well as that "evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses."

Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-151, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2010 (2000)(Emphasis added)(citing and quoting Lytle v. Household Mfg., Inc., 494 U.S. 545, 554-555, 110 S.Ct. 1331 (1990); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986); Continental Ore Co. v. Union Carbide & Carbon Corp., 370 U.S. 690, 696, n. 6, 82 S.Ct. 1404 (1962).

We pause here to note that the evidence upon which the Defendants rely in their post-trial motions is essentially that of their own testimony. As noted by the Court of Appeals in Reeves, such evidence may be summarily disregarded in the context of a motion for judgment as a matter of law.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has further stated that [i]n deciding whether to grant a motion for JNOV, the trial court must ... determine whether the record contains the 'minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief.'

Parkway Garage, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 5 F.3d 685, 691 (3d Cir. 1993)(quoting Keith v. Truck Stops Corp. Of America, 909 F.2d 743, 745 (3d Cir. 1990)).

We next discuss the relatively less rigorous standard governing the Defendants' motions to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recognized the precept that a new trial may be granted even when judgment n.o.v. is inappropriate. American Bearing Co., 729 F.2d at 948 n. 11; see, e.g., Rousseau v. Teledyne Movible Offshore, Inc., 812 F.2d 971, 972 (5th Cir.)(affirming grant of new trial even though there was "legally sufficient evidence to support the verdict, thus foreclosing a j.n.o.v."), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 95, 98 L.Ed.2d 56 (1987); 9 Wright & Miller § 2539 at 608 ("In many instances the judge might grant a new trial on th[e] ground [that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence] even though he is constrained to refuse to order judgment [n.o.v.].").

Roebuck v. Drexel University, 852 F.2d 715, 735-736 (3d Cir. 1988). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has further noted that the district court's power to grant a new trial motion is limited to those circumstances "where 'a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand.'" Fineman v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 980 F.2d 171, 211 (3d Cir.1992)(quoting Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1352 (3d Cir.1991)), cert. denied, --- U.S. -, 7 113 S.Ct. 1285, 122 L.Ed.2d 677 (1993). As we explained in Fineman, the purpose of this rule is to ensure that the trial court does not supplant the jury verdict with its own interpretation of the facts. Id. (citing Lind v. Schenley Indus., Inc., 278 F.2d 79, 90 (3d Cir.)(in banc), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 835, 81 S.Ct. 58, 5 L.Ed.2d 60 (1960)). Olefins Trading, Inc. v. Han Yang Chem Corp., 9 F.3d 282, 290 (3d Cir. 1993)(Emphasis added). Consistent with that purpose is the principle that when considering a motion for a new trial a district court "must proceed cautiously and not substitute its own judgment of the facts and assessment of the witnesses' credibility for the jury's independent evaluation." Advanced Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. v. Medtronic Vascular, Inc., 485 F.Supp.2d 519, 523 (D.Del., 2007)(Robinson, J.).

One glaring deficiency in the Defendants' supporting briefs is their complete failure to make any reference whatsoever to those standards. Wagner's current pro se status may explain the oversight on her part.

As emphasized by the cases cited above, when considering a motion to set aside a verdict and grant a new trial, or alternatively render a "judgment NOV," the manner in which a court may consider the ...

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