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Nikole Brown et al. v. Moran Foods

January 18, 2012

NIKOLE BROWN ET AL.
v.
MORAN FOODS, INC., D/B/A, SAV-A-LOT, LTD., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for New Trial and Motion for Remand. (ECF No. 45.) For the following reasons, the Motions will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Nikole Brown is an African-American female. On February 3, 2008, while Plaintiff was shopping at the Sav-A-Lot grocery store located at 3901-29 M Street in Philadelphia, an empty plastic container fell from a shelf and struck Plaintiff in the head.*fn1

Plaintiff alleged that she sustained physical and psychological injuries as a result of the impact.*fn2

Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County. Defendant removed the matter to this Court. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff sought remand, arguing that there was no subject matter jurisdiction. On June 10, 2010, we denied Plaintiff's motion to remand, finding complete diversity among the parties. (ECF No. 7.) Prior to trial, Plaintiff filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude evidence of her plea of guilty to endangering the welfare of a child in 2004. This motion was denied. (ECF No. 37.)

A jury trial commenced on May 31, 2011. During voir dire, defense counsel used peremptory strikes on two prospective jurors of African-American descent. (Jury Voir Dire Tr. 29:20-22 (on file with Court).) Counsel used his third peremptory strike on a Caucasian female. (Id. at 31:20-21.) Plaintiff's counsel made a Batson challenge to defense counsel's use of his peremptory strikes. (Id. at 29:20-22.) Defense counsel responded that he struck Juror Number 2 because her mother had been in an accident and had brought a civil lawsuit as a result. (Id. at 29:24-30:4.) In addition, Juror Number 2 had been smiling at Plaintiff's son throughout the voir dire. (Id.) Counsel struck Juror Number 9 because he was retired and because he was wearing sunglasses during voir dire. (Id. at 30:6-10, 31:1-8.) Counsel argued that he could not see the prospective juror's eyes because he never removed his sunglasses. (Id. at 31:1-8.) The Court permitted counsel's strikes. (Id. at 31:17-32:2.) There were two other African-Americans in the panel of prospective jurors, but neither of them was selected to be on the jury. (Id. at 31:13-19.)

On June 2, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant. The jury found that Defendant was not negligent. (ECF No. 43.) Plaintiff now moves for a new trial and remand.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) permits a court to order a new trial "for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Rule 59(a) does not specify the bases upon which a court may grant a new trial, but rather leaves the decision to the discretion of the district court. See Blancha v. Raymark Indus., 972 F.2d 507, 512 (3d Cir. 1992). When the motion involves an evidentiary ruling or point for charge, the trial court has wide latitude in deciding the motion. See Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1289-90 (3d Cir. 1993); Link v. Mercedes-Benz of N. Am., Inc., 788 F.2d 918, 921-22 (3d Cir. 1986). The court must determine (1) whether an error was in fact made, and (2) whether the error was so prejudicial that refusal to grant a new trial would be inconsistent with substantial justice. Bhaya v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 709 F. Supp. 600, 601 (E.D. Pa. 1989).

The statute governing motions to remand provides that if "at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff raises three arguments in her Motions. First, Plaintiff argues that the Court erred by permitting evidence of her 2004 guilty plea. Second, Plaintiff argues that the Court should have sustained her Batson challenges. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the Court lacks ...


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