Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ferguson v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 16, 2013

BARBARA FERGUSON
v.
THE GREAT ATLANTIC & PACIFIC TEA CO., INC., ET AL

MEMORANDUM

JOHN R. PADOVA, District Judge.

Plaintiff Barbara Ferguson was injured when she tripped over a box that was being used to prop open an office door at a Pathmark supermarket. She brought this negligence action against Defendants The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Inc. and Pathmark Stores, Inc., alleging that Defendants had created and maintained a dangerous condition. On July 17, 2013, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Ferguson and found her to have suffered $834, 703.33 in damages. Defendants have now filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or, in the Alternative, a Motion for Post-Trial Relief in the form of a New Trial or Remittitur. For the following reasons, we deny the Motion in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 24, 2011, Ms. Ferguson, who was 68 years old, visited a Pathmark supermarket in her capacity as a sales representative for General Mills. (N.T. 7/16/13 at 47-49.) In the course of her work that day, she went to a back office of the Pathmark store, called the "scan office." (Id. at 49.) The door of the scan office was propped open with a white printer paper box, which was filled with white paper.[1] (Id. at 102-04, 114-115; see also Trial Ex. P-2.) When Ms. Ferguson exited the office after conducting her business there, her left leg hit the box and she fell to the ground. (N.T. 7/16/13 at 52-53.) She fractured her shoulder in four places and also fractured her kneecap. (Bonner Dep. Tr. at 15-16, 24.) She subsequently had major surgery on her shoulder. (Id. at 16-17.) As a result of her injuries from the fall, Ms. Ferguson can no longer work or drive, and she continues to suffer from persistent pain in her shoulder. (Id. at 15, 23, 28.)

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Ferguson on her negligence claim. It found Defendants to be 95% causally negligent and Ms. Ferguson to be 5% causally negligent. The jury further found the dollar amount of Ms. Ferguson's damage to be $834, 703.33. We molded the verdict to account for the parties' relative causal negligence, and entered judgment in Ms. Ferguson's favor in the amount of $792, 968.16. Defendants previously moved for judgment as a matter of law at the close of the Plaintiff's evidence and moved again at the end of the trial, and they now move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for either a new trial or remittitur pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) governs the renewal of a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). It provides in pertinent part as follows:

No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment... the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative... request for a new trial under Rule 59. In ruling on a renewed motion, the court may:
(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict;
(2) order a new trial; or
(3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.

Id. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that "judgment as a matter of law should be granted sparingly." Eshelman v. Agere Systems, Inc. , 554 F.3d 426, 433 (3d Cir. 2009). Indeed, we are to grant a Rule 50(b) motion "only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, " we find that "there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 213 n.8 (3d Cir. 2009). Evidence is insufficient for this purpose "where the record is critically deficient of the minimum quantum of evidence' in support of the verdict." Eshelman , 554 F.3d at 433 (quoting Gomez v. Allegheny Health Servs., Inc. , 71 F.3d 1079, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995)). "In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain liability, [we] may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute [our] version of the facts for the jury's version." Fowler, 587 F.3d at 213 n.8 (citing Fineman v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc. , 980 F.2d 171, 190 (3d Cir. 1992)).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 governs motions for new trials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. It provides, in relevant part, as follows:

The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues - and to any party - as follows:
(A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court....

Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1). Pursuant to this rule, we may, "in the exercise of discretion, ... grant a new trial if, inter alia, the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence, or if substantial errors occurred in the admission or exclusion of evidence or in the charge to the jury.'" Shrey v. Kontz, Civ. A. No. 10-1420, 2013 WL 5961092, at *12 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 7, 2013) (quoting Kidd v. Commonwealth of Pa., Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, Civ. A. No. 97-5577, 2001 WL 1159770, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Aug 21, 2001)). Our "latitude in ruling on [a] motion [for a new trial] is especially broad when the grounds asserted in the motion concern matters that initially rested within [our] discretion." Jacobson ex rel. Jacobson v. BMW of N. America, LLC, 376 F.Appx. 261, 264 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Klein v. Hollings , 992 F.2d 1285, 1289-90 (3d Cir. 1993)). "When the basis for the motion is an alleged error on the part of the court, such as an error in jury instructions or evidentiary rulings, [we] must first determine whether an error was made, i.e., whether, taken as a whole, the instruction properly apprised the jury of the issues and the applicable law.'" Carnegie Mellon Univ. v. Marvell Tech. Grp., Ltd., Civ. A. No. 09-290, 2013 WL 5332108, at *15 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 23, 2013) (quoting Donlin v. Philips Lighting N. Am. Corp. , 581 F.3d 73, 78 (3d Cir. 2009)). "If there was an error, the court must then determine whether that error was so prejudicial that refusal to grant a new trial would be inconsistent with substantial justice.'" Id . (quoting Bhaya v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp. , 709 F.Supp. 600, 601 (E.D. Pa. 1989)).

Our discretion to grant a new trial is more limited when the asserted ground is that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence. In that instance, we may only grant a new trial "when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks our conscience.'" Grazier ex rel. White v. City of Philadelphia , 328 F.3d 120, 128 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Williamson v. Consol. Rail Corp. , 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991)). Moreover, where, as here, "the subject matter of the litigation is simple and within a layman's understanding, [we are] given less freedom to scrutinize the jury's verdict than in a case that deals with complex factual determinations...." Williamson , 926 F.2d at 1352. In reviewing a motion for a new trial, we must "view[] the record evidence in the light most favorable to... the verdict winner, and draw[] all reasonable inferences in his favor." Pitts v. Delaware , 646 F.3d 151, 155 (3d Cir. 2011).

III. DISCUSSION

In seeking both judgment notwithstanding the verdict pursuant to Rule 50 and a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, Defendants argue that the evidence at trial was legally insufficient to support a finding that they were negligent and that, even if it were sufficient to support a negligence finding, the evidence was not sufficient to support a finding that Ms. Ferguson herself was less than 51% negligent. Defendants also seek a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 on the grounds that (1) we erred in admitting certain expert testimony, and (2) the jury instruction regarding the duty a possessor of land owes to invitees was confusing. Finally, Defendants seek remittitur pursuant to Rule 59(e). We reject all of these arguments.

A. Sufficiency of the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.