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Zenith Insurance Co. v. Wells Fargo Insurance Services of Pennsylvania, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 7, 2014

ZENITH INSURANCE COMPANY,
v.
WELLS FARGO INSURANCE SERVICES OF PENNSYLVANIA, INC., et al.

MEMORANDUM

HARVEY BARTLE, III, District Judge.

Now pending before the court is the timely post-trial motion of defendants Albert Granger ("Granger") and Glasbern, Inc. ("Glasbern") for judgment as a matter of law (incorrectly denominated by defendants as a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict) under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and new trial under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Plaintiff Zenith Insurance Company ("Zenith") sued its insureds, defendants Glasbern and Granger, in this diversity action for negligent misrepresentation and violation of the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Act ("Insurance Fraud Act"), 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4117(b)(4), in connection with Zenith's issuance to them of a workers' compensation insurance policy.[1] Glasbern and Granger counterclaimed against Zenith for insurance bad faith under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8371.

Glasbern operates a high-end bed and breakfast in Lehigh County which features a hotel and restaurant with adjacent farmland. Granger owns Glasbern as well as the farmland contiguous to the bed and breakfast. The farming operation, it turned out, is run by Glasbern employees. An employee of Glasbern, Jason Angstadt, was seriously injured on June 11, 2010 when he was struck by a 1200-pound cow on the farm.

A jury trial was held in June, 2013. While the jury found that Glasbern and Granger had negligently misrepresented the nature of Glasbern's operations, it also found that Zenith had been contributorily negligent.[2] The jury proceeded to determine that Glasbern and Granger had violated the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Act "in connection with failing to disclose the farming operation of Glasbern to Wells Fargo and/or Zenith so as to cause Zenith to renew the worker's [sic] compensation insurance policy for the year 2010."[3] As a result of this finding, and in accordance with the court's instructions, the jury did not answer the special interrogatories as to whether Zenith was liable to Glasbern and Granger for insurance bad faith.

By agreement of the parties, the court decided on the amount of damages owed to Zenith for past and future payments due to Jason Angstadt. Judgment was entered in favor of Zenith and against defendants Glasbern and Granger jointly and severally in the amount of $1, 076, 382.37. The court also issued a declaratory judgment in Zenith's favor and against Glasbern and Granger jointly and severally which obligated them to reimburse Zenith for all reasonable medical and other payments made and to be made to Angstadt after June 24, 2013.

I.

A motion for judgment as a matter of law is governed by Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 50 provides:

(a) Judgment as a Matter of Law.
(1) In General. If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may:
...
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.
(2) Motion. A motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury. The motion must specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment.
(b) Renewing the Motion After Trial;
Alternative Motion for a New Trial.
If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. 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 or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59...

Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate when there is an absence of evidence on an issue or claim essential to a non-moving party's cause of action. The evidence will be considered legally insufficient where, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, "the record is critically deficient of that minimum quantum of evidence from which the jury might reasonably afford relief." Williamson v. Piper Aircraft Corp. , 968 F.2d 380, 384 (3d Cir. 1992). In deciding whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate, "the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version." Eddy v. V.I. Water & Power Auth. , 369 F.3d 227, 230 n.4 (3d Cir. 2004). "Although judgment as a matter of law should be granted sparingly, a scintilla of evidence is not enough to sustain a verdict of liability." Id.

Pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant a new trial 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)(A). A new trial "should be granted only where the 'great weight' of the evidence cuts against the verdict and 'where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand.'" Springer v. Henry , 435 ...


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