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Buddy's Plant Plus Corporation v. Centimark Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2014

BUDDY'S PLANT PLUS CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTIMARK CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court are the following motions filed by defendant, CentiMark Corporation ("CentiMark"):

1. A renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law [ECF No. 270];
2. A renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law [ECF No. 272];
3. A motion for a new trial [ECF No. 278]; and
4. A motion for reconsideration of the [ECF No. 264] Order denying oral motion to mold the verdict. [ECF No. 295].

The issues have been fully briefed. For the following reasons, the Court finds that CentiMark is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, or for reconsideration of any issue. Accordingly, CentiMark's motions are denied.

II. BACKGROUND

Because the facts of the case are well known by the parties, the Court will only recount the facts necessary for the disposition of the present motions. Plaintiff, Buddy's Plant Plus Corporation, ("Buddy's") brought this breach of contract action against CentiMark for the installation of an allegedly defective roof coating system installed by CentiMark at Buddy's facilities. A jury trial was held from November 19, 2013 to December 2, 2013 and the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $1, 800, 000.00. At the close of Buddy's case in chief, CentiMark moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Upon return of the jury's verdict, defendant moved to mold the verdict to an amount not exceeding the contract price, approximately $550, 000. The court also denied that motion.

CentiMark now renews its motions for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial and seeks reconsideration of the Court's decision denying its motion to mold the verdict. The Court will address each motion in turn.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

a. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b)

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50,

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: (A) resolve the issue against the party; and (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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). Where a party renews the motion after trial, 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). In determining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, a court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences the jury could have drawn from the evidence. Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp. , 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993). A Rule 50(b) motion should only be granted if there is no rational basis for the jury's verdict. Id. "More particularly, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict may be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) only if, as a matter of law, the record is critically deficient of that minimum quantity of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief." Addie v. Kjaer , 737 F.3d 854, 866 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Trabal v. Wells Fargo Armored Serv. Corp. , 269 F.3d 243, 249 (3d Cir. 2001)). Accordingly, a court should grant a party's motion for judgment as a matter of law "sparingly." Pitts v. Delaware , 464 F.3d 151, 155 (3d Cir. 2011).

b. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59

A motion for a new trial or to alter or amend a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 may be granted "when the verdict is contrary to the great weight of the evidence; that is where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand, " Pryer v. C.O. 3 Slavic, 251 F.3d 448, 453 (3d Cir. 2001), or "when the court believes the verdict results from jury confusion." Brown v. Nutrition Mgmt. Servs. Co. , 370 Fed.App'x 267, 268-70 (3d Cir. 2010). In determining whether a new trial should be granted, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party who prevailed at trial. See Moyer v. United Dominion Indus. , 473 F.3d 532, 545 (3d Cir. 2007).

Although a court has the power to set aside a jury's verdict due to the lack of evidence, the court's power to do so for this reason "is severely circumscribed." Victor v. Lawler , 2012 WL 2121331, at *2 (M.D.Pa. June 12, 2012). If the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, a new trial is "proper only 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." Greenleaf v. Garlock, Inc. , 174 F.3d 352, 366 (3d Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). See also Murray v. Morse , 610 F.2d 149, 152 (3d Cir. 1979) (the verdict must be "so unreasonable as to offend the conscience of the court."). Additionally, where a motion for a new trial is based on insufficient evidence, a new trial is the proper remedy only if "a miscarriage of justice" would occur if the jury's verdict would not be disturbed. Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp. , 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991).

c. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 61

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 61:

Unless justice requires otherwise, no error in admitting or excluding evidence - or any other error by the court or a party - is ground for granting a new trial, for setting aside a verdict, or for vacating, modifying, or otherwise disturbing a judgment or order. At every stage of the proceeding, the court must disregard all errors and defects that do not affect any party's substantial rights.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 61. Thus, a court's decision to grant a new trial based on errors of law "is limited only by the principle that such errors must not be harmless - that is, a court may not grant a new trial based on errors and defects that do not affect any party's substantial rights.'" Hailey v. City of Camden , 631 F.Supp.2d 528, 540 (D.N.J. 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 61).

d. Motion for Reconsideration

A motion for reconsideration "must rely on one of three grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Kulesa v. Rex , 519 Fed.App'x 743, 746 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Lazaridis v. Wehmer , 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010).

CentiMark argues that the third situation applies here for multiple reasons, therefore that subsection will frame the Court's analysis. To demonstrate clear error or manifest injustice, the United States Supreme Court mandates a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Easley v. Cromartie , 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001) (citing United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co. , 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). Moreover, a defendant must "base its motion on arguments that were previously raised but were overlooked by the Court." United States v. Jasin , 292 F.Supp.2d 670, 676 (E.D.Pa. 2003). Moreover, a motion for reconsideration "is not a proper vehicle to merely attempt to convince the court to rethink a decision it has already made[, ]" Colon v. Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 , 443 F.Supp.2d 659, 667 (M.D.Pa. 2006) (citations omitted) and "parties are not free to relitigate issues that the Court has already decided." Jasin , 292 F.Supp.2d at 676 (citations omitted). Such a motion may not be used by an "unsuccessful party to rehash" arguments previously disposed of by the court. Keyes v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. , 766 F.Supp. 277, 280 (E.D.Pa. 1991).

IV. DISCUSSION

a. CentiMark's Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law

CentiMark moves for judgment as a matter of law and provides three arguments in support thereof: (1) no reasonable jury could conclude that Buddy's timely filed suit; (2) Buddy's does not have standing to bring claims related to the destruction of the roof; and (3) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction for Buddy's failure to join Studer Rentals under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. The Court finds that each of CentiMark's arguments fail and accordingly will deny each motion for judgment as a matter of law. Additionally, CentiMark moves for a new trial based on these same arguments which will also be denied. Each argument will be addressed in turn.

1. One-year Statute of Limitations

CentiMark first argues that judgment as a matter of law is appropriate because no reasonable jury could conclude that Buddy's timely filed suit in compliance with the contractual one-year statute of limitations. See Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law [ECF No. 270] at ¶ 4. This Court held that the one-year statute of limitations provision in the contract was valid and enforceable and if the jury found that if Buddy's knew or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known of its claims against CentiMark prior to November 3, 2008, Buddy's suit was time-barred. Id. at ¶ 5. The jury found that Buddy's did not know or should have known in the exercise of reasonable diligence that before November 3, 2008 CentiMark materially failed to perform one or more of its duties under the contract, and did not know or should have known in the exercise of reasonable diligence that the continued leaking at its buildings was the result of CentiMark's defective material or workmanship. See Verdict Slip [ECF No. 261] at 1.

Buddy's responds that because the statute of limitations was a contractual provision, only an interpretation of that provision controls the application limitations period. See Pl.'s Br. in Op. of Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law [ECF No. 289] at 1.

The contractual provision regarding the statute of limitations states: "Any action by purchaser to enforce any claims against CentiMark, must be commenced within one (1) year from the date that a defect in materials or workmanship, or other breach or any other claim is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered." 11/8/2005 Non-Prorated Limited Roof Warranty IV(a) [ECF No. 4-2 at 20]. In issuing its memorandum opinion on summary judgment, this Court held that the date Buddy's discovered or reasonably should have discovered that CentiMark's materials or workmanship was defective was a question of fact within the province of the jury.[1] Memo. Op. and Order [ECF No. 157] at 17. CentiMark has not convinced this Court that it should have otherwise made a determination of whether Buddy's practiced "reasonable diligence" in discovering a defect in material and/or workmanship. Whether Buddy's did so was a question of fact for the jury to determine and the Court declines to redecide this issue. Furthermore, there was substantial evidence for the jury to determine that Buddy's filed suit within the applicable limitations period. Buddy's cooperated with CentiMark's roofing expert who gave no conclusive evidence that the roof leaked due to CentiMark's defective materials and/or workmanship. Additionally, there was evidence introduced that Buddy's expert Robert Standford only reported to Buddy's that the leaking was caused by CentiMark's use of defective workmanship and/or materials in July 2009, five months before Buddy's filed suit.

Accordingly, the jury's finding that suit was timely filed was supported by substantial evidence and this Court will not disturb the verdict rendered. Additionally, the Court has already determined that this was properly a factual determination for the jury to decide and it was not a clear error of law to reconsider the Court's past ruling. CentiMark's motion for judgment as a matter of law as it pertains to the statute of limitations issue is denied.

2. Lack of Standing

CentiMark next argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over this matter because Buddy's lacked standing to sue and/or failed to join a necessary party. CentiMark argues that Ed Studer, President of Buddy's, testified that Buddy's is not the owner of the buildings that are the subject of the litigation upon which CentiMark installed a roof system and performed various warranty-related repairs. Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law [ECF No. 272] at ¶ 4. While CentiMark concedes that Buddy's has standing to sue under a contractual theory based on privity, it argues that Buddy's does not have standing to sue for any claim for destruction of the entire roof that necessitates replacement because Buddy's does not have any property interest in the roofs, as the buildings are owned by Studer Rentals, a non-party to the suit who is a required party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a). See Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for J. as a Matter of law [ECF No. 273] at 4-5. CentiMark claims that if it "actually destroyed the roof of the... [b]uildings, the damages it owes are to Studer Rentals, not Buddy's. Moreover, if this Court awarded damages to Buddy's for CentiMark's alleged destruction of the roof, CentiMark could be sued in a separate case by Studer Rentals and be exposed to double liability." Id. at 6.

Buddy's responds that there was enough factual evidence to show that it had standing to bring these claims because Studer testified to the fact that Buddy's had a possessory interest in the buildings, and under the lease agreement, Buddy's was under a duty to maintain and insure the buildings. See Pl.'s Br. in Op. of Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law [ECF No. 282].

The Court notes that this is the first time that CentiMark has challenged Buddy's standing. But, because the question of standing is jurisdictional and not subject to waiver, the court must address this issue. See City of Edmond v. Robinson , 517 U.S. 1201, 1201-02 (1996); Nat'l Org. for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler , 510 U.S. 249, 255 (1994) ("Standing represents a jurisdictional requirement which remains open to review at all stages of the litigation.").

Article III of the Constitution limits federal courts to adjudication of only "cases and controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. "Courts enforce the case-or-controversy requirement through the several justiciability doctrines[, ]... [p]erhaps the most important of [which] is standing." American Auto. Inc. Co. v. Murray , 658 F.3d 311, 317 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Toll Bros., Inc. v. Twp. of Readington , 555 F.3d 131, 137 (3d Cir. 2009)). The doctrine of standing requires that the litigant show it is entitled to have the "court decide the merits of its case." Murray , 658 F.3d at 317 (citing Allen v. Wright , 468 U.S. 737, 750-51 (1984)). Constitutional standing has three elements: "(1) an injury in fact that is a concrete and particularized invasion of a legally protected interest that is actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) causation, the showing of a fairly traceable connection between the alleged injury in fact and the alleged conduct of the defendant; and (3) redressability, that is, it must be likely as opposed to merely speculative that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Murray , 658 F.3d at 317-18 (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Here, the Court finds that Buddy's has standing to sue for a claim for the destruction of the entire roof. Buddy's suffered a concrete injury, i.e. , a leaking roof, that was caused by CentiMark's failure to coat the roof with a waterproofing material as set forth in the contract and/or the failure to repair the defects from workmanship and/or materials, causing more damage to the roof, and an outcome favorable to Buddy's, i.e., damages, will redress the injury. Buddy's also has standing to bring claims relative to damage done to the roof during the warranty period. Buddy's had a possessory interest in the buildings via the lease agreement between Buddy's and Studer Rentals. See Studer Rentals Lease Agreement [ECF No. 127-9]. Moreover, the undisputed testimony of Ed Studer was that the interest in repairing Buddy's roof was assigned to Buddy's and this was evidenced by the fact that Buddy's maintained insurance on the buildings and brought suit against CentiMark. See Tr. [ECF No. 306] at 2-5. Further, the lease agreement explicitly permits the assignment of rights. See Lease Agreement [ECF No. 127-9] at ¶ 18 ("Lessor shall have the right to assign or transfer, in whole or in part, every feature of its right and obligations hereunder and in the building complex and premises. Such assignments or transfers may be made to a corporation, trust, trust company, individual or group of individuals, and howsoever made shall be in all things respected and recognized by Lessee.").[2] Moreover, Studer has inexplicably testified and provided by sworn affidavit that Studer Rental's rights to litigate the matter have been assigned to Buddy's. See Pl.'s Br. in Op. of Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law [ECF No. 282] at 4.

Therefore, Buddy's has standing to bring claims for the destruction of the roof, and accordingly, CentiMark's motion for judgment as a matter of law on this claim is denied.

3. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19

CentiMark argues that this Court "lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Buddy's claims" because "the principals of Buddy's and Studer failed to join as plaintiffs and/or otherwise failed to account for the interests of Studer Rentals, a required party that could have been feasibly joined." Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for J. as a Matter of law [ECF No. 273] at 7.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19 requires that

A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction must be joined as a party if:
(A) in that person's absence, the court cannot accord complete relief among existing parties; or
(B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may:
(i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest; or
(ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent ...

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