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Murphy v. Radnor Township

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 22, 2014

JOHN J. MURPHY, Plaintiff,
v.
RADNOR TOWNSHIP, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PETRESE B. TUCKER, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff John J. Murphy ("Plaintiff") filed this civil action against Defendant Radnor Township ("Radnor Township" or "Radnor") for alleged violations of the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Act ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Military Affairs Act ("PMAA"), 51 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 7301 et seq. This matter proceeded to trial on February 24, 2014. After six days of trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Radnor Township. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial. Upon consideration of Plaintiff's motion, and Radnor's Response in Opposition thereto, Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts of this case have previously been fully set forth by the Court. Murphy v. Radnor Twp. , 904 F.Supp.2d 498, 501-03 (E.D. Pa. 2012). Plaintiff contends that Radnor Township violated USERRA and the PMAA when it failed to hire him for the position of Township Manager because of his ongoing military service obligations in the United States Air Force Reserves. On November 6, 2012, after applying the two-pronged burden shifting analysis applicable to USERRA cases, this Court granted Radnor Township's Motion for Summary Judgment. In doing so, the Court first found that Plaintiff had met his burden of demonstrating that there was sufficient evidence that his military service obligations were a motivating factor in Radnor's decision not to grant him a second interview and/or hire him for the position of Township Manager. Id. at 505-07. However, the Court also found that Radnor Township had met its burden of proving that it had legitimate reasons for not granting Plaintiff a second interview and/or hiring him.[1] Id. at 507-14.

On October 23, 2013, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded. Murphy v. Radnor Twp., 542 F.Appx. 173 (3d Cir. 2013). The Third Circuit held that under USERRA, an employer has the burden of producing evidence of more than a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment action. Id. at 178. Rather, the employer "has the burden of producing a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action that is so overwhelming, so compelling, ' and so meagerly contested' that there is no genuine dispute that the employee would have received the same treatment regardless of his future military obligations." Id . (quoting Madden v. Rolls Royce Corp. , 563 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 2009). The Third Circuit then found that fact issues existed as to whether Radnor's proffered reasons for not hiring Plaintiff met this standard. Id. at 180.

This matter proceeded to trial on February 24, 2014. On March 5, 2014, after six days of trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Radnor Township. Specifically, the jury found that Plaintiff had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that his obligation for service in the military was a motivating factor in Radnor Township's decision not to hire him for the position of Township Manager. Verdict Sheet, Mar. 5, 2014, ECF No. 62. The jury further found that Radnor Township had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have denied Plaintiff the position of Township Manager even if Radnor Township had not taken Plaintiff's obligation for service in the military into account. Id . In so deciding, the jury thus found exactly as this Court had at summary judgment nearly a year and half previously.

Plaintiff now moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a).

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 governs a motion for a new trial. A 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). A court may grant a new trial on the grounds of: (1) improper admission or exclusion of evidence; (2) improper instructions to the jury; (3) newly discovered evidence exists that would likely have altered the outcome of the trial; (4) improper conduct by an attorney or the court unfairly influenced the verdict; (5) the jury's verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence; or (6) the verdict is so grossly excessive or inadequate as to shock the conscience. See Goodman v. Pennsylvania Tpk. Comm'n , 293 F.3d 655, 676 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Becker v. ARCO Chem. Co. , 207 F.3d 176, 180 (3d Cir.2000)); Am. Bd. of Internal Med. v. Von Muller, 10-CV-2680, 2012 WL 2740852 (E.D. Pa. July 9, 2012); Suarez v. Mattingly , 212 F.Supp.2d 350, 352 (D.N.J. 2002); Davis v. Gen. Acc. Ins. Co. of Am. , 153 F.Supp.2d 598, 599-600 (E.D. Pa. 2001); Griffiths v. Cigna Corp. , 857 F.Supp. 399, 410-11 (E.D.Pa.1994), aff'd, 60 F.3d 814 (3d Cir.1995) (unpublished table decision). The overriding principle is that a court has the power and duty to order a new trial to prevent injustice. 11 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2805 (2d ed.1995). Determining whether to grant a new trial is within the "sound discretion of the trial court." Allied Chemical Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc. , 449 U.S. 33, 36, 101 S.Ct. 188, 191, 66 L.Ed.2d 193 (1980); Wagner v. Fair Acres Geriatric Center , 49 F.3d 1002, 1017 (3d Cir.1995).

The standard that a district court is to apply when ruling on a motion for a new trial differs with the grounds asserted in support of the motion. Lind v. Schenley Industries Inc. , 278 F.2d 79, 89 (3d Cir.1960). The district court has broad discretion when the asserted ground for a new trial is a ruling on a matter that initially rested within the discretion of the court, such as an evidentiary ruling or jury instruction. Klein v. Hollings , 992 F.2d 1285, 1289-90 (3d Cir.1993); Lind , 278 F.2d at 90; Farra v. Stanley-Bostitch, Inc. , 838 F.Supp. 1020, 1026 (E.D.Pa.1993). Where the motion for a new trial is based on an assertion of legal error, the court conducts a two-step analysis. First, the court determines whether it erred at trial. Second, the court determines "whether that error was so prejudicial that refusal to grant a new trial would be inconsistent with substantial justice.'" Farra , 838 F.Supp. at 1026 (quoting Bhaya v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp. , 709 F.Supp. 600, 601 (E.D.Pa.1989) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 61)).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff asserts the Court committed two errors which warrant a new trial. First, Plaintiff contends the Court erred in permitting the testimony of the three candidates for the position of Township Manager who were offered the position in 2009 but ultimately turned down the offer. Second, Plaintiff claims the Court erred in not giving the jury Plaintiff's proposed "cat's paw" jury instruction. The Court will examine each of Plaintiff's arguments in turn.

A. The Court Did Not Err in Permitting the Testimony Miller, Kraynik, and Canavan

Plaintiff first contends the Court erred in permitting the testimony of Peter Miler, David Kraynik, and Christopher Canavan - the three candidates who were offered the position of Township Manager, but ultimately turned down the offer. Plaintiff claims the testimony of these three candidates "was irrelevant in that the only relevant evidence would be how the candidates presented themselves at their interviews in 2009 and not how they presented themselves in court in 2014, and how they ...


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