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Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2017

BERNIE CLEMENS, Plaintiff
v.
NEW YORK CENTRAL MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is the defendant's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). (Doc. 223). Based upon the court's review of the motion and related materials, the defendant's motion will be dismissed in part and denied in part.

         By way of relevant background, the instant insurance bad faith action was tried before a jury from November 2, 2015, through November 6, 2015. At the close of the plaintiff's case, the defendant moved the court to enter judgment as a matter of law in its favor pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a), arguing that there was insufficient evidence presented during the plaintiff's case from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the defendant was liable for bad faith conduct pursuant to Pennsylvania's bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §8371. The court heard argument from both parties on the matter, after which the defendant's motion was denied. On November 6, 2015, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $100, 000.

         On December 4, 2015, the defendant filed the instant renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). (Doc. 223). A supporting brief was filed on December 18, 2015. (Doc. 226). The plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the defendant's motion on January 4, 2016. (Doc. 229).[1] On January 13, 2016, the defendant filed a reply brief. (Doc. 232).

         Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move for judgment as a matter of law at any time prior to the case being submitted to the jury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). In doing so, the moving party must “specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment”. Id. If the motion is denied, the party may renew the motion after the jury returns its verdict, but not later than 28 days after the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). In considering a Rule 50(b) motion, the court can only address issues raised in the 50(b) motion which were first raised in the 50(a) motion. See Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1172 (3d Cir. 1993) (“In order to preserve an issue for judgment pursuant to Rule 50(b), the moving party must timely move for judgment as a matter of law at the close of the nonmovant's case, pursuant to Rule 50(a), and specify the grounds for that motion.”).

         Provided that the motion is procedurally proper, in considering the merits of a Rule 50(b) motion:

[T]he trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and determine whether the record contains “the minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief.” The court may not weigh evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses or substitute its version of the facts for that of the jury. The court may, however, enter judgment notwithstanding the verdict if upon review of the record, it can be said as a matter of law that the verdict is not supported by legally sufficient evidence.

Parkway Garage, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 5 F.3d 685, 691-92 (3d Cir. 1993), abrogation on other grounds recognized by United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc. v. Twp. of Warrington, Pa., 316 F.3d 392 (3d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). The court may grant a Rule 50 motion “only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and giving [the nonmovant] the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability.” Lightning Lube v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d at 1166. The question is not whether there is literally no evidence supporting the non-moving party, but whether there is evidence upon which the jury could properly find for the non-moving party. See Walter v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 985 F.2d 1232, 1238 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841, 846 (3d Cir. 1978)). “[J]udgment as a matter of law should be granted sparingly . . .” CGB Occupational Therapy, Inc. v. RHA Health Servs., Inc., 357 F.3d 375, 383 (3d Cir. 2004).

         In this case, the plaintiff brought a bad faith action against the defendant relating to the defendant's handling of his supplementary underinsured motorist, (“SUM”), claim which arose out of a motor vehicle accident on August 26, 2009. The Pennsylvania bad faith statute reads in relevant part:

In an action arising under an insurance policy, if the court finds that the insurer has acted in bad faith toward the insured, the court may take all of the following actions:
(1) Award interest on the amount of the claim from the date the claim was made by the insured in an amount equal to the prime rate of interest plus 3%.
(2) Award punitive damages against the insurer.
(3) Assess court costs and attorney fees against ...

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