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Figaniak v. Fraternal of Owl's Home Nest

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

October 20, 2017

THOMAS G. FIGANIAK and VALERIE A. FIGANIAK, as Administrators of the Estate of Kevin Figaniak, Plaintiffs,
v.
FRATERNAL ORDER OF OWL'S HOME NEST, LOYAL ORDER OF OWLS NEST LODGE 2558, d/b/a THE OWLS NEST, a West Virginia corporation, YE OLDE ALPHA, INC., a West Virginia corporation, CRAIG TYLER PEACOCK, individually, JARRETT CHANDLER, individually, and TYLER JOHNSON, individually, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT TYLER JOHNSON'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, A NEW TRIAL, REMITTITUR, AND/OR AMENDMENT OF THE JUDGMENT

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b), 59(a)(1)(A) and (e), and 60(b)(5) and (6), defendant Tyler Johnson moves for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, remittitur, and/or amendment of the judgment. ECF No. 266. For the following reasons, defendant's post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law, motion for a new trial, motion for remittitur, and/or amendment of the judgment (ECF No. 266) is denied.

         I. Background

         This is a wrongful death action arising out of an altercation that occurred in Wheeling, West Virginia. The incident involved Kevin Figaniak (“Kevin”) and defendants Craig Tyler Peacock, Jarrett Chandler (“Chandler”), and Tyler Johnson (“Johnson”). Kevin's parents filed this civil action as administrators of his estate, alleging negligence claims against the defendants. This civil action went to trial and the underlying facts are set forth in this Court's memorandum opinion and order denying defendant Tyler Johnson's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 175. At the conclusion of a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs. ECF No. 246. This post-trial motion at issue (ECF No. 266) was filed by defendant Tyler Johnson following entry of the clerk's judgment (ECF No. 247) on the jury's verdict (ECF No. 246). This Court then entered an order of prejudgment interest and an amended judgment (ECF No. 278), and the Clerk, accordingly, entered an amended judgment (ECF No. 279).

         II. Applicable Law A. Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 permits a court to enter judgment as a matter of law where “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). “Judgment as a matter of law is properly granted if the nonmoving party failed to make a showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he had the burden of proof.” Russell v. Absolute Collection Servs., Inc., 763 F.3d 385, 391 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). On a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court considers whether the jury's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Konkel v. Bob Evans Farms, Inc., 165 F.3d 275, 279 (4th Cir. 1999). In entertaining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court should review all of the evidence in the record. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). In reviewing the evidence, the court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations, but must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.; Fontenot v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 736 F.3d 318, 332 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b):

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-or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged-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. In ruling on the 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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

         In considering a Rule 50(b) motion, th district court is to determine whether a jury, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, could have properly reached the conclusion it did. Bryant v. Aiken Reg'l Med. Ctrs. Inc., 333 F.3d 536, 543 (4th Cir. 2003).

         B. New Trial, Remittitur, Amendment of the Judgment

         Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides courts with discretion, after a jury trial, to grant a new trial on all or some of the issues “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 court may grant a new trial only if the verdict: (1) is against the clear weight of the evidence; (2) is based upon false evidence; or (3) “will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict.” Atlas Food Sys. & Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat'l Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996). The first two grounds for a new trial require the court to make factual determinations, while the third ground requires a policy analysis under which the “judge's unique vantage point and day-to-day experience with such matters lend expertise.” Id.

         The decision to grant or deny a new trial is within the sound discretion of the district court, and the appellate court will respect that determination absent an abuse of discretion. Id.

         “Under Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may order a new trial nisi remittitur if it “concludes that a jury award of compensatory damages is excessive.” Jones v. Southpeak Interactive Corp. of Delaware, 777 F.3d 658, 672 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). A court should order a new trial nisi remittitur if “the jury's verdict is against the weight of the evidence or based on evidence which is false.” Sloane v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 510 F.3d 495, 502 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). Whether to grant such a new trial is “entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         In support of his post-trial motion (ECF No. 266), defendant Johnson cites several grounds for why he is entitled to relief:

         1. Pursuant to Rule 59(a)(1)(A) and (e) and Rule 60(b)(6), defendant Johnson moves for judgment or a new trial asserting that his mere words made during the fight did not, as a matter of law or fact, ...


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