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HONEYWELL, INC. v. SAN FRANCISCO HOUSING AUTHORITY

April 12, 2001

HONEYWELL, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SAN FRANCISCO HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thelton E. Henderson, U.S. District Judge.

ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff Honeywell, Inc.'s ("Honeywell") Motion for Judgement as a Matter of Law, or in the Alternative, For a New Trial pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59. In addition, the Court is in receipt of the parties' supplemental memoranda regarding plaintiffs Motion for Equitable Relief, which the Court denied in part and deferred in part in its order of August 31, 2000. Having carefully considered the parties' written arguments, and the entire record herein, the motions are denied in part and granted in part as set forth below.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Honeywell subsequently filed a Motion for Equitable Relief asking the Court to consider its claims for equitable relief and enter judgment in its favor. While the Court found that the circumstances of this case did not warrant an equitable judgment enforcing the payment terms of the contract, it stated that it could "discern no reason why principles of equity do. not overwhelmingly favor requiring SFHA to pay Honeywell 50 percent of the savings achieved pursuant to the federal scheme SFHA has benefitted from." August 31, 2000 Order at 3-4. The Court, however, deferred ruling on this aspect of plaintiffs' equitable claim and ordered supplemental briefing. Id. at 4.

On October 2, 2000, plaintiff filed its Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or New Trial pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50 and 59. Plaintiff contends that (1) Honeywell is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on both the contract and section 1983 claims, and (2) that a new trial is necessary because the jury's verdict is internally inconsistent, and there is insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. The parties also filed their supplemental briefing on plaintiffs equitable claim.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for judgment notwithstanding of verdict has been renamed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). According to Rule 50(b), if a verdict is returned by the jury, the district court may allow the judgment to stand, order a new trial, or direct entry of judgment as a matter of law. However, a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law may not be considered unless it is preceded by a motion for the same relief at the close of all the evidence and filed no later than 10 days after the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

In the Ninth Circuit, "[j]udgment as a matter of law is appropriate when the evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, permits only one reasonable conclusion, which is contrary to the jury's verdict." Omega Envt'l, Inc. v. Gilbarco, Inc., 127 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 812, 119 S.Ct. 46, 142 L.Ed.2d 36 (1998); see also Baker v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 6 F.3d 632, 644 (9th Cir. 1993) (court "`must determine whether the evidence, considered as a whole and viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reasonably can support only a verdict for the moving party'") (emphasis original) (quoting Gillette v. Delmore, 979 F.2d 1342, 1346 (9th Cir. 1992)). In other words, judgment as a matter of law may be granted "[i]f during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue. . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1); Juhnke v. EIG Corp., 444 F.2d 1323, 1325 (9th Cir. 1971) (noting that directed verdict and motion for judgment notwithstanding verdict "are measured by the same standard as the latter is merely a renewal of the former") (citations omitted).

In considering a motion under Rule 50(b), "the district court is not free to weigh the parties' evidence or to pass on the credibility of witnesses or to substitute its judgment of the facts for that of the jury." Wright & Miller, 9A FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2d § 2524, 255-56 (1995) (internal citations omitted); see Baker, 6 F.3d at 644 (same); Mosesian v. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., 727 F.2d 873, 877 (9th Cir. 1984) ("Neither the district court nor this court may weigh the evidence or order a result it finds more reasonable if substantial evidence supports the jury verdict."). As the Ninth Circuit has emphasized, where the evidence permits of conflicting inferences, the court is not at liberty to select an inference over one chosen by the jury:

[W]e are "bound to view the evidence in the light most favorable to [the prevailing party] and to give [that party] the benefit of all inferences which the evidence fairly supports, even though contrary inferences might reasonably be drawn." Continental Ore Co. v. Union Carbide & Carbon Corp., 370 U.S. 690, 696, 82 S.Ct. 1404, 1409, 8 L.Ed.2d 777 (1962). . . . It is the jury, not the judge, which "weighs the contradictory evidence and inferences, judges the credibility of witnesses, receives expert instructions, and draws the ultimate conclusion as to the facts. . . . Courts are not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions because judges feel that other results are more reasonable." Tennant v. Peoria & P.U. Ry., 321 U.S. 29, 35, 64 S.Ct. 409, 412, 88 L.Ed. 520 (1944).

Cockrum v. Whitney, 479 F.2d 84, 86 (9th Cir. 1973) (on motion for JNOV, reversible error for judge to choose an inference contrary to that drawn by the jury); see also Wright & Miller, 9A FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2d § 2524 at 26 (1995) ("The fundamental principle is that there must be a minimum of judicial interference with the jury.").

Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[a] new trial may be granted . . . for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States." Rule 59 gives the trial judge the power to prevent what she considers to be a miscarriage of justice. Moist Cold Refrigerator Co. v. Lou Johnson Co., 249 F.2d 246 (9th Cir. 1957). A new trial may be ordered to correct manifest errors of law or fact, but "[t]he burden of showing harmful error rests on the party seeking the new trial." Malhiot v. Southern California Retail Clerks Union, 735 F.2d 1133 (9th Cir. 1984). A trial court may grant a new trial if the verdict is "contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, or is based upon evidence which is false, or to prevent, in the sound discretion of the trial judge, a miscarriage of justice." Richardson v. Suzuki Motor Co., 868 F.2d 1226, 1245 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (quoting Hanson v. Shell Oil Co., 541 F.2d 1352, 1359 (9th Cir. 1976)).

It is insufficient that the district court would simply have reached a different verdict from the jury. Richardson, 868 F.2d at 1245. Although the judge may weigh the evidence and assess the credibility of witnesses, and need not view the evidence in a light most favorable to the moving party, "a decent respect for the collective wisdom of the jury, and for the function entrusted to it in our system, certainly suggests that in most cases the judge should accept the findings of the jury, regardless of his own doubts in the matter." Landes Constr. Co. v. Royal Bank of Canada, 833 F.2d 1365, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted). If, on the other hand, having given full respect to the jury's findings and having reviewed the entire evidence, the judge "is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed," a new trial should be granted. Id. at 1372 (citation omitted). See also EEOC v. Pape Lift, Inc., 115 F.3d 676, 680 (9th Cir. 1997) (motion for new trial should only be granted if verdict is against great weight of evidence or it is quite clear that jury has reached seriously erroneous result).

III. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM FOR EQUITABLE RELIEF

The phrase "unjust enrichment" is "used in law to characterize the result or effect of a failure to make restitution of or for property or benefits received under such circumstances as to give rise to a legal or equitable obligation to account therefor." Dinosaur Dev., Inc. v. White, 216 Cal.App.3d 1310, 1315, 265 Cal.Rptr. 525, 527 (1989) (citation omitted). The doctrine contemplates that "one person should not be permitted unjustly to enrich himself at the expense of another," and that appropriate restitution should be made where, it would be just and equitable and where such action involves no violation or frustration of law or public policy. Id. (citation omitted). Having reviewed the parties' supplemental briefs, the ...


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