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Davis v. Simmerson

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 24, 2015

CHARLES T. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
EDDIE SIMMERSON, ANTHONY AMERO, CHARLES HOUGHLAND and BRYON VON RADER, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE A DIRECTED VERDICT

JOHN A. MENDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles T. Davis ("Plaintiff") moves for a "new trial or in the alternative a directed verdict due to fraud" (Doc. #175). Defendants Eddie Simmerson, Anthony Amero, Charles Houghland, and Bryon Von Rader (collectively "Defendants") oppose the motion (Doc. #177).[1] For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a California prison inmate, brought this suit against Defendants, alleging civil rights violations. The matter was tried before a jury, and a verdict was returned, finding for Defendants on all causes of action. After judgment was entered in favor of Defendants against Plaintiff, Plaintiff submitted a motion for a new trial or in the alternative, a directed verdict due to fraud. The Court will hereinafter reference the request for a directed verdict as one for judgment as a matter of law.

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

1. Judgment as a Matter of Law

Plaintiff moves for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b).

After a jury has returned a verdict, Rule 50(b) permits a party to renew its prior Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law. See EEOC v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009); Mitri v. Walgreen Co., No. 1:10-CV-00538 AWI, 2014 WL 6886835, at *1 (E.D. Cal. 2014). A renewed motion for judgment 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, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict." Hagen v. City of Eugene, 736 F.3d 1251, 1256 (9th Cir. 2013); Harper v. City of L.A., 533 F.3d 1010, 1021 (9th Cir. 2008). If there is "such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support [the jury's] conclusion, " then a Rule 50(b) motion should be denied. Hagen, 736 F.3d at 1257. When considering a Rule 50(b) motion, a court should review all of the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000); see Harper, 533 F.3d at 1021. However, "a reasonable inference cannot be supported by only threadbare conclusory statements instead of significant probative evidence;" nor may a jury's conclusion be based on mere speculation. Lakeside-Scott v. Multnomah Cnty., 556 F.3d 797, 802-03 (9th Cir. 2009).

The court "may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence" and "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150-51; see Harper, 533 F.3d at 1021. "The court must accept the jury's credibility findings consistent with the verdict... [and] may not substitute its view of the evidence for that of the jury." Winarto v. Toshiba Am. Elecs. Components, Inc., 274 F.3d 1276, 1283 (9th Cir. 2001). "A jury's verdict must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence, which is evidence adequate to support the jury's conclusion, even if it is also possible to draw a contrary conclusion." McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenburg, & Lauinger, LLC, 637 F.3d 939, 955 (9th Cir. 2011); Harper, 533 F.3d at 1021. Finally, because a Rule 50(b) motion is a renewed motion, "a party cannot properly raise arguments in its post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) that it did not raise in its pre-verdict Rule 50(a) motion." Go Daddy, 581 F.3d at 961; Freund v. Nycomed Amersham, 347 F.3d 752, 761 (9th Cir. 2003).

2. New Trial

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(a) provides: "The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues-and to any party... after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court."

"[R]ule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion for a new trial may be granted"; therefore, district courts must look to "grounds that have been historically recognized." Zhang v. Am. Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Hunt v. Fields, No. 2:09-CV-3525 KJM AC, 2014 WL 1757211, at *3 (E.D. Cal. 2014). These include a verdict that is contrary to the weight of the evidence or is based on false or perjurious evidence; or unfairness to the moving party. Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007). A court may order a new trial if an erroneous evidentiary ruling substantially prejudiced a party or if its instructions were erroneous or inadequate. Harper, 533 F.3d at 1030; Jazzabi v. Allstate Ins. Co., 278 F.3d 979, 985 n. 24 (9th Cir. 2002).

"The grant of a new trial is confided almost entirely to the exercise of discretion on the part of the trial court.'" Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 186 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36 (1980)). Even though in the Rule 59 context "the trial court may weigh the evidence and credibility of the witnesses, " it should not grant a new trial "merely because it might have come to a different result from that reached by the jury." Roy v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 896 F.2d ...


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