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Sufficiency of the Evidence to Create a Jury Issue

Sufficiency of the Evidence to Create a Jury Issue

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Published by JPWeinstein
Rule 50. Judgment As a Matter of Law in a Jury Trial; Related Motion for a New Trial; Conditional Ruling
Rule 50. Judgment As a Matter of Law in a Jury Trial; Related Motion for a New Trial; Conditional Ruling

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Published by: JPWeinstein on Mar 15, 2013
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9B Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2531 (3d ed.)Federal Practice & ProcedureFederal Rules Of Civil ProcedureDatabase updated December 2012Chapter 7. TrialsRule 50. Judgment As a Matter of Law in a Jury Trial; Related Motion for a New Trial;Conditional RulingB. Sufficiency of the Evidence to Create a Jury Issue§ 2531 Standard Distinguished From Other Procedures—New TrialA renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule 50(b) may be joined, in the alternative, with a motion for a new trial under Rule 59.
These motionshave wholly distinct functions and entirely different standards govern their allowance.
 Nevertheless there has been confusion and some courts persist in stating, as the standardfor judgment as a matter of law, the much more lenient test that is applicable to a motionfor a new trial when it is based on the ground that the verdict is against the weight of theevidence.The contrasts between the two motions are dramatic. If a motion for a new trial isgranted, the case is tried again. If either version of the motion for judgment as a matter of law is granted, the case is at an end. Because of the finality that the latter motion has, it isnatural that it should be measured by a far more rigorous standard. On a motion for newtrial, the district court has a wide discretion to order a new trial whenever prejudicialerror has occurred. On a motion for judgment as a matter of law, it has no discretionwhatsoever and considers only the question of law whether there is sufficient evidence toraise a jury issue.
On a motion for new trial the trial judge may consider the credibilityof witnesses and the weight of the evidence; on a motion for judgment as a matter of law,the judge may not.
The failure to seek a judgment as a matter of law at the close of allthe evidence does not procedurally bar a motion for a new trial, but it does bar a renewedmotion for judgment as a matter of law.
However, the failure to move for a new trial inthe district court does preclude the granting of that remedy on appeal.
All of this has been understood for some time and is thoroughly settled in the cases. Twoof the most famous statements by illustrious judges regarding the differences between thetwo motions came within two months of each other. In 1932—six years before the promulgation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—Judge John J. Parker, speakingfor the Fourth Circuit, wrote:There seems to be some confusion on the part of counsel as to the difference between theduty to direct a verdict and the duty to grant a new trial after verdict; and the contention isfrequently made that the judge should direct a verdict whenever the evidence is such thathe would be justified in setting the verdict aside. The distinction, however, is clear.Where there is substantial evidence in support of plaintiff's case, the judge may not directa verdict against him, even though he may not believe his evidence or may think that theweight of the evidence is on the other side; for, under the constitutional guaranty of trial by jury, it is for the jury to weigh the evidence and pass upon its credibility. He may,however, set aside a verdict supported by substantial evidence where in his opinion it iscontrary to the clear weight of the evidence, or is based upon evidence which is false; for,even though the evidence be sufficient to preclude the direction of a verdict, it is still his
duty to exercise his power over the proceedings before him to prevent a miscarriage of  justice. … Verdict can be directed only where there is no substantial evidence to supportrecovery by the party against whom it is directed or where the evidence is all against himor so overwhelmingly so as to leave no room to doubt what the fact is. … Verdict may beset aside and new trial granted, when the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of theevidence, or whenever in the exercise of a sound discretion the trial judge thinks thisaction necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
The same point was made the next month by Judge Joseph C. Hutcheson, Jr., speakingfor the Fifth Circuit:A District Judge in the conduct of a common law trial in the Federal court has twoseparate and distinct functions, each equally vital to the just conduct of such trial, eachseparate and distinct from the other. One, his function before verdict, to determinewhether there is any evidence to carry the case, or any issue in it, to the jury. Thisfunction requires him to submit every disputed issue to them. That is, every issue inregard to which reasonable minds might draw different conclusions, and to refuse tosubmit to them issues on which there is no evidence, that is, issues as to the result of which reasonable minds cannot disagree. The other, his function after verdict, to refuse inthe exercise of his discretion, to permit a verdict to stand which, though supported byevidence, is in his opinion against the right and justice of the case.
The principles stated by Judge Parker and Judge Hutcheson were and continue to besound today. Their authoritativeness is not shaken by an ill-considered statement in aSupreme Court decision of the same vintage that has long been thoroughly discredited onmany grounds.
The federal courts today understand this clear distinction between thetwo kinds of motions and often state it in very clear terms.
They say in so many words,as did the Sixth Circuit many years ago, thata verdict may not be directed for a defendant merely because the trial judge feels that,should the jury find in plaintiff's favor, he would regard it as his duty in the exercise of asound judicial discretion, to set the verdict aside.
Unfortunately on occasion judges forget. Statements appear in the cases from time totime that equate the standard of sufficiency of the evidence to withstand a motion for  judgment as a matter of law or the renewed version thereof with the standard allowing thetrial judge to make a discretionary determination to award a new trial and these passagessay that judgment as a matter of law may be granted if the court would feel compelled toset aside a verdict in favor of the party opposing the motion.
These statements simplyare wrong.Westlaw. © 2012 Thomson Reuters. No Claim to Orig. U.S. Govt. Works.
Joined in alternative
See § 2539.2
Entirely different standards
Hinz v. Neuroscience, Inc., D.C.Minn.2007, 2007 WL 1576116.
Minks v. Polaris Indus., Inc., D.C.Fla.2007, 2007 WL 1452906,
quoting Wright &Miller.See also
Henning v. Union Pacific R. Co., 530 F.3d 1206 (10th Cir. 2008) (district courtimproperly applied Rule 50 standard to motion for new trial under Rule 59).
But see
Coons v. Industrial Knife Co., Inc., 620 F.3d 38, 41 (1st Cir. 2010) (Rule 59(e) motioncould be construed as Rule 50(b) motion since it contained all information required for Rule 50(b) motion), citing Cosgrove v. Bartolotta, 150 F.3d 729, 732 (7th Cir. 1998).3
Question of law
See § 2524 n. 1.
See also
Yurman Design, Inc. v. PAJ, Incorporated, D.C.N.Y.2000, 93 F.Supp.2d 449, affirmed in part, reversed in part on other grounds C.A.2d, 2001, 262 F.3d 101. Nadel v. Isaksson, D.C.N.Y.2000, 90 F.Supp.2d 378, vacated on other grounds C.A.2d,2003, 321 F.3d 266.4
May not weigh evidence
See § 2524 n. 10.Fine v. Sovereign Bank, 671 F. Supp. 2d 219, 224 (D. Mass. 2009).Douglas Asphalt Co. v. Qore, Inc., 2010 WL 2089255, *2 (S.D. Ga. 2010).
See also
In reviewing a district court's decision on a Rule 50(b) motion for a new trial, the court of appeals must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party prevailing at trial,and draw all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. BBA Nonwovens Simpsonville,Inc. v. Superior Nonwovens, LLC, C.A.Fed., 2002, 303 F.3d 1332.When a district court is considering a new trial motion on the grounds that the verdict isagainst the great weight of the evidence, the court is entitled to interpret the evidence and judge the credibility of witnesses for itself. Simco v. Ellis, C.A.8th, 2002, 303 F.3d 929.Moran v. Clarke, C.A.8th, 2002, 296 F.3d 638.Kelly v. Armstrong, C.A.8th, 2000, 206 F.3d 794.Watkins v. Professional Sec. Bureau, Ltd., C.A.4th, 1999, 201 F.3d 439, opinion at 1999WL 1032614 (per curiam), certiorari denied 120 S.Ct. 1961, 529 U.S. 1108, 146 L.Ed.2d793.Fount-Wip, Inc. v. Reddi-Wip, Inc., C.A.9th, 1978, 568 F.2d 1296,
citing Wright &Miller.
Unlike on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court, when considering a motionfor a new trial, need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdictwinner. MLMC, Ltd. v. Airtouch Communications, Inc., D.C.Del.2002, 215 F.Supp.2d464,
quoting Wright & Miller.
Edwards v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc., D.C.N.Y.2002, 205 F.Supp.2d 3.Asa-Brandt, Inc. v. Farmers Co-Op. Soc., D.C.Iowa 2002, 2002 WL 1714197.Whiteside Biomechanics, Inc. v. Sofamor Danek Group, Inc., D.C.Mo.2000, 88F.Supp.2d 1009.McClary v. Coughlin, D.C.N.Y.2000, 87 F.Supp.2d 205.

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