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Finn v. Warren County

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

November 19, 2013

JOHNEY FINN, Administrator of the Estate of Shannon Ray Finn, deceased, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WARREN COUNTY, KENTUCKY, SOUTHERN HEALTH PARTNERS, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This case was tried over a period of seven days before a jury made up of citizens of the Western District of Kentucky. At the close of the case, the jury deliberated for less than one hour before finding unanimously in favor of the Defendants. This matter is now before the Court on various post-trial motions filed by Plaintiffs. These include: (1) Plaintiffs' FRCP 50(b) Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, FRCP 59(a)(1) Motion for New Trial [DNs 227, 240]; (2) Plaintiffs' FRCP 59(a)(1) Motion for New Trial [DNs 228, 241]; (3) Plaintiffs' FRCP 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment or, in the Alternative, to Stay Execution [DN 229]; and (4) Plaintiffs' Motion for Hearing [DN 255]. This matter is also before the Court on Defendant, John Adams, M.D.'s, Motion to Join the County Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Motion for Hearing [DN 258]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision.

A. PLAINTIFFS' FRCP 50(B) RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FRCP 59(A)(1) MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL [DNS 227, 240]

Under Rule 50(a), a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on an issue if 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). The Court denied Plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law at trial. Now, Plaintiffs renew their motion under Rule 50(b).

The standard of review for a Rule 50(b) motion is the same as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. White v. Burlington N. & Santa Fe R. Co. , 364 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 2004), aff'd sub nom. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White , 548 U.S. 53 (2006). Under this standard, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, "draw[ing] all reasonable inferences in favor of the prevailing party...." Id . The court does not weigh the evidence, evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury. Tarrant Serv. Agency, Inc. v. Am. Standard, Inc. , 12 F.3d 609, 613 (6th Cir. 1993). Here, Plaintiffs argue that there was insufficient evidence adduced at trial for a reasonable jury to find that the deputy jailers were not negligent. Plaintiffs also argue that there was insufficient evidence adduced at trial for a reasonable jury to find that Warren County was not deliberately indifferent to its jailers' need for more or different training. (See Pls.' FRCP 50(b) Renewed Mot. [DNs 227, 240].)

In the alternative, Plaintiffs move for a new trial under Rule 59(a)(1)(A). Under this rule, a new trial may be granted after a jury trial "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). "Generally courts have interpreted this language to mean that a new trial is warranted when a jury has reached a seriously erroneous result' as evidenced by: (1) the verdict being against the weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by prejudice or bias." Holmes v. City of Massillon, Ohio , 78 F.3d 1041, 1045-46 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing cases). Indeed, a new trial may be granted "if a court determines that the verdict is clearly against the weight of the evidence." Denhof v. City of Grand Rapids , 494 F.3d 534, 543 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing J.C. Wyckoff & Assoc. v. Standard Fire Ins. Co. , 936 F.2d 1474, 1487 (6th Cir. 1991)).

In considering a motion for a new trial on the ground that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, "the court is not to set aside the verdict simply because it believes that another outcome is more justified." Id . (citing TCP Indus., Inc. v. Uniroyal, Inc. , 661 F.2d 542, 546 (6th Cir. 1981)). Instead, the court is to accept the jury's verdict "if it is one which reasonably could have been reached." Id . (quoting Duncan v. Duncan , 377 F.2d 49, 52 (6th Cir. 1967)).

After a review of the record, the Court declines to overturn the jury's verdict. Plaintiffs have failed to show that there was no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for the jury to find in the Defendants' favor. Considering the evidence presented to the jury in the light most favorable to the Defendants, the Court finds that a reasonable jury could have found that the jailers were not negligent. A reasonable jury also could have found that Warren County was not deliberately indifferent to its jailers' need for more or different training. For these reasons, and for the reasons set forth in the County Defendants' response to Plaintiffs' motion [DN 245], Plaintiffs' FRCP 50(b) Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, FRCP 59(a)(1) Motion for New Trial [DNs 227, 240] is DENIED.

B. PLAINTIFFS' FRCP 59(A)(1) MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL [DNS 228, 241]

Plaintiffs next move for a new trial under Rule 59(a)(1). As noted above, under this rule, a new trial may be granted after a jury trial "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). As a general rule, a court may grant a new trial if it finds that the trial was unfair or prejudicial to the moving party in some fashion. See Holmes , 78 F.3d at 1045-46. In this motion, Plaintiffs argue that the trial was unfair because the Court erroneously: (1) dismissed their negligence claims against Jailer Strode; (2) permitted the Defendants' causation expert, Dr. Alan B. Weder, to testify; and (3) submitted a standard of care instruction to the jury concerning Defendant Adams. (See Pls.' FRCP 59(a)(1) Mot. for New Trial [DNs 228, 241].)

After a review of the record, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the trial was unfair or prejudicial to them such that a new trial is warranted. In other words, the errors advanced by Plaintiffs in their motion did not bias or prejudice Plaintiffs such that a new trial should be granted. For these reasons, and for the reasons set forth in the County Defendants' response to Plaintiffs' motion [DN 243] and Defendant Adams' response to Plaintiffs' motion [DN 246], Plaintiffs' FRCP 59(a)(1) Motion for New Trial [DNs 228, 241] is DENIED.

C. PLAINTIFFS' FRCP 59(E) MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO STAY EXECUTION [DN 229]

Plaintiffs next move the Court to alter or amend its judgment to set aside the requirement that they pay the County Defendants' costs. (See Pls.' FRCP 59(e) Mot. [DN 229].) As a general matter, a motion to alter or amend a judgment may be "made for one of three reasons: (1) An intervening change of controlling law; (2) Evidence not previously available has become available; or (3) It is necessary to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." See United States v. Jarnigan , 2008 WL 5248172, at *2 (E.D. Tenn. Dec. 17, 2008) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e); Helton v. ACS Grp. , 964 F.Supp. 1175, 1182 (E.D. Tenn. 1997)); see GenCorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters , 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999). Rule 59(e) is not intended to be used to "relitigate issues previously considered' or to submit evidence which in the exercise of reasonable diligence, could have been submitted before.'" United States v. Abernathy , 2009 WL 55011, at * 1 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 7, 2009) (citation omitted); see also Elec. Ins. Co. v. Freudenberg-Nok, Gen. P'ship , 487 F.Supp.2d 894, 902 (W.D. Ky. 2007) ("Such motions are not an opportunity for the losing party to offer additional arguments in support of its position.").

Here, Plaintiffs move to alter or amend the Court's judgment on the ground that such an alteration or amendment is necessary to prevent manifest injustice. In this respect, Plaintiffs turn to Rule 54(d). It provides that "costs... should be allowed to the prevailing party" unless a court order provides otherwise. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d). This language creates a presumption in favor of awarding costs, but allows denial of costs at the discretion of the trial court. See White & White, Inc. v. Am. Hosp. Supply Corp. , 786 F.2d 728, 730 (6th Cir. 1986). The Sixth Circuit has emphasized that Rule 54(d) was "intended to take care of a situation where, although a litigant was the successful party, it would be inequitable under all the circumstances in the case to put the burden of costs upon the losing party." Id . (quoting Lichter Found., Inc. v. Welch , 269 F.2d 142, 146 (6th Cir. 1959) (emphasis added)).

The Sixth Circuit has described several circumstances in which a denial of costs has been deemed a proper exercise of a district court's discretion. "Such circumstances include cases where taxable expenditures by the prevailing party are unnecessary or unreasonably large, cases where the prevailing party should be penalized for unnecessarily prolonging trial or for injecting unmeritorious issues, cases where the prevailing party's recovery is so insignificant that the judgment amounts to a victory for the defendant, and cases that are close and difficult." Id . (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Sixth Circuit has also identified factors that a district court should ignore when determining whether to exercise its discretion and ...


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