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Gay v. Saline County

October 5, 2006

TRACY GAY, ET AL. PLAINTIFF
v.
SALINE COUNTY DEFENDANT



ORDER

Now pending is Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (JMOL) or, in the Alternative, For a New Trial under Rule 50*fn1 and Rule 59(a)*fn2 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (DE # 133), and Plaintiffs' request for liquidated damages.*fn3 Under Rule 50(a), Defendant is entitled to JMOL if I find there was no "legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for" the Plaintiffs. A court should not set aside a jury verdict, however, "unless there is a complete absence of probative facts to support the verdict." MacGregor v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 373 F.3d 923, 927 (8th Cir. 2004)(quoting Browning v. President Riverboat Casino-Missouri, Inc., 139 F.3d 631, 634 (8 th Cir. 1998)). The evidence must be viewed "in the light most favorable to the party who prevailed before the jury." Wilson v. Brinker, 382 F.3d 765, 769 (8th Cir. 2004). In ruling on such a motion, the court must: (1) resolve direct factual conflicts in favor of the non-movant, (2) assume as true all facts supporting the non-movant which the evidence tended to prove, (3) give the non-movant the benefit of all reasonable inferences, and (4) deny the motion if the evidence so viewed would allow reasonable jurors to differ as to the conclusions that could be drawn. And while we must refrain from making credibility assessments inconsistent with the jury's findings and must give credence to the evidence favoring the non-movant, we must also consider "evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses." Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only when the record contains " 'no proof beyond speculation to support the verdict.' "

Id. (Citation omitted).

The Eighth Circuit has further found that, in ruling on a motion under Rule 59(a), the true standard for granting a new trial on the basis of the weight of the evidence is simply one which measures the result in terms of whether a miscarriage of justice has occurred. When through judicial balancing the trial court determines that the first trial has resulted in a miscarriage of justice, the court may order a new trial, otherwise not. 466 F.2d at 187 (quoting Cities Service Oil Co. v. Launey, 403 F.2d 537, 540 (1968) (emphasis in original). * * * The district court's discretion is not boundless, however. We stated in Fireman's Fund and reiterated in Blake that the district court is not " 'free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions or because judges feel that other results are more reasonable.' " Fireman's Fund, 466 F.2d at 186 (quoting Tennant v. Peoria & Pekin Union Ry. Co. , 321 U.S. 29, 35, 64 S.Ct. 409, 412, 88 L.Ed. 520 (1944). See also Blake, 894 F.2d at 281. We similarly observed in McGee v. South Pemiscot School Dist. , 712 F.2d 339 (8 th Cir.1983), that the "trial judge may not usurp the functions of a jury ··· [which] weighs the evidence and credibility of witnesses." Id. at 344.

Fireman's Fund contains further discussion limiting the grant of a new trial. We there stated: "Where the subject matter of the litigation is simple; where there exists no complicated evidence or where the legal principles presented are such that they would not confuse the jury, the court should be reluctant to grant a new trial." 466 F.2d at 187. In this vein, and looking at the particular evidence before the court, we concluded: "The evidence is such that reasonable men may differ as to the result, therefore, the determination should properly be left for the jury." Id. We concluded that there was no significant weight factor favoring the defendant in that case, and reversed the grant of the new trial.

White v. Pence, 961 F.2d 776, 780-781 (8th Cir.1992).

I.

The first issue to be considered is whether the motion is timely. The jury returned the verdicts in this case on May 24, 2006. Through an oversight, the court failed to enter judgment immediately. In addition, the court mistakenly granted Defendants more than the ten days allowed by Rule 50(b) in which to file motions, including a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. Rule 6(b) prohibits the court from enlarging the allowed time. The court has now entered judgment in this case and directed it be filed nunc pro tunc to June 5, 2006, so that Defendant will not be prejudiced by the court's mistake. In addition, Defendant renewed its motion on August 2, 2006. Thus, I find the motion is not untimely or premature, and the court will consider the issues raised in the motion.

II.

Defendant contends the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict in that there is no evidence any Plaintiff worked over 171 hours without receiving overtime pay and, even if they did, Plaintiffs did not present sufficient proof of overtime they worked but did not record. It argues the only evidence presented consisted of estimates by the Plaintiffs of time they failed to record, not the hours any of them worked over 171 hours in a work period without compensation. It further argues that, even in a falsified records case, a plaintiff has to "present sufficient evidence to show the amount and extent of the overtime work as a matter of just and reasonable inference," Defendant's Brief, p.12, citing Anderson v. Mt. Clemons Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 66 S.Ct. 1187, 1192 (1946), but Plaintiffs here only "guestimated" damages and failed to write down when they did not record time or how much time they did not record, even after this lawsuit was filed. Defendant also presents arguments concerning issues relating to individual Plaintiffs.

The court has carefully considered all of Defendant's arguments regarding the sufficiency of the evidence. A great many of Defendant's statements in its brief challenge the credibility of the witnesses, which was for the jury to decide. As the Plaintiffs point out, the evidence included their testimony, their completed time sheets and their calculations and testimony concerning the hours they worked but did not record.*fn4 In addition, the court instructed the jury it could not award damages to a Plaintiff until that Plaintiff reached the 171 hour threshold. Viewing all of this evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, I find the evidence was beyond speculation, that the evidence presented a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the Plaintiffs and it was such that reasonable men could have differed as to the result. Thus, Defendant is not entitled to JMOL or a new trial on this basis.

III.

Defendant also argues the jury rendered a verdict contrary to the court's instructions because, instead of calculating the damages, the jury merely used a multiplier of 75% on the estimated unrecorded time, except for the time submitted for uniform maintenance and lunch for which the jury awarded no damages.

"It is well settled that a jury's misunderstanding of testimony, misapprehension of law, errors in computation or improper methods of computation, unsound reasoning or other improper motives cannot be used to impeach a verdict." Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. v. Speth, 404 F.2d 291, 295 (8th Cir.1968).

Gander v. FMC Corp., 892 F.2d 1373, 1379 (8th Cir. 1990). This argument is insufficient to impeach the verdict, and Defendant's ...


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