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Coyle v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

November 14, 2018

RONNY COYLE and LISA COYLE PLAINTIFFS
v.
SHELTER MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          P.K. HOLMES, III CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are Defendant Shelter Mutual Insurance Company's (“Shelter”) motion for new trial (Doc.43), memorandum brief in support of motion (Doc. 44), Plaintiffs Ronny Coyle and Lisa Coyle's (“the Coyles”) response to motion for new trial (Doc. 47), and memorandum brief in support of response (Doc. 48). Following the unanimous jury verdict (Doc. 35) returned for Plaintiffs and the Court's opinions and orders (Docs. 21, 45), the Court entered final judgment on October 16, 2018 (Doc. 46). This motion (Doc. 43) was filed before entry of the final judgment and was timely filed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(b). For the reasons stated below, Shelter's motion (Doc. 43) will be GRANTED.

         I. Standard of Review

         “The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . 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)(1)(A). “Under Rule 59, the decision to grant a new trial lies within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Haigh v. Gelita USA, Inc., 632 F.3d 464, 471 (8th Cir. 2011). “[T]he key question [is] whether a new trial is necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” Dindinger v. Allsteel, Inc., 853 F.3d 414, 421 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Hallmark Cards, Inc. v. Murley, 703 F.3d 456, 462 (8th Cir. 2013)).

         II. Analysis

         Shelter's motion for new trial is based on closing arguments made by the Coyles' attorney. The Coyles filed a breach of contract action based on a fire loss on property insured by Shelter. Before trial, Shelter filed a motion in limine (Doc. 26) to preclude evidence of non-prosecution of Ronny Coyle and Lisa Coyle as a result of the fire. The Coyles planned to introduce the testimony of a state police investigator who investigated the fire and concluded that no criminal charges should be filed. The prosecuting attorney followed the recommendation of the state police investigator, and no criminal charges were filed as a result of the fire. While the Court denied the motion as premature, it permitted Shelter to renew the motion and raise the objection at trial. (Doc. 28).

         At the commencement of trial, Shelter renewed its motion in limine to preclude the testimony of Sam Bass, the state police investigator, as it related to his report and recommendation that the Coyles not be charged with any criminal offenses as a result of the fire. The state police had been contacted by Shelter, which reported to the state police that the origin of the fire was suspicious. The state police investigator prepared a written report based on his investigation of the fire scene and interviews with witnesses. The Coyles intended to introduce the written report into evidence. The Court ruled that the written report was not admissible, but that the state police investigator could testify about his observations from his investigation of the fire. The Court granted Shelter's motion in limine to the extent the state police investigator intended to testify that Ronny Coyle or Lisa Coyle were not charged with arson, or to the extent he intended to testify that there was no evidence that Ronny Coyle or Lisa Coyle set the fire. (Doc. 42, p. 7). At trial Sam Bass testified about his observations from investigating the fire, but did not testify as to his recommendation to the prosecuting attorney that no criminal charges be filed against the Coyles.

         During Ronny Coyle's testimony on direct examination, he was asked a question by his attorney that came close to the issue of non-prosecution of the Coyles as a result of the fire loss:

Q. Now, do you have any type of criminal history of arson--
A. No.
Q. -- or any other --
A. No.
Q. -- things in your background?
A. Never been in trouble. I haven't even got, had a ticket in years.[1]

         No objection was made to the question or the response. There were no other references to criminal charges not being filed against the Coyles as a result of ...


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