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Delima v. Wal-Mart Stores Arkansas, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

April 10, 2019

KRYSTAL MEGAN DELIMA PLAINTIFF
v.
WAL-MART STORES ARKANSAS, LLC DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff Krystal Megan Delima's Motion for a New Trial (Doc. 141). The Court has also received a Response in Opposition (Doc. 155) from Defendant Wal-Mart Stores Arkansas, LLC ("Walmart"). For the reasons explained below, Ms. Delima's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Delima filed her complaint against Walmart on November 27, 2017. At bottom, her lawsuit claims that she was injured as a result of Walmart's failure to properly organize and conduct a holiday sale at its Siloam Springs Walmart store on November 27, 2014. Her original Complaint (Doc. 1) sought compensatory and punitive damages totaling over two million dollars. After denying Walmart's motion for summary judgment, the case proceeded to a three-day jury trial. On February 22, 2019, the jury returned with a verdict in favor of Walmart. (Doc. 138). A few weeks later, Ms. Delima filed the present motion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district court may grant a new trial "after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." A motion for a new trial may be granted if "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, ... the damages are excessive, or. . . for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving." See Children's Broad. Corp. v. Walt Disney Co., 245 F.3d 1008, 1017 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940)). A motion for a new trial may also "raise questions of law arising out of alleged substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or instructions to the jury." See Id. The decision whether to grant a new trial is committed to this Court's discretion. See id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Ms. Delima recites numerous grounds upon which she bases her request for a new trial. The Court considers each reason in turn.

         1. Ms. Delima's Laptop

         Ms. Delima first claims that she was unable to effectively participate in the Court's final jury instruction conference because she could not access the internet on the last day of trial due to her battery in her laptop dying. It seems from the briefing that the laptop and/or its charger was left in the courtroom on the preceding day. Although not explained with much clarity, if Ms. Delima's argument is premised on the notion that she wasn't able to charge her device from the courtroom on the day of the final jury instruction conference, it is without merit. Counsel are able to plug in their devices using the outlets that are directly beneath each counsel table in the courtroom.

         To the extent Ms. Delima is implying that she was unable to send the Court comments on proposed final instructions because she left her charger in the courtroom and therefore faced a laptop with a dead battery when she returned to her hotel for the evening, the Court similarly finds this reason unpersuasive. First of all, her failure to bring her charging equipment home with her was a problem entirely of her own making. It is not the type of procedural irregularity justifying a new trial. Moreover, the argument that the dead battery prevented her from meaningfully participating in the jury instruction conference is simply belied by the record. For one thing, the Court consulted with the parties on jury instructions multiple times over multiple days, distributing at least two separate draft versions of the instructions in hard copy form. Moreover, the record shows that Ms. Delima meaningfully participated during each conference. See, e.g., Docs. 134, 135 (compilation of email communications between the Court and counsel over proposed jury instructions). Contrary to her assertions now, Ms. Delima did participate in these conferences by suggesting specific jury instructions that she desired to be incorporated into the final set. Thus, any complications caused by her laptop were of her own making and did not hinder her ability to fully participate in the jury instruction conferences.

         2. Failure to Give Certain Requested Jury Instructions

         Ms. Delima's suggestion that her laptop prevented her from assisting the Court in finalizing jury instructions is also at odds with her second purported ground for a new trial: that the Court refused to give certain jury instructions that she requested. According to Ms. Delima, the Court should have given instructions on the following: spoliation of evidence, [ad]verse inference, aggravation of pre-existing condition, loss of normal or quality of life, past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering and mental anguish, medical expenses, and punitive damages. As an initial matter, the Court did in fact instruct the jury that it could award damages to Ms. Delima for medical expenses as well as past and future pain and suffering and mental anguish. See Doc. 136, p. 15 (the Court's final jury instruction on the measure of damages). The Court now considers the other requested instructions.

         Ms. Delima first contends that the Court should have given both a spoliation of evidence instruction and an adverse inference instruction. Both of these requested instructions center around a copy of the video surveillance footage that Walmart has from the night in question. Ms. Delima argues, as she did in two separate motions to compel (Docs. 24, 82), that Walmart did not produce video footage that actually depicted the alleged incident. However, as this Court ruled both times in denying Ms. Delima's motions, see Docs. 32, 109, the fact that the video footage in question did not catch a bird's eye view[1] of the alleged incident does not mean that Walmart has intentionally withheld video surveillance. Walmart has consistently maintained, and the witnesses at trial explained in extensive detail, why the video footage that was produced was the best footage of the area where the incident occurred. Ms. Delima's suggestions to the contrary are simply not supported by the record. There is no evidence that the footage produced by Walmart and submitted as a joint stipulated exhibit at trial was intentionally altered or that other footage was withheld from production. Therefore, neither an adverse inference or spoliation instruction was appropriate.

         Ms. Delima next contends that the jury should have been instructed on two additional elements of damages; aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition and future medical expenses. After hearing oral argument from both parties during the final jury instruction conference, the Court ruled that the evidence at trial did not support giving either of these instructions. As to her claim for aggravation of a pre-existing condition, Ms. Delima contends that her anxiety was worsened as a result of the alleged incident. In support, she called Dr. Clemens to the stand to explain her medical history. However, as Walmart rightly notes, Dr. Clemens expressly declined to testify that Ms. Delima's anxiety was aggravated by the incident. Ms. Delima offered no other proof sufficient to justify instructing the jury on this element. As to future medical expenses, the Court also ultimately removed it from the measure of damages instruction it gave the jury. The reason was simply because Ms. Delima failed to introduce evidence or testimony sufficient to enable a jury to conclude that she has a continuing need for future medical expenses related to the incident. Relatedly, there was no evidence from which a jury could reasonably determine the amount of such future expenses. Therefore, the Court continues to conclude that these instructions were properly denied.[2]

         Finally, Ms. Delima argues that the jury should have been instructed on punitive damages. In her motion for a new trial, Ms. Delima contends that "Plaintiff has clear evidence through preponderance of the evidence" of Walmart's negligence. (Doc. 142, p. 11). However, the standard is not preponderance of the evidence. Under Arkansas law, as reflected in AMI 2218, a plaintiff may not recover punitive damages unless, by clear and convincing evidence, she proves that the defendant either: 1) knew or should have known that its conduct would lead to injury and continued with malice or in reckless disregard of the consequences, or 2) that the defendant intentionally pursued a course of conduct for the purpose of causing injury. See Ark. Code Ann. ...


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