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Ritchie v. State, Department of Public Safety

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 27, 2002

CAROLYN C. RITCHIE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE STATE OF HAWAI'I, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY; and NEAL WAGATSUMA, in his official capacity as Warden of the Kauai Community Correctional Center, Department of Public Safety, State of Hawai'i, and in his individual capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, A NEW TRIAL

          Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge

         On April 27, 2017, Plaintiff Carolyn L. Ritchie (“Plaintiff”) filed her Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, a New Trial (“Motion”). [Dkt. no. 428.] Defendants State of Hawai'i, Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) and Neal Wagatsuma, in his individual capacity (“Wagatsuma” and collectively “Defendants”), filed a memorandum in opposition on May 12, 2017, and Plaintiff filed a reply on May 26, 2017. [Dkt. nos. 437, 438.] The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule 7.2(e) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawai'i (“Local Rules”). The Motion is denied for the reasons set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         The background of this matter is set forth in the Court's Order Denying Plaintiff's Oral Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, filed on March 30, 2017 (“3/30/17 Order”).[1] [Dkt. no. 403.[2] The Court repeats only those facts helpful to the instant Motion. The trial proceeded on the following claims: unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1, et seq., against DPS (“Count I”); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Wagatsuma (based on violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution) (“Count II”); unlawful incitement or attempted incitement of retaliation in violation of Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-2 against Wagatsuma (“Count III”); intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against Wagatsuma (“Count V”); and defamation against Wagatsuma (“Count VI”). On November 30, 2016, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew Count VI with prejudice. [Minutes, filed 11/30/16 (dkt. no. 337).]

         On December 20, 2016, after sixteen days of trial, the jury reached a verdict. [Minutes, filed 12/20/16 (dkt. no. 397).] The jury found in favor of Defendants on all counts. See Special Verdict Form as to Defendant State of Hawai'i, Department of Public Safety (“DPS Verdict Form”), filed 12/20/16 (dkt. no. 399); Special Verdict Form as to Defendant Wagatsuma (“Wagatsuma Verdict Form”), filed 12/20/16 (dkt. no. 400).

         STANDARD

         This district court has explained:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) allows a party to file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law after entry of judgment on a jury verdict. To file a renewed motion under Rule 50(b), a party generally must first file a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) before the case is submitted to the jury. E.E.O.C. v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009). If the court denies or defers ruling on the Rule 50(a) motion and the jury returns a verdict against the moving party, the party may then renew the motion under Rule 50(b). Id. Because it is a “renewed” motion, a party cannot “raise arguments in its post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) that it did not raise in its preverdict Rule 50(a) motion.” Id. (quoting Freund v. Nycomed Amersham, 347 F.3d 752, 761 (9th Cir. 2003)).
The rule that a party must move for judgment as a matter of law before the case is submitted to a jury does not apply if the motion alleges inconsistencies in the answers given to a special verdict. Pierce v. Souther[n] Pacific Transp. Co., 823 F.2d 1366, 1369 (9th Cir. 1987) (“When a special verdict does not support a judgment a reviewing court may make an exception to the Rule 50(b) requirement of a motion for directed verdict as a prerequisite to a motion [judgment notwithstanding the verdict].”); Zhang v. American Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1033 (9th Cir. 2003).
In ruling on a 50(b) motion, the Court may allow judgment on the verdict, order a new trial, or reverse the jury and direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The court will direct judgment as a matter of law if “the evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict.” Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d at 961 (quoting Josephs v. Pac. Bell, 443 F.3d 1050, 1062 (9th Cir. 2006)). When considering the motion, the court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Id. (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumb[]ing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). Instead, the court reviews the evidence “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party” and draws “all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Id. (quoting Josephs, 443 F.3d at 1062)). “While the district court may not resolve conflicts in the testimony or weigh the evidence, it may evaluate evidence at least to the extent of determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the verdict. ‘[A] mere scintilla of evidence will not suffice.'” Von Zuckerstein v. Argonne Nat'l Laboratory, 984 F.2d 1467, 1471 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing La Montagne v. American Convenience Products, Inc., 750 F.2d 1405, 1410 (7th Cir. 1984)).
The Ninth Circuit has defined substantial evidence as “such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support a conclusion even if it is possible to draw two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence.” Maynard v. City of San Jose, 37 F.3d 1396, 1404 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing George v. City of Long Beach, 973 F.2d 706, 709 (9th Cir. 1992)).

Dawkins v. City & Cty. of Honolulu, Civ. No. 10-00086 HG-KSC, 2012 WL 1982461, at *3-4 (D. Hawai'i May 31, 2012) (some alterations in Dawkins).

         In addition,

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) allows a party filing a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law to include an alternative request for a new trial under Rule 59. Rule 59 allows the court to 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). Although Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a court may order a new trial, historically recognized grounds include: “that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Prods., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.5 (9th Cir. 2000)).
“When a motion for a new trial is based on insufficiency of the evidence, a ‘stringent standard applies' and a new trial may be granted ‘only if the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence or it is quite clear that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result.'” MLM Property, LLC v. Country Cas. Ins. Co., 2010 WL 1948609, at *2 (D. Or. 2010) (quoting Digidyne Corp. v. Data Gen. Corp., 734 F.2d 1336, 1347 (9th Cir. 1984)).

Id. at *4.


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