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McAllister v. Hawaiiana Management Co., Ltd.

United States District Court, D. Hawai'i

January 11, 2013

Willis C. McALLISTER, Plaintiff,
v.
HAWAIIANA MANAGEMENT COMPANY, LTD.; Aoao Royal Capital Plaza, Association of Apartment Owners of Royal Capital Plaza, Defendants.

Order Denying Reconsideration March 8, 2013.

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Willis C. McAllister, Honolulu, HI, pro se.

Carlos D. Perez-Mesa, Jr., Anna T. Valiente, Motooka & Yamamoto, Honolulu, HI, for Defendants.

ORDER DENYING AS MOOT DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT; AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S RENEWED 50(B) MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT OR A REQUEST FOR A NEW TRIAL

ALAN C. KAY, Senior District Judge.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Willis C. McAllister (" McAllister" or " Plaintiff" ), an African-American, proceeding pro se, filed suit against defendants Hawaiiana Management Company, Ltd. (" HMC" ) and AOAO Royal Capital Plaza (" RCP" ) alleging tat Defendants

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unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff and created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 on the basis of race. ( See generally Third Amended Compl., Doc. 62.)

On January 24, 2011, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. (Doc. No. 1.) The case was originally assigned to Senior District Judge David Alan Ezra. Plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Complaint on February 14, 2011. (Doc. No. 9.) On March 31, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Dismiss his Common Law Tort Claims for Negligence. (Doc. No. 15.) The Court Granted Plaintiff's motion on May 13, 2011. (Doc. No. 22.) On July 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 25.)

On August 24, 2011, 2011 WL 3704986, the Court sua sponte dismissed the Plaintiff's Complaint without prejudice for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8; denied without prejudice Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as moot; and denied without prejudice Plaintiff's Motions to Strike various Defendants' declarations and exhibits. (Doc. No. 36.)

On September 23, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint against Defendants. (Doc. No. 38, the " SAC." ) Defendant RCP subsequently filed a motion to dismiss based upon statute of limitations grounds (Doc. No. 45), and Defendants jointly filed a motion to dismiss based upon failure to comply with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 12(b)(6) (Doc. Nos. 39, 42.) Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on December 2, 2011. (Doc. No. 46.)

On January 30, 2012, 2012 WL 292955, the Court granted Defendant RCP's motion to dismiss as to Plaintiff's Title VII claims based upon a finding that Plaintiff's Title VII claims against RCP did not relate back to the original Complaint and that the claims therefore were time-barred. (Doc. No. 61 at 15-16, hereinafter " January 30, 2012 Order." ) The Court also granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. Id. at 16-28. The Court granted the motion to dismiss as to Plaintiff's claims for hostile work environment and intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ), with leave to amend; however the Court concluded that Plaintiff had alleged claims for disparate treatment and retaliation. Id. [1]

On February 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed his Third Amended Complaint against Defendants (Doc. No. 62, hereinafter " TAC" ). Plaintiff asserted the following five causes of action in the TAC: (1) hostile work environment— retaliation; (2) hostile work environment— disparate treatment-race; (3) harassment based on race/tangible action (vicarious liability); (4) hostile work environment— harassment-race; and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress— race (IIED). (TAC ¶¶ 5.1-5.5.) On March 13, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the TAC with Prejudice, asserting that Plaintiff failed to correct the SAC's deficiencies. (Doc. No. 72.) On March 15, 2012, Defendant RCP filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims Against Them With Prejudice. (Doc. No. 77.)

On May 31, 2012, the Court issued an Order (1) Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and (2) Granting RCP's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 117.) With respect to Defendants'

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joint Motion to Dismiss, the Court denied the motion with respect to Plaintiff's claim for hostile work environment ( id. at 13), however it granted the motion as to Plaintiff's IIED claim ( id. at 14). The Court granted RCP's motion to dismiss based upon a finding that Plaintiff's Title VII claims against RCP were time-barred because Plaintiff failed to name RCP as a defendant until after the statutory period had passed. Id. at 19.

On June 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's May 31, 2012 Order that Dismissed Plaintiff's Title VII Claims against RCP. (Doc. No. 120.) On July 31, 2012, the Court issued an Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration, and accordingly denied RCP's Motion to Dismiss filed March 15, 2012. (Doc. No. 138, at 10.)

On August 3, 2012, this case was reassigned from Senior District Judge David Alan Ezra to this Court for all further proceedings. (Doc. No. 140.)

On September 4, 2012, Plaintiff filed two motions in limine (Doc. Nos. 168, 169), and Defendants filed 10(ten) motions in limine (Doc. Nos. 151, 155-163). On September 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed oppositions to all 10(ten) of the Defendants' motions in limine (Doc. No. 193), and Defendants filed oppositions to both of Plaintiff's motions (Doc. Nos. 185, 186). The Court heard argument on the motions in limine at the final pretrial conference on October 11, 2012. (Doc. No. 206.) On October 22, 2012, the Court issued an Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motions in Limine, and Granting Plaintiff's Motions in Limine. (Doc. No. 229.)

On October 16, 2012, jury trial commenced on Plaintiff's claims, all brought pursuant to Title VII and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981: Disparate Treatment; Hostile Work Environment/Harassment; and Retaliation. ( See Special Verdict Form at 3, 4, 6.) On October 31, 2012, after Plaintiff and Defendants had rested, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or in the Alternative, Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict. (Doc. No. 258.) After hearing oral argument on the motion, the Court reserved judgment and took the matter under submission. On November 1, 2012, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendants' motion (Doc. No. 263), as well as his own Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or in the Alternative Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict on his Vicarious Liability Claim. (Doc. No. 262.) The Court took Plaintiff's motion under submission at that time.

On November 5, 2012, after a 12-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for Defendants on all claims.

The jury determined the liability of each Defendant separately. First, the jury considered Plaintiff's claims against Defendant RCP. As to Plaintiff's claims for Disparate Treatment, the jury found that Plaintiff had not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant RCP gave more favorable treatment to similarly situated individuals outside Plaintiff's protected class. See Defendant RCP's Special Verdict Form at 3 (November 5, 2012). As to Plaintiff's claims for Hostile Work Environment— Harassment, the jury found that Plaintiff had not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was subjected to verbal or physical conduct of a racial nature by a supervisor, co-employee, or third party. See id. at 4. Finally, as to Plaintiff's claims for Retaliation, the jury found that Plaintiff had not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was subjected to an adverse employment action(s) because of his complaints about being harassed or discriminated against on account of his race and receiving disparate treatment because of his race. Id. at 7.

Next, the jury concluded that Defendant HMC was not a " joint employer" with

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Defendant RCP, thereby finding in favor of Defendant HMC on all counts. See HMC Special Verdict Form, at 2 (November 5, 2012).

On November 5, 2012, the jury's verdict in favor of Defendants on all counts was read and filed in open Court. ( See Doc. No. 264.) The jury was polled. Following the jury's verdict, on November 5, 2012, the Court asked Plaintiff if he had any further comments or argument with respect to his motion, at which time Plaintiff stated that he did not have anything further to add, other than ensuring that the Court noted his motion for appeal purposes. In light of Plaintiff's pro se status, on November 9, 2012, the Court issued a Minute Order informing Plaintiff that if he did not renew his motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) within 28 days from the date upon which judgment was entered, Plaintiff would be precluded from challenging the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal. ( See Doc. No. 270.) [2]

On November 14, 2012, the Clerk of Court entered a judgment in favor of Defendants on all counts. (Doc. No. 273.)

On December 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed a timely Rule 50(b) Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or in the Alternative, Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or a Request for a New Trial. (Doc. No. 274, hereinafter the " Motion." ) On December 19, 2012, Defendants filed a timely opposition. (Doc. No. 276, hereinafter the " Opposition." ) On January 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Reply. (Doc. No. 277.) The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(e).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Motion for Judgment As a Matter of Law

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 states, in relevant part:

(a) Judgment as a Matter of Law.

(1) In General. 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, the court may:
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.
(2) Motion. A motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury. The motion must specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment.

(b) Renewing the Motion After Trial; Alternative Motion for a New Trial. If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment— or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged— the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative

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or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59. In ruling on the renewed motion, the court may:

(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict;
(2) order a new trial; or
(3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) and (b). Judgment as a matter of law is authorized only when a jury's verdict is not supported by substantial evidence. See Mockler v. Multnomah County, 140 F.3d 808, 815, n. 8 (9th Cir.1998). " ‘ Substantial evidence is 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.’ " Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 856 (9th Cir.1999) (citation omitted).

" [T]he standard for granting summary judgment ‘ mirrors' the standard for judgment as a matter of law, such that ‘ the inquiry under each is the same.’ " Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000) (citation omitted). Thus, in deciding whether judgment as a matter of law is warranted, the Court may not assess the credibility of witnesses and must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Bell v. Clackamas County, 341 F.3d 858, 865 (9th Cir.2003). The Court " may not substitute its view of the evidence for that of the jury." Johnson v. Paradise Valley Unified Sch. Dist., 251 F.3d 1222, 1227 (9th Cir.2001); see also Harvey v. Office of Banks & Real Estate, 377 F.3d 698, 707 (7th Cir.2004) (" Our job at this stage is not to determine whether the jury believed the right people, but only to assure that it was presented with a legally sufficient basis to support the verdict." ).

The Ninth Circuit " strictly adhere[s] to the requirements of Rule 50(b), which prohibit a party from moving for judgment as a matter of law after the jury's verdict unless that motion was first presented at the close of evidence." Image Technical Servs., Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 125 F.3d 1195, 1212 (9th Cir.1997). If a party fails to make a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) before the case is submitted to the jury, " a party cannot question the sufficiency of the evidence either before the district court ... or on appeal." Cabrales v. County of Los Angeles, 864 F.2d 1454, 1459 (9th Cir.1988) (emphasis omitted), vacated on other grounds, 490 U.S. 1087, 109 S.Ct. 2425, 104 L.Ed.2d 982 (1989). Moreover, when a party fails to renew its pre-verdict Rule 50(a) motion by filing a post-verdict Rule 50(b), it waives any challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, even plain error review. See Nitco Holding Corp. v. Boujikian, 491 F.3d 1086, 1089-90 (9th Cir.2007) (citing Unitherm Food Sys., Inc. v. Swift-Eckrich, Inc., 546 U.S. 394, 126 S.Ct. 980, 163 L.Ed.2d 974 (2006)).

B. Motion for a New Trial

A motion for a new trial is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, which provides that after a jury trial, " [t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues— and to any party ... 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).

" Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion for a new trial may be granted." Zhang v. Am. Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1035 (9th Cir.2003). Instead, the Court is " bound by those grounds that have been historically recognized." Id. " Historically recognized grounds include, but are not limited to, claims ‘ that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons,

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the trial was not fair to the party moving.’ " Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir.2007) (citation omitted). In ruling on a motion for a new trial, " the district court has ‘ the duty to weigh the evidence as the court saw it, and to set aside the verdict of the jury, even though supported by substantial evidence, where, in the court's conscientious opinion, the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence.’ " Id. (citation omitted and alterations).

In other words, in most cases, the judge should accept the findings of the jury; however, if the judge is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed, he may grant a new trial:

On the one hand, the trial judge does not sit to approve miscarriages of justice. His power to set aside the verdict is supported by clear precedent at common law and, far from being a denigration or a usurpation of jury trial, has long been regarded as an integral part of trial by jury as we know it. On the other hand, a decent respect for the collective wisdom of the jury, and for the function entrusted to it in our system, certainly suggests that in most cases the judge should accept the findings of the jury, regardless of his own doubts in the matter.... If, having given full respect to the jury's findings, the judge on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed, it is to be expected that he will grant a new trial.

Landes Constr. Co. v. Royal Bank of Canada, 833 F.2d 1365, 1371-72 (9th Cir.1987) (internal quotation and citations omitted). " The judge can weigh evidence and assess the credibility of witnesses, and need not view the evidence from the perspective most favorable to the prevailing party." Id. at 1371. But " the court is not justified in granting a new trial ‘ merely because it might have come to a different result from that reached by the jury.’ " Roy v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 896 F.2d 1174, 1176 (9th Cir.1990) (citation omitted).

A district court's decision on a motion for new trial is reviewed for abuse of discretion. EEOC v. Pape Lift, Inc., ...


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