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Marugame v. Johnson

United States District Court, District of Hawaii

January 8, 2015

NILDA C. MARUGAME, Plaintiff,
v.
JEH C. JOHNSON, SECRETARY DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY; DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge

Before the Court is Plaintiff Nilda C. Marugame’s (“Plaintiff”) Motion for New Trial (“Motion”), filed on November 26, 2014. [Dkt. no. 143.] Defendants Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Homeland Security (collectively, “Defendants”) filed their memorandum in opposition on December 10, 2014. [Dkt. no. 146.] The Court has considered the instant Motion as a non-hearing matter pursuant to Rule LR7.2(e) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawai`i (“Local Rules”). After careful consideration of the Motion, supporting and opposing memoranda, and the relevant legal authority, Plaintiff’s Motion is HEREBY DENIED for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

The parties and the Court are familiar with the factual and procedural background of this case, and the Court will only discuss the background that is relevant to the instant Motion.

On November 23, 2011, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. [Complaint at ¶ 1.] The case proceeded to trial on the following portions of Plaintiff’s Title VII claims: Plaintiff’s sexual harassment/hostile work environment claims based upon conduct by Christopher Pheasant (“Pheasant”); and Plaintiff’s retaliation claim based on her claim that she was coerced into signing a document dated September 4, 2009 stating that she had a consensual affair with Pheasant (“the September 4 Statement”). The jury trial began on October 21, 2014, and the jury began its deliberations on October 29, 2014.

On October 30, 2014, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Defendants. The jury found that Plaintiff failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment through Pheasant’s actions. The jury also found that Plaintiff failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she engaged in a protected activity prior to signing the September 4 Statement. [Special Verdict Form, filed 10/30/14 (dkt. no. 140), at 1-2.] The Clerk’s Office entered final judgment on October 31, 2014. [Dkt. no. 141.]

In the instant Motion, Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A) because: 1) this Court erred in giving Jury Instruction No. 4 instead of Ninth Circuit Model Civil Jury Instruction No. 10.2C (“Ninth Circuit Instruction 10.2C”); 2) this Court erred in giving Jury Instruction No. 6 instead of Ninth Circuit Model Jury Instruction No. 10.3 (“Ninth Circuit Instruction 10.3”); and 3) this Court erred in admitting evidence of other agencies’ investigations/proceedings regarding the events at issue in this case.[1]

STANDARD

This district court has recognized that:

A court may grant a motion for 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). These historically recognized grounds are not enumerated in the federal rules, and there is no rigid formula for ruling on a motion for a new trial. The Ninth Circuit has held that those grounds upon which a new trial may be granted include: (1) a verdict that is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence; (2) a verdict that is based upon false or perjurious evidence; and (3) to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Prods., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000)). The U.S. Supreme Court has also recognized grounds for new trial 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.” Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S. Ct. 189, 85 L. Ed. 147 (1940); Molski, 481 F.3d at 729.
Upon a party’s motion for new trial, the district court must weigh the evidence and “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.” Molski, 481 F.3d at 729 (citation omitted). In other words, there must be a reasonable basis for the jury verdict. “If there is no reasonable basis, however, the absolute absence of evidence to support the jury’s verdict makes refusal to grant a new trial an error in law.” Id. (citations omitted). The district court does not have to weigh the evidence in a light most favorable to the prevailing party. Landes Constr. Co. v. Royal Bank of Can., 833 F.2d 1365, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987). Instead, 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,” then the motion should be granted. Id. at 1371–72.
Erroneous jury instructions or a court’s failure to give adequate instructions is also a basis for a new trial. Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 186–87 (9th Cir. 1990). If a party alleges that an erroneous jury instruction was given, the erroneous instruction is not grounds for granting a new trial unless the error affects the essential fairness of the trial and a new trial is necessary to achieve substantial justice. Jazzabi v. Allstate Ins. Co., 278 F.3d 979, 985 n.24 (9th Cir. 2002); McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 553, 104 S. Ct. 845, 78 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1984); Fed. R. Civ. P. 61.
A motion for new trial should not be granted “simply because the court would have arrived at a different verdict.” Pavao v. Pagay, 307 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 2002).

Black v. City & Cnty. of Honolulu, CV. NO. 07–00299 DAE–LEK, 2009 WL 4217460, at *3-4 (D. Hawai`i Nov. 25, 2009) (alteration in Black).

As to Plaintiff’s argument regarding the erroneous admission of evidence, the following standard applies:

Where a motion for a new trial is based on an evidentiary error, a new trial is warranted only if the erroneous admission of the evidence “substantially prejudiced” a party. Ruvalcaba v. City of L.A., 64 F.3d 1323, 1328 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Martin [v. Cal. Dep’t of Veteran Affairs], 560 F.3d [1042,] 1046 [(9th Cir. 2009)] (stating that Court of Appeals will ...

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