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Kauhako v. State of Hawaii Board of Education Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 24, 2016

ANGELICA J. KAUHAKO, individually and as parent and next friend of her minor child, MARIANA DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF HAWAII BOARD OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendants. STATE OF HAWAII BOARD OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
RUSTON TOM, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT STATE OF HAWAII BOARD OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR A NEW TRIAL

          DERRICK K. WATSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Following a nine-day trial, the jury returned a verdict against the State of Hawaii Board of Education Department of Education (“State”) and Kristin Lindquist on Angelica Kauhako and her daughter Mariana's negligence-based claims arising out a sexual assault against Mariana by another student at Waianae High School. However, as a result of the jury's determination that Lindquist did not act with malice, the Court found that Lindquist was entitled to a qualified privilege recognized by Hawaii law and ordered the claims against her dismissed. The State now seeks judgment as a matter of law on the grounds that (1) it is immune from liability because Lindquist is immune from liability and (2) no reasonable juror could have concluded that the State was negligent based on the evidence in the record. Alternatively, the State seeks a new trial. Because evidence of negligence attributable to the State-independent of Lindquist's individual conduct-was more than sufficient to support the jury's verdict and was not contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, and because none of the alleged evidentiary errors warrant a new trial, the State's motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Trial commenced on April 18, 2016 on a claim against the State under Title IX (Count I) and on the following claims against both the State and Lindquist: negligent supervision of students (Count V), negligence (Count VII), gross negligence (Count VIII), intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count X), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) (Count XI). Following Plaintiffs' case-in-chief, the Court denied Defendants' oral motions for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) on Title IX, gross negligence, IIED, and NIED. See Dkt. Nos. 172 and 182. After Defendants rested on April 28, 2016, they orally moved for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' Title IX and negligence-based claims. That motion was also denied. See Dkt. No. 191.

         The jury returned its verdict on May 2, 2016, finding the State and Lindquist liable for negligence, negligent supervision, and NIED. The jury awarded Kauhako general damages in the amount of $157, 500, and awarded Mariana $630, 000 in general damages, $2, 825 for past medical expenses and $20, 000 for future medical expenses. The jury also apportioned fault between the Defendants, finding the State 95 percent and Lindquist 5 percent liable, respectively. See Dkt. No. 204 (Verdict Form).

         The jury's verdict included a determination that Plaintiffs failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Lindquist was motivated by malice. See Dkt. No. 204 (Verdict Form). As a result, post-trial, the Court ruled as a matter of law that Lindquist was entitled to a state law qualified privilege, and, without objection, dismissed the three negligence-based claims against her with prejudice. See Dkt. No. 207 (5/9/16 Order Dismissing Claims).

         The State filed the instant motion on July 1, 2016, seeking judgment as a matter of law on all claims against it pursuant to Rule 50(b) and, alternatively, asking for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59.

         DISCUSSION

         The State argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) it is immune from liability on a respondeat superior basis and (2) the jury's findings of negligence are against the weight of the evidence. Alternatively, the State seeks a new trial on the grounds that (1) the jury's verdict was not consistent with nor supported by the evidence and (2) it was error to allow Rachel Lynch, Ph.D. to testify as an expert witness and to award future medical expenses based on her testimony. Because each of the State's arguments is without merit, the motion is denied.

         I. The Renewed Rule 50 Motion

         A. Standard Of Review

         The State once again seeks judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' three negligence-based claims. The Court previously denied Defendants' Rule 50 motion on these same claims during trial on April 28, 2016. See Dkt. No. 191.

         Rule 50(b) provides:

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 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(b).

To file a renewed motion under Rule 50(b), a party 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)).

Munguia v. Grelyn of Maui, LLC, 2011 WL 1364026, at *4-5 (D. Haw. Apr. 8, 2011), aff'd, 473 F.App'x 643 (9th Cir. 2012)[1]; see also Experience Hendrix LLC v. Hendrixlicensing.com Ltd., 762 F.3d 829, 842 (9th Cir. 2014) (“In considering a Rule 50(b)(3) motion for judgment as a matter of law, the district court must uphold the jury's award if there was any ‘legally sufficient basis' to support it.”) (citation omitted).

         B. The State Is Not Entitled To Judgment As A Matter Of Law On ...


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