Judgment as a matter of law works the same way as summary judgment, just during trial. So, the plaintiff has the burden of stating a claim during pleadings, providing evidence to overcome summary judgment at discovery, then still has the burden of showing their case during trial. If evidence is lacking, the judge continues serving as a gatekeeper by providing a judgment as a matter of law according to Rule 50.
Judgment as a matter of law can be provided in two places.
- Right after the plaintiff has presented their case and fails to meet their burden (e.g. plaintiff claims the defendant hit them with the car but failed to say why the defendant was negligent) (Rule 50(a)).
- At the end of the trial, even after the jury verdict (Rule 50(b) (JNOV)).
Rule 50 serves two purposes:
- To allow the plaintiff the opportunity to correct the record by including omitted evidence.
- To provide a judgment when the plaintiff does not have the evidence to prove their case.
The difference in procedure related to JMOL is rule 50(a) and 50(b).
Rule 50(a) is a directed verdict (in state court) and Judgment as a Matter of Law in federal court (the terms mean the same thing. The party must be fully heard before a JMOL motion is made. Note that they only need to be fully heard about an issue. For example, the plaintiff needs to prove both the law and the damages. A JMOL may be made for either the law or the damages. Thus, the party bringing the motion is required to be specific to what issue the JMOL motion is targeting.
Rule 50(b) and (c-e) is a renewed motion, which is brought after the jury has deliberated and returned a verdict. However, notice that this is a renewed motion. Rule 50(a) needed to be attempted earlier or else Rule 50(b) does not apply. The term for a Rule 50(b) is a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV).
When a plaintiff sues, they must establish their claims and their damages. At trial, the defendant could attack each claim and damages under rule 50(a). You have to tell the court what you are moving against: all the claims? just some claims? just damages? As such, a rule 50(b) upon a renewed motion, can only attack those claims and damages the 50(a) attacked (they mirror each other).
Most of the time, the judge chooses not to grant a Rule 50(a) because the other party will appeal. If the appellate court reverses, then the district court will have to start all over. Ultimately, the judge wants to wait to see if the jury gets it right (to save time and expense). If the rule 50(b) was wrong, then there is a verdict already there for judgment to be entered.
JMOL is required when “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis . . . .”
The main difference between JMOL and summary judgment is only procedure and timing.
Pennsylvania Railroad Co. v. Chamberlain
288 U.S. 333 (1933).
Pennsylvania Railroad Co. is the defendant who won in trial court but lost on appeal. Consequently, they appealed.
Does this case necessitate judgment as a matter of law? The key fact at issue is whether the brakeman died as a result of a collision.
There needs to be some piece of evidence to prove the plaintiff’s case.
The evidence was lacking, judgment as a matter of law is merited. The court of appeals is reversed and the district court is affirmed.
From what is understood, the deceased works the cars in the railroad yard. Part of the job including stinging them together, riding the cars down the track while handling the brakes, then hopping off to hook up the cars to another string of cars. The alleged incident here was that the deceased was riding a string of about 5 cars down a string, following another string, and yet another string was following him. The string behind the deceased apparently collided with the deceased’s string, causing him to fall off the tracks and suffer fatal injuries.
The plaintiff is the estate bringing a wrongful death action against the railroad company for the negligence of employees in handling the cars.
The railroad company presented several pieces of evidence, including several witnesses, showing that the alleged facts did not occur. This included the testimony of several workers on the following train to say that no collision had occurred.
However, the estate brought forward one witness, whose testimony was shaky. As such, summary judgment was not granted, but the credibility of his testimony was challenged at trial. He said that he was not paying much attention, saw the strings pass, turned away, heard a collision (but several collisions happen daily so he was not concerned), turned back around, and saw the two strings moving together down the tracks.
So, the Supreme Court says that his evidence was not sufficient. Although the credibility of a witness is set for the jury to hear, the jury must be presented with contradictory testimony. Here, the testimony was not contradictory because the sole witness never actually saw the collision occur, but only assumed that the noise was the result of the two strings colliding. As such, inference on inference, is not sufficient to pass a jury verdict. If we remove the inference, then there is no evidence left standing.
The key question here is: Was there a collision? Bainbridge’s testimony here did not actually see a collision. He only inferred that there was a collision. If he did testify that there was a collision, then this would have been to the jury. It was close, but lacking. So, alone, his evidence may have been significant but the fact that others also saw and testified that there was no collision, it pushes his lack of evidence back over the line.
Denying Judgment as a Matter of Law
Lane v. Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc.
184 F.3d 705 (7th Cir. 1999).
Lane is the plaintiff. JMOL was entered in favor of the defendant and Lane appeals.
“Whether the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of the defendant’s negligence to allow the case to go to the jury. Specifically, it is whether Land had come forward with evidence that Hardee’s, rather than another customer, spilled the water on the restroom floor.”
JMOL can be granted when a party has been fully heard but there is insufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of that party. Judges are not to resolve conflicts in the testimony or weigh the evidence unless the evidence is so minimal, nothing could ever happen.
Although the potential claim here is minimal, the jury should hear the case. Reversed and remanded.
Lane had stopped at Hardee’s. When he entered the bathroom. He slipped and fell causing neck and back injuries. The Hardee’s in question mops around 10:30 in the morning and then makes other periodical checks. Lane has stopped and entered the restroom anytime between 10:15 and 10:45. So, the question is, was the remaining water left there by Hardee’s or spilled by a third party?
Although the evidence here is minimal, there are no witnesses, no sign, timing was a little off, etc. there is sufficient evidence to meet case law requirements. As such, the jury is to weigh the evidence, not the court. The jury could find in favor of Hardee’s, that a third party spilled, or Lane, that Hardee’s had recently mapped without any warning signage.
The key fact at issue is: who left the water on the floor? This case is different from Chamberlain because the defendant here was lacking any evidence to the contrary. For instance, if we were to put the evidence on a scale (I know we are not supposed to weigh evidence, but indulge me), in Chamberlain the defendant had several eyewitnesses with a good angle on the train. Thus, the scale tipped 99% of the way in favor of the defendant. Here, the defendant had no evidence showing that a third party had made the spill, making either explanation just as likely. Thus, the scale can be tipped closer to a 51% for the plaintiff.
Key facts at issue:
- When the plaintiff arrived at the store and went to the bathroom (between 10:26 and 10:45)
- When the defendant mops the floor (10:30 daily)
- Was there a warning sign placed?
- Circumstantial evidence makes it possible that the defendant could have left the water. The jury then needs to determine if the defendant left the water or another customer and whether the defendant left a sign.
- This case then survives JMOL, even if this is not the most reasonable explanation.
Reid v. San Pedro, L.A. & S.L.R. Co.
118 P. 1009 (Utah 1911).
Reid is the plaintiff who obtained a jury verdict on four counts. The Railroad appealed all counts.
Did the cow go in through the gate or the broken fence?
The landowner has responsibility to care for open gates and the Railroad for broken fences. If the cow goes through the gate, the landowner is to blame and vice versa for the fence.
The first cow killed went through the open gate. The other cows were the responsibility of the Railroad. Reversed for the first cow and affirmed for the other three.
Four cows were killed on a Railroad track in Utah. Here, the owner of the cows are suing the railroad company to collect damages. The rail goes along several tracks where the fence is open in places, closed in others, a cattle guard is by the end of the tracks where the train comes to a station like building.
The first cow was killed by a gate near the tracks, the gate is always open. However, a fence was broken about a mile where the cow was found. The other three cows were found by the cattle guard near the end of the tracks.
At trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff on all counts that the Rail was negligent in maintaining the fence along the tracks, allowing the cows to become killed.
However, on appeal, there were no eyewitnesses to determine where the cow entered. For the first cow, more evidence pointed to it coming through the gate because the gate was open and that is where the cow was discovered. Because of the lack of evidence otherwise, the landowner is liable for the death of the first cow. However, tracks for the other other three cows showed that they entered in an area maintained by the railroad. As such, the deaths of those cows present a jury question to determine the liability of the railroad. Because the jury found a judgment against the railroad on those counts, the judgement there stands.
During class we focused only on the first cow, the one that was killed by the gate and not the broken fence. The farmer has the obligation to open, close, and maintain the gates while the railroad had to maintain the fence. If the cow went in by the gate, then the farmer is responsible. However, if the cow went through the broken fence, then the railroad was responsible.
The evidence seems to point towards the cow getting in through the gate. Here, the gate was open, cow prints around it (not the broken fence), and the cow was found by the open gate (a mile away from the broken fence). Thus, there is not enough evidence to show that the cow “more likely than not” went through the broken fence. Thus, JMOL/JNOV in favor of the railroad is appropriate.
The Right to Trial By Jury
Although there is a constitutional right to a jury, parties can waive their right to a jury. So, to have a jury trial, the parties must specifically ask for a jury within their pleadings. If even one party asks for a jury (properly) a jury will be granted. Otherwise, a jury trial will be waived and the case will be tried before only the judge. This procedure is called a bench trial. In these situations, the trial judge both determines the law and the facts.
28 USC §§ 1861, 1862 outline the jury selection procedures. In federal courts, the jury is selected within the district. However, those jurors are selected from cross sections (random) divisions within the district (to minimize travel and other burdens on jurors (1861)). In state courts, the jury is selected by the county where the juror resides. Additionally, jurors are not to be excluded because of their “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status (1862).
However, jurors can be selected to try and remove their jury bias. To remove this, Rule 47 has two parts:
28 USC 1870:
- Voir Dire – questioning the jury pool to identify the bias to remove (e.g. racism, sexism, or economic status).
- Peremptory challenges – Each attorney is limited to three. These are challenges where you can remove the juror without any reason at all (except these challenges are not to be motivated by the race or gender of the jury, called a Batson hearing).
28 USC 1866(c) outlines challenges for cause. A juror may be excluded if they are unable to render an impartial jury ruling.
Offer of Judgment
Rule 68: “At least 14 days before the date set for trial, a party defendant against a claim may serve on an opposing party an offer to allow judgment on a specified terms, with the costs then accrued. If, within 14 days after being served, the opposing party serves written notice accepting the offer, either party may then file the offer notice of acceptance, plus proof of service.
If the offer is not accepted, and the plaintiff wins less than the offer, they are subject to the costs of the court.
For example, the defendant offers 300,000 and the plaintiff refuses. Later, the plaintiff only win 200,000. The plaintiff will get their 200,000 but are required to pay the costs between when the offer was made and the judgment was given. The purpose is to encourage settlement to avoid court resources.
- Opening Statements
- Plaintiff presents evidence – Direct examination (Plaintiff’s witness, no leading questions), Cross examination (defendant can ask leading questions), and then redirect examination
- [Defendant may move under Rule 50(a) at this point]
- Defendant presents evidence – Direct examination, Cross examination, and then redirect examination
- [Both defendant and plaintiff may move under Rule 50(a) at this point]
- Closing statements
- Jury Instructions
- [Both defendant and plaintiff may move under Rule 50(b) if they had previously made a rule 50(a) motion]
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.