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MaCsherry v. Sparrows Point, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division

February 12, 2019

JOHN H. MACSHERRY, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SPARROWS POINT, LLC, COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, INC. and MICHAEL ROBERTS, Defendants.

         MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' RULE 50 MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR A NEW TRIAL, GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART AS FRAMED DEFENDANTS' RULE 59 MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND THE JUDGMENT OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR A NEW TRIAL ON DAMAGES, AMENDING THE JUDGMENT ORDER AND STAYING SUA SPONTE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 50 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59, defendants in the above-styled civil action, Sparrows Point LLC (“SPLLC”), Commercial Development Company, Inc. (“CDC”), and Michael Roberts (“Roberts”) (collectively, “defendants”), move for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for a new trial (ECF No. 170), and also move, in the alternative, to alter or amend the judgment or, in the alternative, for a new trial on damages (ECF No. 171).

         Upon review of the fully briefed motions and the contentions of the parties, and for the reasons that follow, defendants' Rule 50 post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or in the alternative, for a new trial (ECF No. 170) is denied, and defendants' Rule 59 post-trial motion to alter or amend the judgment, or in the alternative, for a new trial on damages (ECF No. 171) is granted in part and denied in part as framed.

         II. Background

         John Macsherry, Jr., plaintiff, filed suit against defendants to recover a commission of $825, 000.00 allegedly owed to him in connection with the sale of commercial property located at the Sparrows Point peninsula in Baltimore County, Maryland for $110, 000, 000.00. This civil action went to trial and the underlying facts are set forth in detail in this Court's memorandum opinion and order denying defendants' motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment. See ECF No. 71.

         The first amended complaint (ECF No. 26), plaintiff's operative pleading, includes claims for violation of Maryland's Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”) (Count I), Md. Ann. Code Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 et seq., breach of contract (Count II), promissory estoppel (Count III), and quantum meruit/unjust enrichment (Count IV)against all parties. See ECF No. 26.

         Following defendant Roberts' motion to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint (ECF No. 29), only the MWPCL claim remained pending against him at trial. See ECF No. 38. All claims remaining against Roberts, SPLLC and CDC were tried before a jury from July 5, 2018 through July 13, 2018. Defendants moved for summary judgment prior to trial and, pursuant to Rule 50, moved for judgment during trial after plaintiff's case-in-chief, and again after the close of evidence. Defendants' motions were denied.

         At the conclusion of a seven-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. ECF No. 158. Defendants now renew their motions and contend that they are entitled to judgment on all claims. In the alternative, if this Court declines to grant judgment on defendants' motion notwithstanding the verdict pursuant to Rule 50, defendants also move pursuant to Rule 59. The post-trial motions now before this Court (ECF Nos. 170, 171) were filed by defendants following entry of the clerk's order of judgment (ECF No. 160) on the jury's verdict. This Court entered an order granting the parties' joint proposed order to extend the time for plaintiff to respond to defendants' post-trial motions to September 7, 2018, and for defendants to file replies to plaintiff's responses to October 5, 2018. ECF No. 173.

         Additionally, upon consideration of defendants' motion to stay enforcement of judgment pending the disposition of post-trial motions (ECF No. 162), plaintiff's response in opposition (ECF No. 168), and defendants' reply (ECF No. 176), this Court entered an order confirming ruling in previous order (ECF No. 175) granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion to stay execution of judgment pending the disposition of post-trial motions and directing defendants to post bond. ECF No. 181. The fully briefed motions are now ripe for decision.

         III. Standard of Review

         A. Legal Standard for Rule 50 Motion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 50 permits a court to enter judgment as a matter of law where “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). “Judgment as a matter of law is properly granted if the nonmoving party failed to make a showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he had the burden of proof.” Russell v. Absolute Collection Servs., Inc., 763 F.3d 385, 391 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). On a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court considers whether the jury's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Konkel v. Bob Evans Farms, Inc., 165 F.3d 275, 279 (4th Cir. 1999). In entertaining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court should review all of the evidence in the record. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). In reviewing the evidence, the court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations, but must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.; Fontenot v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 736 F.3d 318, 332 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b):

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).

         In considering a Rule 50(b) motion, the district court is to determine whether a jury, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, could have properly reached the conclusion it did. Bryant v. Aiken Reg'l Med. Ctrs. Inc., 333 F.3d 536, 543 (4th Cir. 2003).

         B. Legal Standard for Rule 59 Motion

         Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides courts with discretion, after a jury trial, to grant a new trial on all or some of the issues “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)(1)(A). A court may grant a new trial only if the verdict: (1) is against the clear weight of the evidence; (2) is based upon false evidence; or (3) “will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict.” Atlas Food Sys. & Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat'l Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996). The first two grounds for a new trial require the court to make factual determinations, while the third ground requires a policy analysis under which the “judge's unique vantage point and day-to-day experience with such matters lend expertise.” Id. The decision to grant or deny a new trial is within the sound discretion of the district court, and the appellate court will respect that determination absent an abuse of discretion. Id.

         Under Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may order a new trial nisi remittitur if it “concludes that a jury award of compensatory damages is excessive.” Jones v. Southpeak Interactive Corp. of Delaware, 777 F.3d 658, 672 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). A court should order a new trial nisi remittitur if “the jury's verdict is against the weight of the evidence or based on evidence which is false.” Sloane v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 510 F.3d 495, 502 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). Whether to grant such a new trial is “entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         As to Rule 59(e), the Rules of Civil Procedure provide several methods by which judgments may be re-examined. Zinkand v. Brown, 478 F.3d 634, 637 (4th Cir. 2007). One vehicle is a motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e). Id. The purpose of Rule 59(e) is to “permit a district court to correct its own errors, sparing the parties and the appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate proceedings.” Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (citation and internal quotations omitted), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1104 (1999). Rule 59(e) motions will be granted in three circumstances: “(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Ingle ex rel. Estate of Ingle v. Yelton, 439 F.3d 191, 197 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Pac. Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403). It is usually viewed as an extraordinary remedy that should be applied sparingly. EEOC v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 116 F.3d 110, 112 (4th Cir. 1997). Rule 59(e) motions may not be used, however, to raise arguments which could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment, nor may they be used to argue a case under a novel legal theory that the party had the ability to address in the first instance. Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998).

         This Court notes that traditionally, decisions on “questions of law” are “reviewable de novo, ” decisions on “questions of fact” are “reviewable for clear error, ” and decisions on “matters of discretion” are “reviewable for ‘abuse of discretion.'” Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. Sys., Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1744, 1748 (2014) (citing Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 558 (1988)).

         IV. Discussion

         Following the trial and jury verdict in this civil action and entry of the judgement order, defendants now move for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for a new trial (ECF No. 170), and also move, in the alternative, to alter or amend the judgment or, in the alternative, for a new trial on damages (ECF No. 171). This Court has reviewed the fully briefed post-trial motions and has considered the contentions of the parties. For the reasons that follow, defendants' Rule 50 post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for a new trial (ECF No. 170) is denied, and defendants' Rule 59 post-trial motion to alter or ...


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