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Adams v. United States

March 24, 2010

TIMM ADAMS, ET AL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it DuPont's motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial. The Court heard oral argument, and the motion is at issue. The Court will grant the motion to the extent it seeks (1) a dismissal of the assumed duty claim, and (2) a new trial on damages as to DuPont. The motion is denied in all other respects.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law -- Rule 50(b)

In resolving DuPont's Rule 50(b) motion, the Court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. EEOC v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951 (9th Cir. 2009). Rather, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor. Id. "The test applied is whether the evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict." Id.

Motion for New Trial -- Rule 59(a)

Rule 59(a) states: "A new trial may be granted . . . in an action in which there has been a trial by jury, for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States." 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 inadequate, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving. Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724 (9th Cir. 2007); 11 Wright, Miller and Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2807 at p. 78 (1995).

The Court has the "duty to weigh the evidence as the court saw it," and to grant a new trial 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.

ANALYSIS

The Court has filed, contemporaneously with this decision, its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law with regard to the Plaintiff's claims against the BLM. A detailed explanation of the litigation background is contained in those Findings and Conclusions will therefore not be repeated here. In addition, many of the legal issues raised by DuPont in its Rule 50 Motion were also raised by the BLM in its post-trial motions and have been addressed in detail in the Court's Findings and Conclusions, which are incorporated by reference into this decision.

Product Defect & Superseding Cause

DuPont argues that plaintiffs must point to a specific, identifiable defect in Oust and failed to do so. The Court disagrees. A design defect may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence of a malfunction of the product, the absence of evidence of abnormal use, and the absence of evidence of reasonable secondary causes which would eliminate liability of the defendant. Mortensen v. Chevron Chemical Co., 693 P.2d 1038 (Id.Sup.Ct. 1984). Plaintiffs satisfied this burden. As set forth in more detail in the Findings of Fact, the plaintiffs showed that (1) Oust was toxic in minute quantities to crops, (2) DuPont knew of the dry and windy conditions at the application sites, (3) Oust was erodible by the wind and susceptible to being carried long distances, (4) Oust did so erode, and persisted for several growing seasons in the growers' fields, damaging crops (5) DuPont recommended Oust's use yet did not test the product for use in southern Idaho soils, and (6) reasonably likely alternative causes were ruled out.

DuPont argues, however, that the BLM's conduct was a superseding cause constituting an abnormal use. However, under the Idaho Product Liability Reform Act, product misuse is merely a defense that results in apportionment under comparative fault principles. See I.C. § 6-1405(3). DuPont argued that the BLM was responsible, and the jury allocated 40% of the fault to the BLM. The BLM's choice and application of Oust cannot be deemed a superseding cause, vitiating DuPont's fault, when DuPont actively promoted the use of Oust to the BLM. See Findings of Fact.

Failure to Warn

DuPont argues that the jury verdict on the failure to warn claims must be set aside. The Court disagrees. The testimony of Drs. Benbrook and Gardisser established that Oust was mislabeled and supports the jury verdict on these claims.

Various Jury Instructions

During the trial, the Court resolved all issues concerning jury instructions. Nothing in the briefing or argument ...


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