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Hilborn v. Metropolitan Group Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

April 16, 2015

ROBERT W. HILBORN and JEAN ANN S. HILBORN, Plaintiffs,
v.
METROPOLITAN GROUP PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it Plaintiffs' Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment or, in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial (Dkt. 173). For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion for a new trial.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff Robert Hilborn[1] asks the Court to alter or amend the verdict against him by entering judgment in his favor or by ordering a new trial. Both requests are brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Although Robert references only 59(e) in the title of his motion, he references Rule 59 generally throughout his brief, and he references the standard under Rule 59(a) and cites cases addressing Rule 59(a), such as Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183 (9th Cir. 1990). Plf. Br., p.2, Dkt. 173-1. Metropolitan addresses such cases as well. Def. Br. p.2, Dkt. 183.

The specific standard for altering or amending a judgment is found in Rule 59(e), while the specific standard for ordering a new trial is found in Rule 59(a). Accordingly, the Court will address the motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e), but will address the motion for new trial under Rule 59(a), as required by the rule.

1. Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment

District courts have "considerable discretion" when addressing motions to amend a judgment under Rule 59(e). Turner v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe R. Co., 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003). However, "a Rule 59(e) motion is an extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources.'" Wood v. Ryan, 759 F.3d 1117, 1121 (9th Cir. 2014). ( Citing Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir.2000)). Typically, a district court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion where it "is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in the controlling law." Id. (Citing McDowell v. Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 (9th Cir.1999) (en banc) ( quoting 389 Orange St. Partners v. Arnold, 179 F.3d 656, 665 (9th Cir.1999)).

None of these grounds are present in this case. In fact, Robert makes no real attempt to assert them. Instead, he focuses his arguments almost exclusively on matters more appropriately addressed under Rule 59(a). Accordingly, Robert's Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment will be denied, but the Court will consider his arguments as they apply to his Rule 59(a) motion for new trial.

2. Rule 59(a) Motion for New Trial

Rule 59(a) states that the Court may grant a new trial on all or some of the issues, and to any party, "after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trail has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). The Ninth Circuit has not specified the grounds on which a motion for a new trial may be granted. Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007). Instead, "the court is bound by those grounds that have been historically recognized." Id. (Internal citation and quotation omitted). Those "grounds include, but are not limited to, claims that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving." Id. (Internal quotation and citation omitted).

The standard set forth by the Ninth Circuit is that "[t]he trial court may grant a new trial only if the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon false or perjurious evidence, or to prevent a miscarriage of justice." Id. (Internal quotation and citation omitted). Thus, "[u]pon the Rule 59 motion of the party against whom a verdict has been returned, the district court has the duty... to weigh the evidence as [the court] saw it, and to 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." Id. (Brackets in original)(Internal quotation and citation omitted).

Here, Metropolitan had the burden at trial of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Robert made material misrepresentations in his insurance claim. In its brief, Metropolitan acknowledges that it had this burden at trial. Def. Br., p. 4, Dkt. 183.

In his Rule 59(a) motion, Robert essentially argues that there was no evidence to support the jury's finding that he willfully misrepresented a material fact about his claim for property lost in the fire. As the Court instructed the jury, a representation is material only if it is of such a nature that knowledge of ...


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