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Hathaway v. Idaho Pacific Corp.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 11, 2018

ROSS HATHAWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
IDAHO PACIFIC CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          David C. Nye U.S. District Court Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on post-trial Motions filed by both parties. Plaintiff Ross Hathaway has filed a Motion for Entry of Partial Judgment and to Set ReTrial of the ADA Claims. Dkt. 109. Defendant Idaho Pacific Corporation (“Idaho Pacific”) has filed a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law on All Claims, or in the Alternative, Motion for a New Trial on Plaintiff's Claim for Termination in Violation of Public Policy. Dkt. 107. Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court decides the Motion on the record without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds good cause to DENY the Motions and order a new trial on all claims.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A five-day jury trial was held in this employment discrimination case in mid-December 2017. The Court submitted three claims to the jury via a special verdict form: (1) discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) retaliation under the ADA; and (3) wrongful discharge under Idaho state law. During deliberations, the Jury sent a note to the Court indicating that its members had “reached a point of aggressive disagreement.” In response, the Court gave the Jury an Allen instruction.[1] The Jury then returned to its deliberations.

         A few hours later, the Jury sent another note to the Court stating that it had reached a “unanimous decision on only one claim” and that it was unable to agree on the other two claims. The Jury asked if it had to reach a decision on all three claims and if the Court could rule on the other two claims. The Court questioned the Jury as to whether they were willing to continue deliberating. After indicating that further deliberation would not be helpful, the Court permitted the Jury to return a verdict on the sole claim on which it was able to reach a unanimous decision. The Jury found in favor of Hathaway on the Idaho wrongful discharge claim and awarded him $34, 302 in lost wages. The Jury did not answer any of the questions on the verdict form regarding the ADA retaliation claims. As to the ADA discrimination claim, the Jury determined that Hathaway had a disability and that he was a qualified individual under the ADA. However, the Jury failed to answer any other questions regarding the ADA discrimination claims.

         The Court reserved ruling on the impact of the partial verdict until after considering any post-trial motions. Those motions have now been filed and fully briefed.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Idaho Pacific's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Judgment as a matter of law, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), is appropriate when “the evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict.” E.E.O.C. v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Thus, “[a] motion for a judgment as a matter of law is properly granted only if no reasonable juror could find in the non-moving party's favor.” Torres v. City of Los Angeles, 548 F.3d 1197, 1205 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). The Court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of that party.” Id. at 1205-06.

         Importantly, “[a] Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law is not a freestanding motion. Rather, it is a renewed Rule 50(a) motion.” Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d at 961. The Ninth Circuit has explained the Rule 50 scheme as follows:

Under Rule 50, a party must make a Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law before a case is submitted to the jury. If the judge denies or defers ruling on the motion, and if the jury then returns a verdict against the moving party, the party may renew its motion under Rule 50(b). Because it is a renewed motion, a proper post-verdict Rule 50(b) motion is limited to the grounds asserted in the pre-deliberation Rule 50(a) motion. Thus, a party cannot properly 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. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Idaho Pacific did not make a Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law before the Court submitted the case to the jury. Idaho Pacific argues that, despite this failure, it is not barred from seeking judgment as a matter of law under a special exception. The Ninth Circuit has held that an exception to this Rule 50(b) requirement applies when judgment was entered in accordance with a special verdict form and the motion for judgment as a matter of law challenges “the consistency of the answers” in the special verdict, and “not to the sufficiency of evidence supporting a general verdict.” Pierce v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 823 F.2d 1366, 1369 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Idaho Pacific's motion for judgment as a matter of law does not challenge the consistency of the Jury's answers on the special verdict form. Indeed, the Jury's answers were not “irreconcilably inconsistent.” See Id. Nevertheless, Idaho Pacific argues that this exception “is clearly applicable where a jury simply fails to respond to questions on a special verdict form.” Dkt. 107-1, at 3. Idaho Pacific has failed to cite any legal authority reciting such an exception or any cases whose circumstances mirror those currently before the Court. Idaho Pacific does cite Forro Precision, Inc. v. International Business Machines Corporation, 673 F.2d 1045, 1058 (9th Cir. 1982). In that case, “[a]fter the jury had deadlocked on [the plaintiff's] antitrust claims, [the defendant] moved for entry of judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).” Id. The district court then granted the defendant judgment as a matter of law on those claims and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Id. at 1061. While Forro is somewhat similar to this case, it gives no indication of whether the defendant filed a Rule 50(a) motion before the district court submitted the case to the jury. Idaho Pacific also cites to Geo. M. Martin Company v. Alliance Machine SystemsInternational LLC, 634 F.Supp.2d 1024, 1027 (N.D. Cal. 2008). ...


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