United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
C. Nye Chief U.S. District Court Judge.
before the Court is Plaintiff Heath Layton's Motion for
Directed Verdict. Dkt. 56. Having reviewed the record and
briefs, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments
are adequately presented. 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 will decide the Motions without oral
argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(1)(B). For the
reasons outlined below, the Court DENIES Layton's Motion.
case, Layton brought a single cause of action against Eagle
Rock Timber, Inc. (“ERT”): disability
discrimination in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Dkt. 1. A four-day
trial began on April 15, 2019. At the close of his case-in-
chief, Layton moved for judgment as a matter of
on the elements of disability and qualified
individual. The Court denied the Motion.
after the Court's informal jury instruction conference,
Layton's counsel made a formal objection to the jury
instructions, arguing (as a renewed Rule 50 motion) that the
elements of “disability” and “qualified
individual” were not disputed and that the instructions
and verdict questions on those topics should be modified or
excluded. Layton's Counsel specifically expressed concern
that leaving the question about whether Layton had a
disability on the verdict form might cause the jury to conclude
Layton had not met his burden and “needed to prove more
than was already presented.” Dkt. 56, at 7. The Court
denied the motion and objection and did not modify the
conclusion of trial, the jury did not return a verdict in
Layton's favor. Dkt. 51. Layton then timely filed a
Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Dkt. 56) on
May 16, 2019. In his Motion, Layton argues for judgment as a
matter of law, but also that-in the event the Court does not
find in his favor-a new trial should be granted. The Court
will address each motion in turn.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50
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. 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.” EEOC v. Go Daddy Software, Inc.,
581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009). “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).” Id.
entertaining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the
court . . . may not make credibility determinations or weigh
the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Rather, the Court
“must view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party . . . and draw all reasonable inferences
in that party's favor.” Josephs v. Pac.
Bell, 443 F.3d 1050, 1062 (9th Cir. 2006). “The
test applied is whether the evidence permits only one
reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the
jury's verdict.” Id.
“jury's verdict must be upheld if it is supported
by substantial evidence, which is evidence adequate to
support the jury's conclusion, even if it is also
possible to draw a contrary conclusion.” Harper v.
City of L.A., 533 F.3d 1010, 1021 (9th Cir. 2008). The
Court “can overturn the jury's verdict and grant
such a motion only if there is no legally sufficient basis
for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that
issue.” Costa v. Desert Palace, Inc., 299 F.3d
838, 859 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). If
there is “sufficient evidence before the jury on a
particular issue, and if the jury instructions on the issue
were correct, then the jury's verdict must stand.”
Transgo, Inc. v. Ajac Transmission Parts Corp., 768
F.2d 1001, 1014 (9th Cir. 1985).
“[b]ecause 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.”
Go Daddy Software, 581 F.3d at 961. “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 pre-verdict Rule 50(a)
motion.'” Id. (quoting Freund v.
Nycomed Amersham, 347 F.3d 752, 761 (9th Cir. 2003)).
Rule 50(b) may be satisfied by an ambiguous or inartful Rule
50(a) motion. Id. (citing Reeves v.
Tuescher, 881 F.2d 1495, 1498 (9th Cir. 1989)).
“Absent such liberal interpretation, the rule is a
harsh one.” Id. (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). When ruling on a Rule 50(b) motion based
on grounds not previously asserted in a Rule 50(a) motion,
the Court is “limited to reviewing the jury's
verdict for plain error, and should reverse only if such
plain error would result in a manifest miscarriage of
justice.”Id.. “This exception . . .
permits only extraordinarily deferential review that is
limited to whether there was any evidence to support
the jury's verdict.” Id. (emphasis in
original) (citation omitted).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59
Rule of Civil Procedure 59 outlines that a Court may grant a
new trial “if the verdict is contrary to the clear
weight of the evidence, is based on evidence which is false,
or to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” Silver
Sage Partners v. City of Desert Hot Springs, 251 F.3d
814, 819 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Molski v. M.J.Cable,
Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007)
(“Historically recognized grounds [for a new trial
under Rule 59] 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 moving party.” (internal quotation
and citation omitted)).
jury instructions, as well as the failure to give adequate
instructions, are also bases for a new trial.”
Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 187 (9th
Cir. 1990). “A jury instruction is erroneous if it
‘misleads the jury as to the correct legal standard or
does not adequately inform the jury on the law.'”
Altria Grp., Inc. v. United States, 658 F.3d 276,
286 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). A new trial is not warranted on the basis of an
incorrect evidentiary ruling unless “the ruling
substantially prejudiced a party.” United States v.
99.66 Acres of Land, 970 F.2d 651, 658 (9th Cir. 1992).
“district court may not grant a new trial simply
because it would have arrived at a different verdict, ”
Silver Sage Partners, 251 F.3d at 819, but only if
the “trial court [has] a firm conviction that the jury
has made a mistake.” Landes Constr. Co., Inc. v.
Royal Bank of Canada, 833 F.2d 1365, 1372 (9th Cir.
evaluating a motion for new trial under Rule 59, the court
can weigh the evidence, evaluate the credibility of the
witnesses, and is not required to view the evidence from the
perspective most favorable to the prevailing party.
United States v. Kellington, 217 F.3d 1084, 1095
Renewed Rule 50 Motion
threshold matter, the Court must address the scope of
Layton's renewed motion for a directed verdict. As Layton
admits in his briefing, during trial he “moved the
court pursuant to FRE 50 for a directed verdict on the
elements of disability and qualified individual.” Dkt.
56, at 7, ¶ 7. This acknowledgement aside, in the current
Motion, Layton asserts he is seeking “a directed
verdict that Plaintiff was disabled during all relevant
times, that Plaintiff was a qualified individual during all
relevant times, that Plaintiff suffered adverse
employment actions because of his disability, and on
lost wage damages.” Dkt. 56, at 9 (emphasis
did not seek a pre-verdict directed verdict on the element of
“adverse employment action” and, consequently,
cannot do so now. It is well settled that this is an improper
application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50. As noted
above, “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. Accordingly, as 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.” Id. See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 50
advisory committee's notes to the 1991 amendments
(“A post trial motion for judgment can be granted only
on grounds advanced in the pre-verdict
Layton's motion for directed verdict on the issue of
adverse employment action is not properly before the Court
and must be denied. Layton can proceed on his renewed motion
regarding the ADA elements of “disability” and
“qualified individual” as he previously raised
each of those topics.
trial, Layton moved for a directed verdict on the elements of
disability and qualified individual claiming there was no
dispute as to these elements. Then, as now, Layton relies on
the testimony of Rick Gokey-ERT's owner and manager-and
his “admission” that Layton was disabled, to
argue the Court should have taken this issue away from the
jury and granted a directed verdict as a matter of law. While
it is true that Gokey acknowledged Layton was
“limited” and “injured”-and further,
that he would not dispute Layton was “substantially
limited in his ability to walk”-this is not the same as
admitting someone is “disabled.” Even then, as
the Court will explain below, the breadth and impact of
Gokey's testimony (regardless of the interpretation) is
not as dispositive as Layton suggests. The full colloquy of
the testimony at issue is as follows:
Q. All right. And so, do you agree that in March and April of
2017, from the date of his injury until his employment ended,
that he was substantially limited in his ability to walk?
A. He was limited. I don't have any expertise to say
substantially. He was limited. He was on crutches, and so he
had a work release.
Q. Okay. And are you disputing the fact that he was disabled
at that time?
A. I don't - MR. GARDNER: Objection. Foundation, Your
MR. WESSEL: Do you want some dates?
THE COURT: Lay some more foundation.
BY MR. WESSEL:
Q. Okay. In the March -- well, let's say on April 27th --
well, throughout all of April 2017, are you disputing the
fact that he was disabled at that time?
MR. GARDNER: Objection. Still foundation, Your Honor.
THE WITNESS: In my opinion, he was injured.
THE COURT: Just a minute. Don't answer that until I make