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Belanus v. Dutton

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

May 7, 2018

DUANE RONALD BELANUS, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF LEO DUTTON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief District Judge United States District Court.

         A jury trial was held in this matter in November 2017. The Court granted Defendants' Rule 50 motion on Count 4 as to Lewis and Clark County, Count 11 as to Sheriff Dutton, Count 1 as to Defendant West, and Count 10 as to Ferguson, Bulson, Swain and West. The Court denied the motion on Count 2 as to Swain and Count 9 as to Swain, Hawthrone, and Merritt. The matter went to the jury on the remaining claims and on November 27, 2017, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants. (Doc. 228.)

         Plaintiff Duane Belanus has now filed the following post-trial motions: (1) Rule 48(b) Motion (Doc. 232); (2) Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding Jury Verdict (Doc. 233); (3) Motion for New Trial (Doc. 234); (4) Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law; (Doc. 235); and a Rule 60(b) Motion (Doc. 236). The motions will be denied.

         I. Rule 48(b) Motion

         In his first motion, Mr. Belanus seeks leave pursuant to Local Rule 48.1(b) to interview the trial jurors. Mr. Belanus does not provide an affidavit showing good cause to interview jurors and seeks prohibited testimony in violation of Rule 606 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         The motion to interview jurors will be denied.

         II. Rule 59 and 60 Motions

         Mr. Belanus filed four separate motions seeking to overturn the jury verdict in this case. Although titled differently, all four motions must be considered under Rules 59 and/or 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which allow a party to seek post-judgment relief from the Court.

         Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions for new trial and motions to alter or amend a judgment. 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1). "Since specific grounds for a motion to amend or alter are not listed in the rule, the district court enjoys considerable discretion in granting or denying the motion." Allstate Ins. Co. v. Herron, 634 F.3d. 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal citation omitted). These include verdicts against the weight of the evidence, damages that are excessive, and trials that were not fair to the moving party. Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Prods., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000) ("The 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.") (citation omitted). A Rule 59 motion "should not be granted, absent highly unusual circumstances, unless the district court is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in the controlling law." 389 Orange St. Partners v. Arnold, 179 F.3d 656, 665 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Upon the filing of a Rule 59 motion by 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." Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 187 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Moist Cold Refrigerator Co. v. Lou Johnson Co., 249 F.2d 246, 256 (9th Cir. 1957)). "[E]rroneous jury instructions, as well as the failure to give adequate instructions, are also bases for a new trial. Murphy, 914 F.2d at 187.

         Rule 60(b) "provides for reconsideration only upon a showing of[:] (1) mistake, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud; (4) a void judgment; (5) a satisfied or discharged judgment; or (6) 'extraordinary circumstances' which would justify relief." Fuller v. M.G. Jewelry, 950 F.2d 1437, 1442 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)).

         Both amending and reconsidering a judgment after entry constitute "extraordinary" remedies that should be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources. Herron, 634 F.3d at 1111; Kona Enters, v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000).

         A. Jury Instructions

         The root of most of Mr. Belanus's arguments is that the Court's Final Instruction No. 10 utilized the wrong model jury instruction and therefore provided the jury the wrong standard on his failure to protect claim. He is incorrect. Specifically, Mr. Belanus argues that the Court erred in utilizing Ninth Circuit Model Instruction No. 9.27 ...


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