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Cotton v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

August 23, 2019

JOSHUA F. COTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Brian Morris, United States District Court judge

         BACKGROUND

         The Court conducted a jury trial in this matter on June 24, 2019, through June 26, 2019. (Docs. 69, 73, 76.) The jury returned a verdict on June 26, 2019. (Doc. 84.) The jury determined the Defendant BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) was not liable in causing injury to Plaintiff Joshua Cotton (“Cotton”). The Court entered final judgment in this matter on June 27, 2019. (Doc. 86.)

         Cotton filed a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Alternatively Motion for New Trial on July 24, 2019. (Doc. 88.) BNSF filed its Response in opposition to the Motion on August 7, 2019. (Doc. 89.) This Order addresses each of Cotton's arguments in turn.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A party may file a motion for judgment as a matter of law at any time before the case is submitted to the jury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). “The motion must specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment.” Id. “If the Court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment . . . the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law . . . ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

         A party may make a motion for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). Rule 59(a) “does not specify the grounds on which a motion for a new trial may be granted.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (citing Zhang v. AM. Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003)). A district court possesses discretion to order a new trial under Rule 59 if “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). A verdict proves contrary to the weight of the evidence if “the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the moving party.” Molski, 481 F.3d at 729 (citing Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940).

         DISCUSSION

         Cotton asserts the following arguments in support of his assertion that the jury verdict proved contrary to the weight of the evidence: (1) the jury could not have had a legally sufficient basis to find that BNSF was not negligent; alternatively (2) Cotton is entitled to a new trial due to material evidence that was admitted over Cotton's objections and in violation of the Federal Rules of Evidence; and (3) BNSF misled the jury through continued reference to its formal Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) disciplinary process. (Doc. 88-1 at 6.)

         I. Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Cotton asserts that he is entitled to post-trial judgment as a matter of law. Cotton reasons that the evidence established that BNSF terminated Cotton as a result of BNSF's negligent mismanagement. (Doc. 88-1 at 7.) Cotton argues that he produced evidence that BNSF possessed no basis for blaming Cotton for altering the position of the safety mirror and failing to remove blue signal protection. BNSF argues that Cotton's motion for judgment as a matter of law must fail because Cotton did not move for judgment as a matter of law before the close of evidence on the issues that he now raises. (Doc. 89 at 7.)

         Rule 50(b) “requires that a motion for JMOL [judgment as a matter of law] be made at the close of all the evidence in order to be renewed following entry of judgment.” Zhang v. Am. Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1032 (9th Cir. 2003). A properly raised Rule 50(b) motion must be “limited to the grounds asserted in the pre-deliberation Rule 50(a) motion.” EEOC v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009). A party may not “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. (citing Freund v. Nycomed Amersham, 347 F.3d 752, 761 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         Both parties raised Rule 50(a) motions for judgment as a matter of law at the end of Cotton's case in chief. (Doc. 73.) Cotton's motion for judgment as a matter of law related to the issue of whether contributory negligence applied to this matter. Id. The Court deferred ruling on Cotton's Motion. Id. The parties renewed their motions for judgment as a matter of law following the close of Defendant's case in chief. (Doc. 76.) Cotton again limited his motion to whether contributory negligence applies in this matter. Id.

         Cotton's failure to move for judgment as a matter of law as to the sufficiency of the evidence constitutes a waiver of this argument post-trial. See Zhang, 339 F.3d at 1029-30. Cotton further failed to assert at the close of evidence that he presented “unrefuted evidence that BNSF had no basis in its rules or in fact for blaming him for these events.” (Doc. 88-1 at ...


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