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BROWN v. PRO FOOTBALL

May 12, 1993

ANTONY BROWN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PRO FOOTBALL, INC., d/b/a WASHINGTON REDSKINS, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE C. LAMBERTH

 This case is a class action anti-trust suit brought by 235 National Football League ("NFL") football players against the NFL and its twenty-eight member teams. The gravamen of the suit is the undisputed fact that in 1989, defendants paid each plaintiff a flat rate of $ 1000 per week for his "developmental squad" *fn1" e services.

 In an earlier opinion, the court determined that defendants' paying of a fixed salary constituted a violation of the Clayton Act and ordered summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs as to liability. In September of 1992, the court held a ten-day trial, after which a jury returned a special verdict in favor of all plaintiffs: the jury first found that each class member had been injured; it then entered the dollar amount of each class member's damages. Pursuant to the Clayton Act, the court trebled the damages and entered judgment of $ 30,349,642.00 in favor of plaintiffs.

 Now before the case are several post-trial motions. Each will be addressed in turn.

 Defendants have moved this court for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) or, in the alternative, for a new trial under Rule 59(a). Both aspects of this bifurcated motion will be denied.

 A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law.

 Defendants claim that there is "no legally sufficient evidentiary basis" for the jury's verdict, quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 Advisory Committee's Note (1991 Amendment to Rule 50(b)), and thus ask this court to set the jury's verdict aside. "The standard for judging a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict *fn2" . . . is whether a reasonable person could have reached such a verdict upon the evidence presented." Ago v. Begg, Inc., 705 F. Supp. 613, 616 (D.D.C. 1988), aff'd, 286 U.S. App. D.C. 77, 911 F.2d 819 (D.C. Cir. 1990). Of course, the court "is required to evaluate the evidence under the presumption that the jury resolved all factual disputes in favor of the prevailing party." Morgan v. District of Columbia, 263 U.S. App. D.C. 69, 824 F.2d 1049, 1056 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

 In this case, defendants raise five issues in support of their Rule 50(b) motion. The court finds that none reaches this circuit's standard for Rule 50(b) post-trial judgment.

 First, defendants claim that the salary figures on which the jury may have relied were negotiated *fn3" for "fundamentally different jobs." Yet, there was significant evidence that, inter alia, the 1989 developmental squad players were performing roles comparable to individuals who were on injured reserve in 1988 (and therefore received their full salary - the 1988 analogue of the activation salary). Although there was evidence that the jobs were different, there also was sufficient evidence - contrary to defendants' assertions - for a reasonable jury to find that the jobs - although not identical - were nonetheless comparable.

 Second, defendants contend that the 1990 salaries negotiated by some class members did not corroborate plaintiffs' damage claims. In light of the overwhelming evidence plaintiffs offered in support of their anti-trust damages, contesting this one piece of evidence is hardly efficacious. In fact, to corroborate their damage figures, plaintiffs proposed several different methods of analysis, and examining 1990 salaries was only one of these. Even if these figures were excluded, therefore, there is ample evidence to support the jury's findings.

 However, defendants' arguments are unsuccessful on the merits, as well, as this evidence is corroborative and properly admitted. The court determined at trial that, for the purposes of determining a "just and reasonable estimate" of plaintiffs' damages, Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 395 U.S. 100, 124, 23 L. Ed. 2d 129, 89 S. Ct. 1562 (1969), the 1990 salary figures were probative. Nothing has changed since September.

 Third, defendants assert that a free market analysis places the value of plaintiffs' services at somewhat less than $ 1000 per week and that there is no contradictory evidence. However, there was ample evidence expert and otherwise for a reasonable jury to conclude that the actual value of these players' services was greater than $ 1000 per week. (Not surprisingly, the jury apparently gave little credit to the testimony of defendants' witnesses who asserted that defendants overpaid players; certainly this would be one of the first times anti-trust violators conspired to deprive themselves of their ill-gotten economic advantage.)

 Fifth (and finally), defendants protest plaintiffs' use of certain individuals as representative of the class claims. However, the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that, whatever the circumstances of any individual player, the plaintiffs' method of calculating damages was appropriate and resulted in a fair approximation of damages for all members of the class.

 In general, plaintiffs' evidence was qualitatively and quantitatively great. They approached the damages issue from several different angles, and each method of approximating damages arrived at a similar figure. The court finds that it was reasonable for the jury to find as it did, and that defendants have not met their burden under Rule 50(b) to warrant the ordering of a judgment as a matter of law. Therefore, this portion of defendants' motion is denied.

 B. Motion for a New Trial.

 Defendants move, in the alternative, for a new trial under Rule 59(a). Plaintiffs assert that the standard for warranting a new trial is strict:

 
Generally, . . . a Rule 59(a) motion should be granted only where the court is convinced that the jury verdict was a 'seriously erroneous result' and where denial of the motion ...

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