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Manion v. American Airlines

September 29, 2003

CHRISTOPHER MANION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah A. Robinson United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, in this action, sought damages for personal injuries sustained during international travel on American Airlines Flight 294 on June 4, 1995.*fn1 A jury trial first commenced on April 8, 2002, and concluded on April 11, 2002. As a consequence of the misconduct of Defendant's counsel during the course of his closing argument, the undersigned granted Plaintiff's motion for mistrial. August 1, 2002 Memorandum and Order (Docket No. 122) at 1.

The second trial commenced on December 9, 2002, and concluded on December 12, 2002, when the jury found by a preponderance of the evidence that an accident occurred during the flight, and that the accident was a proximate cause of Plaintiff's injury. Jury Verdict Form (Docket No. 142) at 1.*fn2

Defendant now moves for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Under Rule 50 or in the Alternative for a New Trial Under Rule 59 ("Defendant's Motion") (Docket No. 151). More specifically, Defendant maintains that it "timely moved" for judgment as a matter of law at the close of Plaintiff's case pursuant to Rule 50(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and "timely renewed its Rule 50(a)(1) motion before the case was submitted to the jury." Defendant's Motion at 1-2. Defendant, in the alternative, moves for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that (1) the verdict "is against the clear weight of the evidence"; (2) Defendant "[was] irreparably prejudiced by the Court falsely stating to the jury that it should disregard a portion of Defendant's closing argument because it was false"; "and/or" (3) Defendant was similarly prejudiced "by Plaintiff's elicitation of testimony from Defendant's witness... suggesting that Plaintiff's claims were covered by insurance." Id. at 6-7. In support of its motion, Defendant offers but two exhibits: (1) excerpts of the transcript of the trial testimony of Douglas Feldman, M.D., a board-certified otolaryngologist and Plaintiff's treating physician, and (2) excerpts of the transcript of (i) a discussion of preliminary matters on the final day of trial, and (ii) the closing argument of Defendant's counsel, followed by the Court's curative instruction.

Plaintiff, in his opposition, submits that "[Defendant] neglected to renew [its] Rule 50 motion at the close of all evidence[,]" and thereby waived its right to renew the motion post-trial. Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Under Rule 50 or in the Alternative for a New Trial Under Rule 59 ("Plaintiff's Opposition") (Docket No. 156) at 1-2. Additionally, Plaintiff submits that Defendant's alternative motion for new trial should be denied because (1) there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find "that an 'unusual or unexpected event or happening'" occurred on Plaintiff 's flight; (2) Plaintiff did not inject the issue of insurance; and (3) "the court properly corrected [D]efendant's counsel's misstatement during closing argument[.]" Id. at 1. Plaintiff offers as exhibits a summary of recent decisions in which "accident" is defined for purposes of the Warsaw Convention, and excerpts of transcripts of the testimony of Plaintiff, Dr. Feldman, and Abbey Aynian and Margaret Martin, both called by Defendant.

Defendant did not file a reply to Plaintiff's opposition.

DISCUSSION

Rule 50

Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part, that

[i]f during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue, the court may determine the issue against that party and may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against that party with respect to a claim or defense that cannot under the controlling law be maintained or defeated without a favorable finding on that issue.

FED. R. CIV. P. 50(a)(1). The rule further provides that if the trial court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law "made at the close of all the evidence," then the court is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury, subject to any subsequent determination of the issues presented by the motion. FED. R. CIV. P. 50(b). The movant may renew its motion for judgment as a matter of law in writing no later than 10 days after entry of judgment, and alternatively request a new trial pursuant to Rule 59. Id.

The District of Columbia Circuit applies "[t]he rule... followed in the other courts of appeals" that

a party who moves for judgment after an opponent's opening statement or at the close of the opponent's evidence must ordinarily reassert the motion at the close of all evidence or risk waiving the right to renew the motion under Rule 50(b)... and the right to appellate review of the sufficiency of an opponent's evidence[.]

Fredrick v. District of Columbia, 254 F.3d 156, 160 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (quoting § 9 James Wm. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 50.20[3] (3d ed. 2000)) (citations omitted). The ...


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