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Bean v. Gutierrez

September 10, 2009

BRIDGET BEAN, APPELLANT,
v.
JOSE GUTIERREZ, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA4732-05) (Hon. Judith E. Retchin, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kramer, Associate Judge

Argued May 14, 2009

Before KRAMER and FISHER, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

Appellant Bridget Bean sued appellee Jose Gutierrez for defamation and false light invasion of privacy stemming from comments made in an article published in the Asian American Business Roundtable ("AABR") newsletter. After the jury returned a verdict for Gutierrez on the defamation claim and for Bean on the false light invasion of privacy claim, the trial court granted Gutierrez's motion for judgment as a matter of law ("JNOV") on the false light invasion of privacy claim. Bean argues that the trial court erred in granting Gutierrez's motion for JNOV both because (1) Gutierrez failed to move, orally or in writing, for judgment as a matter of law before the case was submitted to the jury as required by Super. Ct. Civ. R. 50 (a)(2), and (2) JNOV was not warranted on the merits. We affirm.

I. Factual Background

Bean, a graduate of George Mason University, began working for the Small Business Association ("SBA") in 1986. Later, she moved into a Senior Executive Service ("SES") position at the SBA.

The AABR newsletter was written, edited, and published by Rawlein Soberano,*fn1 and distributed monthly to approximately 2,800 people including sixty-three subscribers on Capitol Hill, many high-level officials at the SBA, and trade associations dealing with the SBA. On July 1, 2004, the monthly AABR newsletter published an article critical of John Whitmore, an SBA official. Among other things, the article said that Whitmore "recently finagled the paperwork for Bridget Bean to SES, knowing fully well that she did not qualify and her academic papers were questionable (which means nothing to Whitmore), resulting in her bust and demotion." In the article Soberano asked rhetorically, "How many Bridget Beans are in its payroll, because they are buddies of John Whitmore, who betrayed the public trust?" Soberano testified that he met with Gutierrez shortly before July 1, 2004, and that Gutierrez told him that he had heard that Bean did not have a college degree, that she had "slept with" Whitmore, and that she had moved up through the ranks at the SBA due to her relationship with Whitmore.

Bean sued Gutierrez for defamation*fn2 and false light invasion of privacy.*fn3 At trial, Gutierrez did not move, orally or in writing, for judgment as a matter of law before the case was submitted to the jury. The jury returned a verdict for Gutierrez on the defamation claim and for Bean on the false light invasion of privacy claim, for which it awarded her $75,000. After the verdict, Gutierrez filed a written motion for JNOV on the false light invasion of privacy claim, which the trial court granted. This appeal followed.

II. Standard of Review

Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only where no reasonable person, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, could reach a verdict in favor of that party. Moreover, when the case turns on disputed factual issues and credibility determinations, the case is for the jury to decide. If reasonable persons might differ, the issue should be submitted to the jury. Furthermore, in reviewing a motion for [JNOV] after a jury verdict, this court applies the same standard as the trial court.

Lively v. Flexible Packaging Ass'n, 830 A.2d 874, 886-87 (D.C. 2003) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

III. Legal Discussion

Bean argues that the trial court erred by granting Gutierrez's motion for JNOV both because (1) Gutierrez did not move for judgment as a matter of law before the case was submitted to the jury as required by Super. Ct. Civ. ...


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