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Andre Jennings v. Brenda Thompson

September 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beryl A. Howell United States District Judge


Plaintiff Andre Jennings sued the defendant Brenda Thompson for negligence, following the plaintiff's fall, on September 1, 2008, from a balcony at premises owned by the defendant. The Court initially held a jury trial in this case in April 2011, which resulted in a hung jury. The Court then held a second trial in this case in July 2011, which resulted in a verdict for the defendant. The plaintiff now moves for a new trial. For the reasons explained below, the motion is denied.


The defendant purchased a townhouse, on June 14, 2006, at 702 Ridge Road, SE, Washington, D.C. (the "premises"), which is where the incident that prompted this lawsuit occurred. Revised Joint Pre-Trial Statement ("JPS"), ECF No. 46, ¶¶ 2, 3, Pl. a. She leased the premises to her niece, Lolita Bobbitt, and Bobbitt's four children from about August 1, 2006 until March 2009, under a D.C. Housing Assistance Payment ("HAP") contract sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Id. ¶ 3, Pl. b; Pl.'s Mot. In Limine to Exclude Reference to Alleged Tenant Misconduct, ECF No. 12 ("Tenant Excl. Mot.") at 1-2.*fn1

At the time of the incident at issue in this lawsuit, Bobbitt was the tenant at the premises and the plaintiff was her guest for a Labor Day cookout. Tenant Excl. Mot. at 2. On the afternoon of Monday, September 1, 2008, while at the premises, the plaintiff lowered a trash bag to the backyard below the second floor rear balcony. Id. As he did so, the balcony's metal railing broke free and plaintiff fell to the ground approximately ten feet below. Id. The plaintiff suffered multiple fractures to his left wrist that required surgery, and he claimed to be left with a permanent and painful injury that requires additional surgery. Id.; JPS ¶ 3, Pl. o.

Approximately one month before the incident, on August 5, 2008, a D.C. Building Inspector had inspected the premises and found, inter alia, that the handrail for the balcony at the rear of the premises was not secure. JPS ¶ 3, Pl. f. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist for an unreasonable period of time, without providing a warning of the danger, and that this negligence was the proximate cause of his fall. JPS ¶ 3, Pl. m-n. He further alleged that the fall caused a permanent and painful injury for which he has required treatment and will require future surgery, resulting in medical expenses estimated to be $56,917.61. Id. ¶ 3, Pl. o-q.

The defendant denied that she was negligent, although she admitted that she hired a contractor, Mitchell Samuel, to repair the property by September 3, 2008, when the property was scheduled for re-inspection. Id. ¶ 3, Def. c, h, x. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk of injury, was contributorily negligent, and exaggerated his injury for which "the medical treatment was neither fair, reasonable, necessary, nor causally related." Id. ¶ 3, Def. k-m.

The first jury trial in this case began on April 25, 2011 and concluded on April 29, 2011.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict. Following the first trial, the parties attempted mediation, but did not reach a settlement. Accordingly, a second jury trial was held from July 25, 2011 to July 27, 2011.

The Court ruled on three motions in limine in connection with the trials in this case. In the first motion, the plaintiff moved to exclude any evidence of misconduct by the tenant, Lolita Bobbitt. The Court substantially granted the plaintiff's motion, excluding any reference to any destructive behavior or alcohol or drug use by the tenant, but the Court did not exclude evidence about the following topics: "the maintenance and condition of the balcony before the incident, the timing of when this area was identified as being damaged and needing repair, the persons who had control of the property, the defendant's prior efforts to inspect the property and communicate with the tenant about the condition of the property, and the obstacles presented by the tenant to such efforts, including any problems the defendant experienced in performing inspections or repairs." Jennings v. Thompson, No. 09-cv-790, 2011 WL 1460431, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 18, 2011) ("First Trial Motion in Limine Opinion"). The plaintiff also moved to exclude testimony from a defense expert witness and the Court granted that motion. Id. at *3-*5. Finally, the defendant moved to introduce evidence about an arrest and criminal conviction of the plaintiff, and the Court denied the defendant's motion and excluded this evidence to prevent prejudice to the plaintiff. Jennings v. Thompson, No. 09-cv-790, 2011 WL 2976936 (D.D.C. July 22, 2011) ("Second Trial Motion in Limine Opinion").

The jury heard testimony from numerous witnesses at the second trial, including a medical expert, a treating physician, and seven fact witnesses. Following the conclusion of the trial, the jury reached a verdict in favor of the defendant. See Verdict Form, ECF No. 50.

On August 3, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial. That motion, which the defendant opposes, is now before the Court.


Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, "[t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). "The decision to grant or deny such a motion lies within the sound discretion of the court." Armenian Assembly of America, Inc. v. Cafesjian, Nos. 07--1259 et al., 2011 WL 1745155, at *5 (D.D.C. May 9, 2011) (quotation omitted). To preserve the function of the jury, new trials should not be granted unless "a solid basis for doing so" exists. In re Lorazepam & Clorazepate Antitrust Litig., 467 F. Supp. 2d 74, 87 (D.D.C.2006) (quoting Warren v. Thompson, 224 F.R.D. 236, 239 (D.D.C.2004)). "Further, such a motion should be granted only when the court is convinced that the jury verdict was a 'seriously erroneous result' and where denial of the motion will result in a 'clear ...

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