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Berry v. Roberson

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 28, 2015

MARCUS BERRY
v.
LEON ROBERSON, ET AL

RULING AND ORDER

BRIAN A. JACKSON, Chief Judge.

Before the Court is the Motion for New Trial, Or Alternatively Motion for Remittitur (Doc. 47), filed by Defendants Leon Roberson and Auto-Owners Insurance Company (collectively, "Defendants"), seeking an order from this Court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 59 for a new trial or, alternatively, for remittitur. Plaintiff Marcus Berry opposes this motion and, further, moves to strike from the record an exhibit attached to Defendants' motion. ( See Doc. 51).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed the instant personal injury action in the state court of the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, which was removed to this Court. ( See Doc. 1). The matter was tried before a seven-member jury from September 15-16, 2014. Judgment was entered on September 19, 2014 in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendants in the amount of $1, 290, 000.00. (Doc. 44). Defendants filed the instant motion on October 17, 2014. (Doc. 47). The motion is timely filed. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(b) ("A motion for a new trial must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment.").

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for New Trial

Rule 59(a) provides that a new trial may be granted "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). Although Rule 59(a) does not list specific grounds for a new trial, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that a new trial may be granted if "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages awarded are excessive, the trial was unfair, or prejudicial error was committed in its course." Smith v. Transworld Drilling Co., 773 F.2d 610, 613 (5th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). However, it is within the "sound discretion of the trial court" to determine whether to grant or deny a motion for new trial. Pryor v. Trane Co., 138 F.3d 1024, 1026 (5th Cir. 1998).

Defendants argue that, here, a new trial is warranted because of alleged juror misconduct. Specifically, Defendants contend that Juror Number Ten, Andrew B. Ezell, who would become the foreman of the jury, did not disclose during voir dire that he is "in fact quite biased towards insurance companies." (Doc. 47-3 at p. 3). In support of their argument, Defendants highlight that a page on the website of Mr. Ezell's law practice, Ezell Law Firm, is dedicated to personal injury cases with a tab specifically directed to those who have been involved in car accidents. Defendants quote text from the website, including: "The biggest mistake most people make is to see insurance companies as trusted friends.... With all due respect, insurance companies are businesses and they want to maximize their own bottom line, not yours." (Doc. 47-1 at p. 3). During voir dire, when the Court asked if any potential juror would have a problem or would refuse to "decide this case solely on the basis of the evidence that is introduced to you during the course of this trial, along with the instructions [provided] at the end of the trial, " Mr. Ezell did not raise his hand. (Tr. I at 77:14-78:2). Defendants assert that Mr. Ezell was "not completely forthright or accurate" when answering the Court's questions about his law practice or his ability to serve as an impartial juror. (Doc. 47-3 at pp. 3-4).

"In order to obtain a new trial, the moving party must demonstrate that a juror failed to answer a material voir dire question honestly, and that a correct response would have been a valid basis for a challenge for cause." United States v. Bishop, 264 F.3d 535, 554 (5th Cir. 2001). The prejudice of a juror must be proven by the movant by a preponderance of the credible evidence. See United States v. Cashio, 420 F.2d 1132, 1135-36 (5th Cir. 1969). Here Defendants have not shown that Mr. Ezell failed to answer a material voir dire question honestly. When asked about his occupation, Mr. Ezell's colloquy with the Court was as follows:

BY THE COURT: What do you do?
BY MR. EZELL: I am an attorney.
...
BY THE COURT:... What kind of law do you practice, I should ask?
BY MR. EZELL: I practice a lot of commercial and regulatory law. We also have general area of practice.
BY THE COURT: And are you with a firm or do you have your own practice?
BY MR. EZELL: I have my own law firm. ...

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