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Rea v. Wisconsin Coach Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 15, 2015

LILLIE REA AND HILDA WIRATUNGA
v.
WISCONSIN COACH LINES, INC., ET AL., SECTION

ORDER AND REASONS

STANWOOD R. DUVAL, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59 filed by Plaintiff, Lillie Rea. (R. Doc. 256). Having reviewed the motion, memoranda, exhibits, record, and relevant law, the Court DENIES the motion for the following reasons.

I. BACKGROUND

This case involved an automobile accident that occurred on March 29, 2011, in New Orleans, Louisiana and involved two drivers: the Plaintiff, Lillie Rea, and the Defendant, Larry Westphal. At the time of the accident, Mr. Westphal was driving a tour bus, owned and operated by Mr. Westphal's employer and co-Defendant, Wisconsin Coach Lines, Inc ("Wisconsin Coach Lines"). As a result of the accident, the Plaintiff alleged that she sustained serious physical injuries and brought the instant suit seeking compensation.

The issues of liability and damages were contested by the parties, and the matter proceeded to trial on March 9, 2015. On March 13, 2015, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants, finding no fault attributable to Larry Westphal or Wisconsin Coach Lines and finding Lillie Rea solely at fault; the jury thus awarded no damages to the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff, Lillie Rea, has filed the instant Motion for New Trial contesting the validity of the verdict, and Defendants have opposed the motion. The Court will address the merits of the motion herein.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 provides that a district 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 a motion for new trial is within the sound discretion of the trial court." Pryor v. Trane Co., 138 F.3d 1024, 1026 (5th Cir. 1998).

Although Defendants opine that "Plaintiff attempts to lighten her burden through the [the application of the Supreme Court's decision in Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, 518 U.S. 415] and Louisiana law, " Plaintiff, in fact, correctly applied Louisiana law to the Rule 59 determination in this case. See Def. Mem. Opp. 4, R. Doc. 266. In the wake of Gasperini, the Fifth Circuit explained that "in an action based on state law but tried in federal court by reason of diversity of citizenship, a court must apply a new trial or remittitur standard according to the state's law controlling jury awards for excessiveness or inadequacy, " Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477, 497 (5th Cir. 2008), contradicting prior Fifth Circuit precedent, which held that the sufficiency or insufficiency of the evidence in relation to the verdict is "indisputably governed by a federal standard, " Jones v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 870 F.2d 982, 986 (5th Cir. 1989).[1] The Fifth Circuit later clarified the application of Gasperini in Fair v. Allen , applying Louisiana law in the context of a Rule 59 motion for new trial and overruling Jones. 669 F.3d 601, 604 (5th Cir. 2012) ("[T]he district court erred in applying the federal standard; Louisiana law applies.") Subsequently, district courts in this circuit have continued to apply state law to such cases. See, e.g., Body By Cook v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 39 F.Supp. 3d 827, 844 (E.D. La. 2014); Martinez v. Massey, No. 11-CV-648, 2015 WL 1809218, at *1 (M.D. La. Apr. 21, 2015). Because jurisdiction in this matter is based on diversity of citizenship between the parties, the Court thus will apply the law of Louisiana in determining the merits of the motion for new trial pursuant to Rule 59. See Fair v. Allen, 669 F.3d 601, 605 (5th Cir. 2012).

Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1972 provides mandatory or peremptory grounds upon which a court must grant a new trial. See Horton v. Mayeaux, 2005-1704 (La. 5/30/06), 931 So.2d 338, 343. Specifically, article 1972 provides that a new trial shall be granted "[w]hen the verdict or judgment appears clearly contrary to the law and the evidence." La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 1972. Nevertheless, "the jurisprudence interpreting the provision recognizes the trial judge's discretion in determining whether the evidence is contrary to the law and evidence [, which.... requires a discretionary balancing of many factors." Martin v. Heritage Manor S. Nursing Home, 2000-1023 (La. 4/3/01), 784 So.2d 627, 630-32 (quoting Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 00-0445 (La.11/28/00), 774 So.2d 84) (internal quotation marks omitted). In considering a motion for new trial under article 1972, "the trial court may evaluate the evidence without favoring either party; it may draw its own inferences and conclusions; and evaluate witness credibility to determine whether the jury had erred in giving too much credence to an unreliable witness." Martin, 784 So.2d at 631 (quoting Joseph v. Broussard Rice Mill, Inc., 00-0628 (La.10/30/00), 772 So.2d 94) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, "[e]ven in light of this wide discretion of the trial court, that discretion is limited, as the trial court cannot freely interfere with any verdict with which it disagrees." Guillory v. Lee, 2009-0075 (La. 6/26/09), 16 So.3d 1104, 1131. The Louisiana Supreme Court has explained:

The discretionary power to grant a new trial must be exercised with considerable caution, for a successful litigant is entitled to the benefits of a favorable jury verdict. Fact finding is the province of the jury, and the trial court must not overstep its duty in overseeing the administration of justice and unnecessarily usurp the jury's responsibility. A motion for new trial solely on the basis of being contrary to the evidence is directed squarely at the accuracy of the jury's factual determinations and must be viewed in that light. Thus, the jury's verdict should not be set aside if it is supportable by any fair interpretation of the evidence. Gibson v. Bossier City General Hospital, et al., supra. See also Engolia v. Allain, 625 So.2d 723 (La.App. 1 Cir.1993). (Emphasis added.)

Davis, 774 So.2d at 93. In sum, it is clear that, "[d]espite permitting a trial court to review the jury's credibility determinations, Louisiana gives the jury high deference." Fair, 669 F.3d at 605.

Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1973 also provides discretionary grounds upon which a court may grant a new trial: "A new trial may be granted in any case if there is good ground therefor, except as otherwise provided by law." La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 1973. Article 1973 of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure allows a district court to use its discretion to order a new trial whenever it is "convinced by [its] examination of the facts that the judgment would result in a miscarriage of justice." Horton, 931 So.2d at 343-44 (quoting Lamb v. Lamb, 430 So.2d 51, 53 (La.1983)). Indeed, Louisiana courts have traditionally held that where a miscarriage of justice would otherwise occur, a district court has "virtually unlimited discretion to grant a new trial." Id. (citations omitted). "Generally, the only requirement has been that the district court state an articulable reason or reasons as to why [it] is exercising his discretionary powers.'" Id. (quoting Burris v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 652 So.2d 558, 562 (La.App. 1 Cir.), writ denied, 654 So.2d 562 (La.1995)).[2]

In Lamb v. Lamb, the Louisiana Supreme Court set forth the standard for granting a new trial pursuant to ...


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