United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
ROLAND A. ALONSO,
RULING AND ORDER
the Court is the Motion for Award of Costs and Attorney's
Fees (Doc. 103) filed by Roland A. Alonso and RCS
Contractors, Inc. ("Plaintiffs"), the Renewed
Motion For Judgment as a Matter of Law, Motion to Amend
Judgment, and Alternative Motion for New Trial (Doc. 104)
filed by Westcoast Corporation ("Defendant") and
the Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (Doc. 105) filed by
Plaintiffs. The parties filed memoranda in opposition, (Docs.
112, 117, 122), replies, (Docs. 123, 124), and a sur-reply,
(Doc. 127), where applicable. Jurisdiction is proper under 28
U.S.C. § 1332.
case arises from a dispute over a construction project to
relocate the Baton Rouge West Roosevelt Street Sewer Force
Main that was supervised by the United States Army Corp of
Engineers. (Doc. 1 at ¶ C-l). On August 23, 2010,
Plaintiffs assert that RCS Contractors, Inc.
("RCS") entered into a subcontract with Defendant
under which it agreed to provide all of the labor, materials,
equipment, and supervision required to complete the Project.
Id. at ¶ C-5. Under the terms of the
subcontract, Plaintiffs also allege that RCS was required to
adhere to plans and specifications provided by the Army Corp
of Engineers. Id. Plaintiffs further assert that
mismanagement of the Project resulting from deficient plans
caused significant delays and extra work that, in turn,
caused them to incur unexpected costs. (Doc. 1 at
¶¶ C-6, C-10, C-13, C-17-20). Plaintiffs allege
that Defendant knew or should have known about deficiencies
in the Project plans but nonetheless ordered work to
continue, Id. at C-6-17, and that Defendant failed
to timely submit stand-by invoices to the Army Corp of
Engineers, Id. at ¶ C-23-26. Because of
Defendant's actions, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant is
liable for the damages they sustained. Id. at
¶¶ E-l-5; J-l-K-4.
began on September 20, 2016. (Doc. 96). On September 22,
2016, Defendant filed motions under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure ("Rule") 50(a), seeking judgment as a
matter of law on Plaintiffs delayed payment, unjust
enrichment, and bad faith breach of contract claims. (Docs.
92-94). The Court granted Defendant's motion on
Plaintiffs unjust enrichment claim for reasons stated on the
record. (Doc. 98).
September 23, 2016, at the conclusion of trial, the jury
returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, finding Defendant
liable for breach of contract, bad faith breach of contract,
failure to timely pay monies owed under the contract, and
awarded damages accordingly. (Doc. 101). The jury also
awarded reasonable attorney's fees. Id. at
¶ 6. Thereafter, on September 30, 2016, the Court
entered the following Final Judgment:
IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that judgment is entered
in the amount of $304, 189.00 for bad faith breach of
contract, $66, 450.00 for violation of the Prompt Payment
Statute, and $407, 685.00 for home-office overhead, in favor
of the Plaintiff Roland Alonso and RCS Contractors and
against Defendant Westcoast Corporation, and this action is
(Doc. 102). The parties timely filed their respective motions
shortly after the Court entered the Final Judgment. (Docs.
103-105). The Court will discuss each motion in turn.
Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of
argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the
jury's verdict that Defendant breached the subcontract
agreement it had with Plaintiffs in bad faith. (Doc. 104-1 at
p. 3-4). Plaintiffs bad faith breach of contract claims stem
from Defendant's alleged failure to submit all change
orders, extensions of time, and cost requests submitted by
Plaintiffs to Garner Services, the contractor, who was then
obligated to submit requests to the Army Corp of Engineers,
the owner, as outlined in the subcontract agreement. (Doc.
1). Defendant maintains that the evidence demonstrates that
it performed its obligations under the subcontract agreement,
and that there was no evidence to support the jury's
finding that any failure to perform these obligations was
done in bad faith. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 3-4). In support of this
claim, Defendant cites the relevant provision of the
subcontract agreement, which provides that "the
Contractor (Defendant) under [Section 11 of the contract]
merely acts as a conduit to provide the Subcontractor
(Plaintiff) access to the Owner, Army Corp of Engineers, to
seek reimbursement or damages incurred or delays caused by
the Owner and/or its agents." (Doc. 104-1 at p. 7).
also cites the deposition and trial testimony of Michael
Meredith, Defendant's Project Manager, in which he
testified that that he forwarded all change order submittals
from RCS "up the ladder" to Garner Services, who
then forwarded the change orders to the Army Corp of
Engineers. Id. Plaintiffs counter, arguing that the
operative term in the subcontract agreement forming the basis
of Plaintiffs breach of contract claim was the portion of
Section 11 in which Defendant agreed to "provide the
Subcontractor (Plaintiff) access to the
Owner[.]" (Doc. 122 at p. 9) (emphasis added).
Plaintiffs cite the trial testimony of Roland Alonso, who
testified that despite numerous efforts to gain access to the
Army Corp of Engineers regarding its numerous change orders,
Defendant failed to facilitate access in accordance with
Plaintiffs' requests. Id. It is in this manner,
Plaintiffs argue, that Defendant breached its contractual
obligation under Section 11 of the subcontract agreement.
also argues that it is entitled to judgement as a matter of
law on Plaintiffs claim that Westcoast unlawfully delayed
payment without reasonable cause. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 4).
Defendant maintains that because RCS never completed the West
Roosevelt Project, Westcoast had reasonable cause to withhold
payments and/or deduct payments owed to RCS. Id. at
motion under Rule 50(b) "in an action tried by jury is a
challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting
the jury's verdict." Flowers v. S. Reg'l
Phys. Servs., Inc., 247 F.3d 229, 235 (5th Cir. 2001)
(quoting Ford v. Cimarron Ins. Co., 230 F.3d 828,
830 (5th Cir. 2000)). Therefore, under Rule 50(b),
"judgment as a matter of law is proper after a party has
been fully heard by the jury on a given issue, and there is
no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury
to have found for that party with respect to that
issue." Id. In evaluating a Rule 50(b) motion,
a court must "consider all of the evidence, drawing all
reasonable inferences and resolving all credibility
determinations in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party." Id. Because all reasonable inferences
and credibility determinations should be resolved in favor of
the non-movant in a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a
matter of law, "judgment as a matter of law should not
be granted unless the facts and inferences point so strongly
and overwhelmingly m the movant's favor that reasonable
jurors could not reach a contrary conclusion."
Court finds that there is sufficient evidence in the record
to support the jury's finding that Defendant breached the
contract with Plaintiffs, and Defendant unlawfully delayed
payment without reasonable cause, and therefore the
jury's verdict on this claim should not be disturbed.
Specifically, there is ample evidence that would allow the
jury to find that Defendant failed to facilitate direct
access to the Army Corp of Engineers under Section 11 of the
subcontract agreement. (See Doc. 122 at p. 9).
Indeed, Roland A. Alonso testified as much. (Doc. 122 at p.
9). The Court also finds that whether Plaintiffs can recover
for bad faith and delayed payment turns on questions of fact,
and therefore the jury's decision shall stand. The
Renewed Motion for Judgement as a Matter of Law is denied.
Motion for New Trial/Remittitur
argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the
jury's verdict, and therefore Defendant is entitled to a
new trial. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 5). In a diversity case, a
district court must apply the new trial and remittitur
standard of the forum in which it sits. Fair v.
Allen, 669 F.3d 601, 604 (5th Cir. 2012). Louisiana law
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. P. art. 1972, and permits
the court to grant a new trial "in any case if there is
good ground therefor, except as otherwise provided by law,
" id. art. 1973. When granting a new trial,
trial courts have broad discretion. Davis v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 774 So.2d 84, 93 (La. 2000). The court can
evaluate the evidence, draw its own inferences and
conclusions, and determine whether the jury "erred in
giving too much credence to an unreliable witness."
Joseph v. Broussard Rice Mill, Inc., 772 So.2d 94,
104 (La. 2000). However, a "jury's verdict should
not be set aside if it is supportable by any fair
interpretation of the evidence." Davis, 774
So.2d at 93 (quoting Gibson v. Bossier City Gen.
Hasp., 594 So.2d 1332, 1336 (La. Ct. App. 1991)).
also argues that the Court should lower the jury's
verdict in each category of damages. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 14).
The Court will therefore construe the Motion for a New Trial,
as a motion for remittitur in the alternative. See Thomas
v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 297 F.3d 361,
368 (5th Cir. 2002) (holding that courts have the discretion
to convert a motion for new trial to a motion for
remittitur). Under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1814, remittitur is
an alternative to a new trial, when the "trial court is
of the opinion that the verdict is so excessive or inadequate
that a new trial should be granted for that reason
only." Id. The remedy "is to be entered
only if the issue of quantum is clearly and fairly separable
from other issues in the case." Id. Further
"the Louisiana statutory scheme requires the consent of
the party adversely affected by an additur or
remittitur." Falterman v. Schunemeyer, 153
So.3d 1284, 1285 (La. Ct. App. 2014) (quoting Accardo u.
Cenac, 722 So.2d 302, 306 (La. Ct. App. 1998). If the
adversely affected party does not consent to remittitur, it
can choose to hold a new trial. Id.
Breach of Contract and Prompt Payment Act
argues that the $304, 189.00 awarded for breach of contract
is excessive because only one change order was in dispute at
trial totaling $107, 779.99. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 6). But as
Plaintiffs point out, they maintained that there were
numerous change orders in dispute. (Doc. 122 at p. 7).
Defendant next contends that they are not liable for the
costs of flagmen because Schedule A, Section 50 of the
contract provides that the subcontractor is responsible for
these costs. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 6). However, based on the
testimony of Roland Alonso, who testified that RCS was never
asked to reimburse anyone for these costs, and that the
coordination of flaggers was solely the responsibility of
Westcoast, the verdict is not excessive. (See Doc. 122-3 at
55:15-57:3). Defendant also asserts that the $66, 450 awarded
as a penalty for delayed payments is contrary to the Prompt
Payment Act, and is excessive. (Doc. 104-1 at p. 10).
Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs only presented
evidence that Defendant may have unlawfully delayed payment
of $127, 025.86 and because the Prompt Payment Statute caps
penalties at fifteen percent of the outstanding balance, the
most Defendant could be liable for in this category of
damages is $19, 053.88. Id. at p. 11. However, the
Court is satisfied that sufficient evidence was presented
from which the jury could conclude that there were delayed
payments in excess of $127, 025.86. (Doc. 122-1 at p. 13-14).
Indeed, evidence was presented that multiple change orders
were withheld. Id. The Motion for a New Trial is
denied relative to the breach of contract and Prompt Payment
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