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Montgomery-Smith v. Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 27, 2017

DENEEN L. MONTGOMERY-SMITH, Plaintiff
v.
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HOSPITALS, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict filed by Plaintiff, Deneen Montgomery-Smith.[1] The motion is opposed.[2] The motion is before the Court on the briefs, without oral argument. Having considered the memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court DENIES the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Deneen Montgomery-Smith is an African-American female who is more than 40 years old, has more than 25 years of experience with the State of Louisiana, and has more than 12 years of experience with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (“DHH”). In her underlying compliant, Plaintiff alleged she worked at the DHH-Office of the Bureau of Protective Services and was promoted to the position of APS Supervisor on March 30, 2004, where she worked until July 30, 2007. On this date, Plaintiff alleged she was transferred without her agreement to the DHH-Office of Public Health after she filed an EEOC charge and a lawsuit for discrimination, retaliation, harassment, failure to promote, and denial of merit increases. The lawsuit was filed on April 13, 2007 in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans. Plaintiff filed a second lawsuit on October 24, 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

         According to Plaintiff, when she was removed to Vital Records, she was subjected to a hostile work environment through isolation and humiliation for a host of reasons.[3]In her complaint, Plaintiff contended that, although the lawsuits she filed in 2007 and 2008 were settled in 2011, she continued to be subjected to retaliation, isolation, and a hostile work environment at DHH.

         On November 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants, the State of Louisiana, through DHH, and against Devin George, Nadine Smith, and Darlene Warren-Smith in their individual and official capacities.[4] On May 15, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, which the Court granted in part and denied in part, leaving only: (1) Plaintiff's Title VII Retaliation claims against DHH based on acts occurring between May 30, 2014 and March 26, 2015; and (2) Plaintiff's Title VII Hostile Work Environment claim against DHH based on acts occurring prior to March 26, 2015. The case then proceeded to trial.

         During the five-day trial, the jury heard testimony from several witnesses, including Plaintiff. On July 28, 2017, the jury entered a unanimous verdict in favor of Defendants, finding Plaintiff was not subjected to retaliation, discrimination, or a hostile work environment.[5] On August 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.[6]

         DISCUSSION

         The standard for granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict is a stringent one. As the Fifth Circuit has held,

On motions for . . . judgment notwithstanding the verdict the Court should consider all of the evidence-not just that evidence which supports the non-mover's case-but in the light and with all reasonable inferences most favorable to the party opposed to the motion. If the facts and inferences point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that the Court believes that reasonable [people] could not arrive at a contrary verdict, granting of the motions is proper. On the other hand, if there is substantial evidence opposed to the motions, that is, evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded [people] in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions, the motions should be denied. . . . A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to present a question for the jury. The motion . . . for judgment notwithstanding the verdict should not be decided by which side has the better of the case, nor should they be granted only when there is complete absence of probative facts to support a jury verdict. There must be a conflict in substantial evidence to create a jury question. However, it is the function of the jury as the traditional finder of the facts, and not the Court, to weigh conflicting evidence and inferences, and determine the credibility of witnesses.[7]

         Thus, if there is substantial evidence to support the verdict, the challenge to it must be denied.[8] “Substantial evidence” means evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions; a mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient.[9]

         A party may move for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict only if the party first moved for judgment as a matter of law at the close of all evidence, before the verdict was rendered.[10] In this case, although Defendants made a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief on July 27, 2017, Plaintiff did not make a similar motion before the jury's verdict was rendered.[11]

         Courts have noted two exceptions to this prohibition in certain circumstances: (1) “where the original motion for judgment as a matter of law was made at the end of the plaintiff's case but not renewed at the close of all the evidence”; and (2) “where the moving party objected to the court's jury instructions on the grounds that there was no evidence to support a claim but failed to move for a directed verdict on that claim.”[12] Because “a party who fails to move for judgment as a matter of law at the close of all evidence is foreclosed from [bringing] a post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of ...


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