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Howell v. Town of Ball

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

December 7, 2017




         Before the Court is a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (Remittitur), For New Trial, to Amend or Alter Judgment, or Alternatively, Motion to Stay Proceedings to Enforce Judgment and/or Motion for Stay and to Dispense with Supersedeas Bond (the “Post-Trial Motion”) (Doc. 252) filed by Defendant the Town of Ball (the “Town”).

         The last two requests for relief - for a stay or to dispense with the Supersedeas Bond - are addressed here. The remaining portions of the Post-Trial Motion will be addressed by separate order.

         I. Background

         On September 8, 2017, following a four-day trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, Thomas R. Howell (“Howell”), awarding Howell damages in the amount of $257, 419.00 plus interest and attorney's fees. Post-trial motions - including the instant Post-Trial Motion - followed.

         In the Post-Trial Motion, the Town has requested various forms of relief, including a stay of proceedings to enforce the judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 62(b) and a request to dispense with the supersedeas bond requirement. Also pending are the Town's requests for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (Doc. 252); the Town's request for a new trial (Doc. 252); the Town's motion to alter or amend the judgment (Doc. 252); and Howell's Motion for Attorney's Fees (Doc. 255)

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. The Town's Motion for a Stay of Proceedings to Enforce a Judgment should be granted.

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 62(b), “the court may stay the execution of a judgment-- or any proceedings to enforce it--pending disposition of any of the following motions:(1) under Rule 50, for judgment as a matter of law; (2) under Rule 52(b), to amend the findings or for additional findings; (3) under Rule 59, for a new trial or to alter or amend a judgment; or (4) under Rule 60, for relief from a judgment or order.” This stay is not automatic; a court has discretion to determine whether a Rule 62(b) stay is appropriate. See Sanders v. Louisiana Div. of Admin., CIV.A. 07-00375-BAJ, 2013 WL 4895015, at *2-3 (M.D. La. Sept. 11, 2013), aff'd (Dec. 30, 2013), aff'd (Dec. 30, 2013). In exercising that discretion, a court may consider the following factors:

(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.

Moore v. Tangipahoa Par. Sch. Bd., 507 Fed.Appx. 389, 392 (5th Cir. 2013).[1]

         The general circumstances of this case favor a Rule 62(b) stay. Both parties have filed substantive post-trial motions. See Roman v. W. Mfg., Inc., 6:07-CV-1516, 2010 WL 4364164, at *1 (W.D. La. Oct. 27, 2010) (finding a stay appropriate where both parties filed post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law). The Town's motions under Rules 50 and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - both rules referenced in Rule 60(b) - may affect the amount of damages awarded. And Howell's motion for attorney's fees will also increase the total amount of the judgment. Resolution of these motions is warranted, if not necessary, before any further steps are taken to execute the judgment. U.S. ex rel. Garibaldi v. Orleans Par. Sch. Bd., CIV.A. 96-0464, 1998 WL 774172, at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 30, 1998) (“Because post-trial motions have been filed and will be filed, the court finds that granting a stay of execution of the judgment would be appropriate pending these motions.”).

         Further, the balance of relevant factors militates in favor of a stay. As to the first factor - likelihood of success on the merits - the Town correctly notes that “the appellant need not always show a probability of success on the merits; instead, the movant need only present a substantial case on the merits when a serious legal question is involved and show that the balance of the equities weighs heavily in favor of granting the stay.” Arnold v. Garlock, Inc., 278 F.3d 426, 439 (5th Cir. 2001). This case presents “serious legal questions” which were disputed by the parties and resolved by the Court. Before and during the trial, the Town made the requisite showing of a “substantial case” as to those disputed questions, as evidenced by the extensive briefing and arguments submitted by the parties, and the extensive analysis undertaken by the Court.

         Second, the Town may suffer irreparable injury absent a stay. Again, the pending motions may affect the viability and value of the judgment against the Town. And as the Town argues, any effort to execute on the judgment during the pendency of those motions may lead to the expenditure of public funds. The motions should be resolved before execution.

         Third, Howell will not suffer “substantial injury” during the pendency of a stay, particularly if the Town furnishes security, as addressed below. Like the Town, Howell has an interest in obtaining rulings regarding the jury's verdict and the amount of attorney's fees owed. Neither Howell's rights nor his financial interests will be jeopardized during a stay.

         Finally, the public interest favors resolution of the disputed legal issues. Once again, at least some public funds are at issue. Expenditure of those funds during the pendency of substantive motions ...

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