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Bayard v. Cameron Inc

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

June 27, 2018

Bayard et al
v.
Cameron Inc.

          MEMORANDUM RULING AND ORDER

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant, Cameron Inc.'s, Motion for a New Trial Pursuant to Rule 59 or in the Alternative for a Remittitur [Red. Doc. 155], Plaintiff, Brayton Bayard's, Memorandum in Opposition [Rec. Doc. 162], and Intervenor American Interstate Insurance Company's Memorandum in Opposition for the reasons set forth in Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition [Rec. Doc. 158]. For the following reasons, Cameron's Motion will be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an incident that occurred on November 30, 2011, at an enclosed facility owned and operated by Cameron Inc. (“Cameron”), located in the Port of Iberia, Iberia Parish, Louisiana. On the day of the incident, Plaintiff was working as a driver and rigger for Berard Transportation, Inc. (“Berard”) on a job at Cameron's enclosed facility. The job involved lowering and securing a large cylindrical vessel known as a desalter onto a mobile transporter known as a Goldhofer or crawler with wooden chocks and industrial chain, then transporting the desalter from Cameron's facility to an adjoining storage yard owned and operated by Cameron. The desalter was 82 feet, 2 inches in length, 14 feet, 5 inches in diameter, and weighed 159 tons.

         After the vessel was lowered onto the Goldhofer by a crane owned by Cameron and operated by Cameron's employee, Ravis Belaire, Jr., Plaintiff, along with his co-employees and several employees of Cameron, then wedged two wooden chocks on each side of the vessel to secure the vessel and prevent it from rotating or falling while it was being moved. After the chocks were in place, Plaintiff and his co-employees and Cameron employees stationed themselves on opposite sides on top of the Goldhofer and around the chocks in order to wrap an industrial chain around the chocks and use a ratchet binder to link the chain together and tighten it to secure the chocks. After the chain on the opposite side of the Goldhofer from Plaintiff was wrapped around the chocks and tightened with a ratchet binder, the ratchet binder was passed to Plaintiff in order for him to secure the chain around the two chocks located on his side of the Goldhofer. As Plaintiff attempted to attach the end of the ratchet binder onto the end of the chain, a threaded end of the ratchet binder came apart from the body of the ratchet binder. Plaintiff fell off the Goldhofer and landed on the floor injuring his wrist.

         On November 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed suit in the 16th Judicial District Court, Iberia Parish, Louisiana. Cameron removed the case to this Court on the basis of federal diversity of citizenship jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. R. 1. Cameron filed an Answer raising a number of affirmative defenses and requesting trial by jury. R. 5. American Interstate Insurance Company, as the compensation insurer and subrogee and co-owner of the rights of Plaintiff, filed a Petition of Intervention for compensation benefits and medical expenses paid to or on behalf of Plaintiff. Id.

         This matter was tried by a jury on February 26-28 and March 1, 2018. R. 141, 142, 144, 145. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $4, 271, 300.00, finding comparative fault as follows: Cameron - 65%, Berard - 25% and Plaintiff - 10%. R. 150. A Judgment was entered on March 6, 2018. R. 152. Cameron filed this motion seeking a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 or alternatively a remittitur and amendment to the Judgment.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Cameron seeks a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Rule 59(a) provides that a district court may 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).

         Under Rule 59, 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); see also Wright v. National Interstate Insurance Co., 2018 WL 2017567, at *3 (E.D.La., 2018). “A district court, however, should attempt to avoid substituting its judgment for the jury's considered verdict, so as to not violate the parties' Seventh Amendment rights.” McFadden, 2006 WL 3087164, at *2. “If the jury's verdict is ‘clearly within the universe of possible awards which are supported by the evidence,' then a district court may not properly grant a new trial based merely on the inadequacy of the damage award.” Id. (citing Brun-Jacobo v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 847 F.2d 242, 246 (5th Cir. 1988)). “The Fifth Circuit has stated that it will not interfere with the factfinder's award of damages unless it is ‘so inadequate as to shock the judicial conscience and to raise an irresistible inference that passion, prejudice, corruption or other improper cause invaded the trial.' ” Id. (quoting Munn v. Algee, 924 F.2d 569, 578 (5th Cir. 1991)).

         Because the matter is before the Court on diversity jurisdiction, the new trial standards of Louisiana law are applicable. See Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477, 498 (5th Cir. 2008) (“[I]n an action based on state law but tried in federal court by reason of diversity of citizenship, a district court must apply a new trial or remittitur standard according to the state's law controlling jury awards for excessiveness or inadequacy....”)

         Under Louisiana law, “[a] new trial shall be granted ... [w]hen the verdict or judgment appears clearly contrary to the law and evidence.” LA. CODE CIV. P.1972(1). “The trial court's discretion in ruling on a motion for new trial is great.” Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 774 So.2d 84, 93 (La. 2000). “Whether to grant a new trial requires a discretionary balancing of many factors.” Id. As stated by the Louisiana Supreme Court:

The fact that a determination on a motion for new trial involves judicial discretion, however, does not imply that the trial court can freely interfere with any verdict with which it disagrees. The discretionary power to grant a new trial must be exercised with considerable caution....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.

Id.

         In making this determination, the trial court must balance the great deference given to the jury as the factfinder and the discretion bestowed upon it in reviewing the motion, but the scales are “clearly tilted in favor of the survival of the jury's verdict.” Id. at 93-94. The decision is to be made on a case-by-case basis. Id. at 94.

         Furthermore, the Fifth Circuit has repeatedly held that “the decision to grant or deny a motion for new trial generally is within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed unless there is an abuse of that discretion or a misapprehension of the law.” Dixon v. International Harvester Co., 754 F.2d 573, 586 (5th Cir. 1985); see also e.g., Prytania Park Hotel, Ltd. v. General Star Indemnity Co., 179 F.3d 169, 175 (5th Cir. 1999); Mitchell v. Lone Star Ammunition, Inc., 913 F.2d 242, 252 (5th Cir. 1990) . “[R]econsideration of a judgment is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly. Rule 59 motions may not be used to relitigate old matters, raise new arguments, or present evidence that could have been raised prior to entry of the judgment.” Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Bd., 1999 WL 777720, at *1 (E.D.La., 1999) (citing Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 2810.1).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion For New Trial

         In its motion seeking a new trial, Cameron asserts that the jury's verdict is clearly contrary to the law and against the weight of the evidence in the following respects: (1) imposing liability on Cameron based on Cameron's duty to act even though the law imposed no duty on Cameron because Plaintiff was its independent contractor; (2) allocating 65% of the comparative fault to Cameron and only 25% to Berard and 10% to Plaintiff; and (3) allocating fault because the jury was ...


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