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FINEMAN v. ARMSTRONG WORLD INDUSTRIES

June 25, 1991

ELLIOT FINEMAN AND THE INDUSTRY NETWORK SYSTEMS, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ARMSTRONG WORLD INDUSTRIES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bissell, District Judge.

OPINION

I. FACTS AND BACKGROUND

The present matter arises pursuant to several remaining motions in this action. First, defendant Armstrong has moved under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 for a new trial, as an alternative to its motion for J.N.O.V. Second, Armstrong has separately moved under Rule 49 (pertaining to inconsistent verdicts) for a new trial. Finally, the plaintiffs have moved for "reformation of the judgment," requesting this Court to allow them to recover both the tort and antitrust awards.

The latter motion, even if it was not rendered moot by this Court's Opinion granting defendant's motion for J.N.O.V., would be (and is) denied for the reasons enunciated in its Opinion Regarding Entry of Judgment filed on May 6, 1991. Nothing presented in the papers supporting this motion has persuaded the Court that its prior determination is incorrect.

Armstrong's motion under Rule 49*fn1 may be disposed of as quickly as plaintiffs' motion concerning the judgment. This motion relates to jury answers to interrogatories concerning "overlap" amounts between compensatory awards for the tort claims and the antitrust claims.*fn2 This motion is denied without further discussion. This Court has vacated the judgment based upon the verdict in its earlier Opinion granting defendant's motion for J.N.O.V. Furthermore, even if the verdict remained, this Court grants defendant's motion for a new trial on the grounds enunciated below, and thus denies the motion under Rule 49 because such motion is unnecessary.

This Court issued its Opinion as to the motion for J.N.O.V. on June 20, 1991, granting defendant's motion in full. The present Opinion is to be considered in conjunction therewith, and so will not repeat the pertinent facts and background contained therein as such discussion is hereby incorporated by reference.

The present opinion is required in light of the fact that this Court granted the defendant's motion for J.N.O.V. in its entirety:

  If the motion for judgment notwithstanding the
  verdict, provided for in subdivision (b) of this
  rule, is granted, the court shall also rule on the
  motion for a new trial, if any, by determining
  whether it should be granted if the judgment is
  thereafter vacated or reversed, and shall specify
  grounds for granting or denying the motion for the
  new trial. If the motion for a new trial is thus
  conditionally granted, the order thereon does not
  affect the finality of the judgment. . . .

(Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(c)(1)).

The defendant asserts three grounds for its motion under Rule 59. First, it contends that the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence. Second, Armstrong asserts that it is entitled to a new trial because of improper, prejudicial arguments made to the jury by the plaintiffs' counsel. Third, Armstrong asserts that both the compensatory and punitive awards in this case are so grossly excessive as to shock the conscience, thus requiring a new trial.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standards Governing Motions for a New Trial

In general, a trial court should grant a motion for a new trial when, in its opinion, "the verdict is contrary to the great weight of the evidence, thus making a new trial necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice." Roebuck v. Drexel University, 852 F.2d 715, 736 (3d Cir. 1988). "The authority to grant a new trial . . . is confided almost entirety to the exercise of discretion on the part of the trial court." (Id. at 735 (quoting American Bearing Co. v. Litton Industries, 729 F.2d 943, 948 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 854, 105 S.Ct. 178, 83 L.Ed.2d 112 (1984)). Such discretion reflects the fact that "the district court was able to observe the witnesses and follow the trial in a way that [the Appellate Court] cannot replicate by reviewing a cold record." (Id., citing Semper v. Santos, 845 F.2d 1233, 1237 (3d Cir. 1988)).

The discretion of the court is not unlimited, however. Necessarily, when a motion for a new trial based on the weight of the evidence is granted, the court has:

  to some extent at least substituted his judgment
  of the facts and the credibility of the witnesses
  for that of the jury. Such an action effects a
  denigration of the jury system and to the extent
  that new trials are granted the judge takes over,
  if he does not usurp, the prime function of the
  jury as the trier of facts.
  Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1352 (3d Cir. 1991) (quoting Lind v. Schenley Indus., Inc., 278 F.2d 79, 90 (3d Cir.) (in banc), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 835, 81 S.Ct. 58, 5 L.Ed.2d 60 (1960)). As with a motion for J.N.O.V., "[a] district court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the jury simply because the court might have come to a different conclusion." Grace v. Mauser-Werke Gmbh, 700 F. Supp. 1383, 1387 (E.D.Pa. 1988) (citing Douglas W. Randall, Inc. v. A.F.A. Protective Systems, Inc., 516 F. Supp. 1122, 1124 (E.D.Pa. 1981), aff'd mem., 688 F.2d 820 (3d Cir. 1982)). However, a careful analysis of permissible inferences the jury could reasonably draw from the evidence presented at trial does not invade the exclusive domain of the jury. Nebel v. Avichal Enterprises, Inc., 704 F. Supp. 570, 574 (D.N.J. 1989) (citing Roebuck, 852 F.2d at 736). Where the verdict is based on inferences which are "mere speculation", a new trial becomes necessary. (Id.) Thus, "the district court ought to grant a new trial on the ...

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