160 F.3d 1291 (10th Cir. 1998), 96-3326, Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc.

Docket Nº96-3326, 96-3327.
Citation160 F.3d 1291
Party NameGuillermo SANJUAN, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, v. IBP, INC., Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.
Case DateNovember 16, 1998
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 1291

160 F.3d 1291 (10th Cir. 1998)

Guillermo SANJUAN, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant,

v.

IBP, INC., Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 96-3326, 96-3327.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 16, 1998

Page 1292

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1293

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1294

David O. Alegria of McCullough, Wareheim & LaBunker, P.A., Topeka, Kansas, for Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant.

Jack Focht of Focht, Hughey & Calvert, L.L.C., Wichita, Kansas, for Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Before BALDOCK, HOLLOWAY and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

HOLLOWAY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant Guillermo Sanjuan ("Sanjuan") filed suit on December 12, 1994, in the United States District

Page 1295

Court for the District of Kansas against Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee IBP, Inc. ("IBP"), alleging that IBP terminated Sanjuan's employment in retaliation for Sanjuan's work-related injury. The district court had diversity jurisdiction of the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The case was tried before a jury, which found in favor of Sanjuan. Both parties filed post-trial motions, all of which were denied by the district court.

IBP appeals the district court's judgment, claiming error in the denial of its motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 1 and its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 2 Sanjuan cross-appeals, claiming error in the district court's refusal to submit Sanjuan's proposed jury instruction to the jury, in the verdict form submitted to the jury, and denial of his motion for an additur. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse and remand for a new trial, but affirm the rulings which Sanjuan's cross-appeal challenges.

BACKGROUND

Sanjuan began his employment with IBP as a flanker in 1991 at IBP's Holcomb, Kansas, plant. 3 Initially, Sanjuan did not have any problems with his supervisors. In late May 1992, Sanjuan experienced pain in his shoulder, arm, and back while working as a flanker. III App. at 708. Sanjuan visited IBP's company nurse for treatment for his pain between May 1992 and June 1992. He eventually saw a doctor and Sanjuan was restricted to "light work." III App. at 711-12. Sanjuan's IBP supervisor was aware of his physical problem and restrictions.

Sanjuan testified that after he was assigned to light duty, his supervisors mistreated him by writing him up for disciplinary violations without explaining to Sanjuan (who spoke little English) the substance of the violations to him and by yelling at Sanjuan to return to the flanker job. III App. at 729-30, 731-32. Sanjuan testified that IBP supervisors threatened him if he did not return to the flanker job. III App. at 735-36. At trial, IBP supervisors denied that they mistreated Sanjuan and said that each disciplinary action they took was in response to a mistake in job performance by Sanjuan. II App. at 345.

Among the duties to which Sanjuan was assigned was driving cattle through a chute. This duty required Sanjuan to drive cattle through a chute, using a prod to keep the cattle moving. III App. at 727. On December 23, 1992, Sanjuan was working in the chute when a cow fell down, causing the line of cattle to stop for five minutes. Sanjuan testified that the cow slipped because of moisture in the chute. III App. at 762-64. Doug Bolton, an IBP supervisor, testified that he had seen cattle accidently slip in the chute, and had seen cattle enter the chute covered with snow and mud. IBP supervisors testified that Sanjuan over-shocked the cow with the cattle prod. II App. at 451. IBP contends that Sanjuan had been warned about over-shocking the cattle prior to the December 23, 1992, incident. However, Sanjuan testified that he had not been warned about over-shocking cattle.

Page 1296

Following the December 23 incident, Ron Christy, an IBP supervisor, made a written disciplinary report on Sanjuan. IV App. at 1092. After reviewing the report on the December 23, 1992, incident and noting that Sanjuan's record contained two previous written warnings, 4 the IBP Personnel Manager, Minh Duong, decided to discharge Sanjuan. Duong had knowledge that Sanjuan had been injured while working for IBP. II App. at 545. IBP terminated Sanjuan's employment on December 23, 1992. IV App. at 1092. Sanjuan was never disciplined prior to his work-related injury for job performance. III App. at 592; II App. at 211-12.

Sanjuan brought suit on December 12, 1994, alleging retaliatory termination of his employment. Before trial, IBP filed a motion in limine to exclude: (1) evidence that IBP personnel directors had heard complaints from other employees that IBP mistreats injured workers; (2) evidence of IBP's accident-free incentive programs; and (3) evidence of IBP's "cost per injury" goals for work injuries. I App. at 28-29. The district court made a preliminary ruling excluding the evidence. However, at trial, the court allowed Sanjuan's counsel to question Duong on other employees' complaints and the accident-free incentive program, over IBP's objection. III App. at 571, 583, 586. Duong testified that he had heard some complaints from employees about a practice of IBP harassing and mistreating injured employees. III App. at 583. Duong also testified that as part of the accident-free incentive program, groups of employees would receive prizes if no injuries were reported in the group for a period of time. III App. at 587. Sanjuan's counsel introduced testimony from Doug Bolton, another IBP supervisor, who said that IBP had set a specific annual goal that is an average cost of workers' compensation for all employees. III App. at 681-82. Bolton said that he had been informed that upper extremity injuries were costly to IBP. Id.

The jury found for Sanjuan and awarded him damages in the amount of $19,074 for lost past wages, $928 for loss of past fringe benefits, and the sum of $19,074 for embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress, for a total recovery of $39,076. I App. at 166. The jury did not award punitive damages. The judgment entered on this verdict is the subject of the appeal by IBP.

DISCUSSION

A

Whether the District Court Erred in Denying IBP's Motion for

a New Trial Because Evidence Admitted Over

Objection Supporting the Jury Verdict In

Favor of Sanjuan Was Inadmissible.

IBP argues that its Rule 59 motion for a new trial should have been granted because the district court erred in allowing the jury to hear evidence of (1) complaints by other employees; (2) IBP's accident-free incentive program; and (3) IBP's workers' compensation cost goals. IBP contends the evidence was inadmissible because it was irrelevant, its probative value outweighed by its prejudicial effect, and it constituted hearsay and impermissible character evidence.

We review denial of a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Unit Drilling Co. v. Enron Oil & Gas Co., 108 F.3d 1186, 1193 (10th Cir.1997); Patton v. TIC United Corp., 77 F.3d 1235 (10th Cir.1996), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1005, 116 S.Ct. 2525, 135 L.Ed.2d 1049 (1996). Because the issue whether a new trial ought to be granted hinges on the admissibility of evidence, our determination will be governed by our review of the admission of the evidence for abuse of discretion. United States v. Quintana, 70 F.3d 1167, 1170 (10th Cir.1995). If error is found in the admission of evidence, we will set aside a jury verdict only if the error prejudicially affects a substantial right of a party. Hinds v. General Motors Corp., 988 F.2d 1039, 1049 (10th Cir.1993). Evidence admitted in error can only be prejudicial "if it can be reasonably concluded that with or without such evidence, there would have been a contrary result." Id. (citing Smith v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 814 F.2d 1481 (10th Cir.1987)).

Page 1297

  1. Other Employees' Complaints

    The district court admitted, over hearsay objections, testimony of two IBP supervisors, Duong and Bolton, that they heard complaints by injured employees to the effect that they were harassed and mistreated following their injuries or claims for medical benefits. III App. at 583, 667, 670. IBP argues this evidence was hearsay, impermissible character evidence and irrelevant.

    We reject IBP's contention that mistreatment of other employees in similar circumstances is irrelevant and prejudicial. Because an employer will rarely admit retaliatory motives in firing an employee, retaliatory discharge cases generally must be proven by circumstantial rather than direct evidence. See Chaparro v. IBP, Inc., 873 F.Supp. 1465, 1472 (D.Kan.1995).

    We also reject IBP's assertion that other employee's complaints constitute impermissible character evidence. Evidence of prior acts is generally not admissible to prove the character of a person or to show the person acted in conformity therewith. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). However, character evidence is admissible in civil trials to show motive or intent. Id.; see also Spulak v. K Mart Corp., 894 F.2d 1150, 1156 (10th Cir.1990). The evidence here was offered to show that IBP had the motive or intent to mistreat employees following their work-related injuries and we find no error in its admission.

    The hearsay issue is more troublesome. Evidence is hearsay if it contains an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted therein. Fed.R.Evid. 801(c). An out-of-court statement is not hearsay under the Federal Rules of Evidence if it is offered to show its effect on the hearer of the statement. United States v. Nieto, 60 F.3d 1464, 1467-68 (10th Cir.1995). To determine whether other employees' complaints constitute hearsay, we must discern why the evidence is being offered.

    At trial, the district court admitted the evidence despite stating the evidence was "probably hearsay." III...

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105 practice notes
  • Meyer v. Christie, 120809 KSDC, 07-2230-CM
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • December 8, 2009
    ...and to raise an irresistible inference that passion, prejudice, corruption, or other improper cause invaded the trial. Sanjuan, 160 F.3d at 1300. However, a verdict that is excessive but is not the result of passion, prejudice, or another improper cause does not necessitate a new trial. Lew......
  • 222 S.W.3d 368 (Tenn.App. 2006), W2005-02161-COA-R3, Newcomb v. Kohler Co.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • September 5, 2006
    ...we have located a factually similar case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. In Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1295 (10th Cir. 1998), the plaintiff began to experience pain in his shoulder, arm, and back while employed with the defendant in May 1992. After s......
  • 208 F.Supp.2d 1187 (D.Kan. 2002), 94-2202, Burton v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • May 9, 2002
    ...it can be reasonably concluded that with or without such evidence, there would have been a contrary result." Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1296 (10th II. Arguments made jointly by defendants in their motions 2 Defendants argue in their motions that there was insufficient evidenc......
  • 564 F.Supp.2d 1189 (D.Colo. 2008), C. A. 90-cv-00181, Cook v. Rockwell Intern. Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit United States District Court of Colorado
    • May 20, 2008
    ...only appropriate, however, where the claimed error substantially and adversely affects the rights of a party. See Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1297 (10th Cir.1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. The burden of showing an error having this prejudicial effect rests on the party seeking the new tria......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
101 cases
  • Meyer v. Christie, 120809 KSDC, 07-2230-CM
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • December 8, 2009
    ...and to raise an irresistible inference that passion, prejudice, corruption, or other improper cause invaded the trial. Sanjuan, 160 F.3d at 1300. However, a verdict that is excessive but is not the result of passion, prejudice, or another improper cause does not necessitate a new trial. Lew......
  • 222 S.W.3d 368 (Tenn.App. 2006), W2005-02161-COA-R3, Newcomb v. Kohler Co.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • September 5, 2006
    ...we have located a factually similar case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. In Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1295 (10th Cir. 1998), the plaintiff began to experience pain in his shoulder, arm, and back while employed with the defendant in May 1992. After s......
  • 208 F.Supp.2d 1187 (D.Kan. 2002), 94-2202, Burton v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • May 9, 2002
    ...it can be reasonably concluded that with or without such evidence, there would have been a contrary result." Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1296 (10th II. Arguments made jointly by defendants in their motions 2 Defendants argue in their motions that there was insufficient evidenc......
  • 564 F.Supp.2d 1189 (D.Colo. 2008), C. A. 90-cv-00181, Cook v. Rockwell Intern. Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit United States District Court of Colorado
    • May 20, 2008
    ...only appropriate, however, where the claimed error substantially and adversely affects the rights of a party. See Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1297 (10th Cir.1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. The burden of showing an error having this prejudicial effect rests on the party seeking the new tria......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
3 provisions
  • Syed Jawed Akhtar-Zaidi, M.D.; Decision and Order
    • United States
    • Federal Register July 20, 2015
    • July 20, 2015
    ...in excluding evidence, that error must `` `prejudicially affect a substantial right of a party.' '' Id. (quoting Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1296 (10th Cir. 1998)). See also Air Canada v. Department of Trans., 148 F.3d 1142, 1156 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (``As incorporated into the APA, th......
  • Superior Pharmacy I and Superior Pharmacy II Decision and Order
    • United States
    • Federal Register May 18, 2016
    • May 18, 2016
    ...it can be reasonably concluded that with . . . such evidence, there would have been a contrary result.''') (quoting Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1296 (10th Cir. 1998)); see also Air Canada v. Department of Trans., 148 F.3d 1142, 1156 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (``As incorporated into the APA,......
  • Hatem M. Ataya, M.D.; Decision and Order; Introduction and Procedural History
    • United States
    • Federal Register February 18, 2016
    • February 18, 2016
    ...can be reasonably concluded that with . . . such evidence, there would have been a contrary result.' '') (quoting Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1296 (10th Cir. 1998)); see also Air Canada v. Department of Trans., 148 F.3d 1142, 1156 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (``As incorporated into the APA, t......