311 U.S. 243 (1940), 30, Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan

Docket Nº:No. 30
Citation:311 U.S. 243, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147
Party Name:Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan
Case Date:December 09, 1940
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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311 U.S. 243 (1940)

61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147

Montgomery Ward & Co.

v.

Duncan

No. 30

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 9, 1940

Argued November 12, 1940

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. A defendant who moved the District Court successfully for judgment non obstante veredicto and who thereupon urged that, because of the granting of the judgment, his alternative motion (on other grounds) for a new trial had passed out of the case, did not thereby elect to stand upon his motion for judgment alone and abandon his right to have the motion for new trial decided by the District Court should his judgment be reversed on appeal. P. 249.

2. Under Rule 50(b) of the Rules of Civil Procedure for the District Courts, the granting of a motion for judgment non obstante veredicto does not effect an automatic denial of an alternative motion for a new trial. Pp. 249-250.

3. The provision of the rule that "A motion for a new trial may be joined with this motion [for judgment non obstante veredicto,] or a new trial may be prayed for, in the alternative" -- does not confine the trial judge to an initial choice of disposing of either motion to the exclusion of the other. P. 251.

4. Rule 50(b) should be so administered as to accomplish all that is permissible under its terms in avoidance of delay in litigation. P. 253.

5. Under Rule 50(b), where there is a motion for judgment non obstante veredicto and in the alternative for a new trial because of trial errors and matters appealing to the judge's discretion, the judge should rule on the motion for judgment, and, whatever the ruling thereon, should also rule on the motion for new trial, indicating the grounds of his decision. If he grants judgment non obstante veredicto and denies a new trial, the party who obtained the verdict may appeal from that judgment, and the appellee may cross-assign error to rulings of law at the trial, so that, if the appellate court reverses the order for judgment non obstante veredicto, it may pass on the errors of law which the appellee asserts nullify the judgment on the verdict. P. 253.

6. Where the District Court granted judgment non obstante veredicto to the defendant, but failed to pass upon defendant's motion in the alternative fr a new trial, and the granting of the judgment

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non obstante veredicto was adjudged erroneous and reversed on appeal, held, that in view of the novelty of the procedure under Rule 50(b) and other circumstances, the cause should be remanded to the District Court with directions to hear and rule upon the motion for a new trial. P. 254.

108 F.2d 848 modified.

Certiorari, 309 U.S. 650, to review a judgment of the court below which reversed a judgment of the District Court for the defendant entered non obstante veredicto and remanded the case with instructions to the District Court to enter judgment on the verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

ROBERTS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we are called upon to determine the appropriate procedure under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.1

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To recover damages for personal injuries, respondent (hereinafter spoken of as plaintiff) brought action against petitioner (hereinafter spoken of as defendant), pursuant to an Arkansas statute declaring that corporations should be liable for injuries to an employee attributable to the negligence of a fellow employe. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff, while in the defendant's service, had been so injured. The answer denied the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant; denied he was injured in the manner described or by the negligence of his co-employee, and set up assumption of risk. At the close of the evidence upon the trial, the defendant moved for a directed verdict. The motion was denied, and the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff on which judgment was entered. Within ten days, the defendant filed its written motion in the following form:

Comes the defendant, Montgomery Ward & Company, and files its motion praying that the jury's verdict herein and the judgment rendered and entered thereon be set aside and judgment entered herein for the defendant notwithstanding the verdict, and its motion for a new trial in the alternative, and, as grounds therefor, states:

Thereunder, in heading A, it set out nine reasons in support of the motion for judgment, four of which were general, to the effect that the verdict was contrary to law, to the evidence, to the law and the evidence, and that the court erred in refusing to direct a verdict. Four challenged the sufficiency of the evidence as to negligence, as to the existence of the employment [61 S.Ct. 192] relation,

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and as to assumption of risk, to support the verdict. One dealt with the preponderance of the evidence, and was therefore inappropriate in support of the motion.

Under heading B, in support of the motion for a new trial, the same reasons as were assigned for the other motion were, with an immaterial exception, repeated, and additional reasons were added to the effect that the damages were excessive, that the court erred in ruling upon evidence, and in refusing to give requested instructions.

The motion concluded thus:

Wherefore, the defendant prays that the verdict of the jury herein, and the judgment rendered and entered thereon, be set aside, and a judgment rendered and entered herein in favor of the defendant, and defendant further prays in the alternative that, in the event the Court refuses to set aside the verdict rendered for the plaintiff and the judgment in favor of the plaintiff rendered and entered on said verdict, and refuses to render and enter judgment herein in favor of the defendant notwithstanding said verdict and judgment, that the court set aside said verdict and judgment on behalf of the plaintiff and grant the defendant a new trial herein.

The District Court rendered an opinion2 holding that there was no evidence of negligence on the part of the co-employee, and that therefore judgment should be entered for the defendant.

The plaintiff filed a motion praying that, to limit the issues on appeal, the court's order and judgment specifically show the grounds on which relief was granted, and "in order that the judgment of the appellate court may be final," the motion for a new trial be overruled. The court, however, merely entered a judgment for the defendant notwithstanding the verdict.

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The plaintiff filed a second motion reciting that at a hearing upon his earlier motion, the defendant had resisted the contention that the court should rule on the motion for a new trial as that motion "passed out of existence and consideration on the granting of its motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict." The plaintiff further recited that the court did not pass upon the plaintiff's contentions, but simply entered a judgment in favor of the defendant, and renewed his prayer that the court consider the motion, modify the judgment to specify the grounds upon which relief was granted, and dispose of all issues raised by both motions. This was denied.

The plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that the District Court erred in holding the evidence insufficient to make a case for a jury. It reversed the judgment and remanded the cause with instructions to the District Court to enter judgment on the verdict in favor of the plaintiff.3 It overruled the defendant's contention that the case should be remanded with leave to the trial court to dispose of the motion for a new trial.

The importance of a decision by this court, respecting the proper practice under Rule 50(b), and a conflict of decisions,4 moved us to grant certiorari. 309 U.S. 650.

The Circuit Court of Appeals said:

Strictly speaking the motion did not pray for relief in the "alternative," giving the court a choice between

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two [61 S.Ct. 193] propositions either of which he might grant in the first instance. The court was asked to rule on the motion for a new trial only "in the event" he "refuses to set aside the verdict . . . and judgment . . . and refuses to enter judgment herein in favor of the defendant. . . ." The court having granted the prayer of the motion as made did not err in not ruling on the motion for a new trial. The condition on which the court was asked to grant a new trial did not come into existence. The new rules are not intended to prolong litigation by permitting litigants to try cases piecemeal. Their purpose would not be accomplished if when relief is asked on condition or, in the alternative, the successful party could on reversal go back to the trial court and demand a ruling on his conditional or alternative proposition. The order sustaining the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict was equivalent to a denial of the motion for a new trial, and the latter motion passed out of the case upon the entry of the order.

The defendant contends that the rule continues the existing practice respecting granting of new trials, and also regulates the procedure for rendering judgment notwithstanding a verdict; that the provision for an alternative motion for a new trial would be meaningless and nugatory if the granting of the motion for judgment operated automatically to dismiss it, since the bases of the two motions are, or may be, different, and orderly procedure requires that the court first rule on the motion for judgment, the granting of which renders unnecessary a ruling upon the motion for a new trial, which should be reserved until final disposition of the former.

The plaintiff insists that the trial court is limited to a choice of action on one motion or the other, but cannot rule upon the motion for judgment and leave that for a new trial to be disposed of only if judgment notwithstanding

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the...

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