882 F.Supp. 836 (S.D.Iowa 1994), 4-91-CV-90085, Pulla v. Amoco Oil Co.

Docket Nº:4-91-CV-90085.
Citation:882 F.Supp. 836
Party Name:Thaddeus C. PULLA, Plaintiff, v. AMOCO OIL CO., Defendant.
Case Date:November 09, 1994
Court:United States District Courts, 8th Circuit

Page 836

882 F.Supp. 836 (S.D.Iowa 1994)

Thaddeus C. PULLA, Plaintiff,

v.

AMOCO OIL CO., Defendant.

No. 4-91-CV-90085.

United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Central Division.

Nov. 9, 1994

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I. John Rossi, Des Moines, IA, for plaintiff.

Charles E. Gribble, Pamela J. Prager, Whitfield & Eddy P.L.C., Patricia A. Shoff, Jo Ellen Whitney, Sharon K. Malheiro, Davis Hockenberg Wine Brown Koehn & Shors, Des Moines, IA, Michael A. Warner, Condon A. McGlothlen, Seyfarth Shaw Fairweather & Geraldson, Chicago, IL, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING AMOCO'S MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, AND FOR NEW TRIAL OR REMITTITUR

BENNETT, District Judge.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION .............................. 845

A. Introduction .................................................. 845

B. Summary Of Facts .............................................. 847

C. Amoco's Challenge To The Jury Verdict ......................... 847

D. Chart Of Issues, Waivers, And Disposition On The Merits ....... 848

  1. ANALYSIS ............................................................ 850

    A. Preservation Of Errors ........................................ 850

    1. Preservation Of Error And Rule 50 Motions ............... 851

    a. Reassertion Of A Rule 50 Motion ..................... 852

    b. Lack Of Reassertion Of Amoco's Rule 50 Motion ....... 855

    1. Objections To Jury Instructions ......................... 856

      a. Necessity, Purpose, And Effect Of Objections And Failure To Object ................................. 857

      1. Timing, Procedure, And Specificity Required For Objections ........................................ 858

      2. Amoco's Objections Or Lack Thereof .................. 859

      i. The Elements Of Invasion Of Privacy ......... 859

      ii. The Malice And Ratification Instructions On Punitive Damages .......................... 860

      1. The Appropriate Standard For Determining Amoco's Post-Trial Motions ..................................................... 862

      2. Attack On The Jury's Verdict Finding An Invasion Of Privacy ... 865

      1. The Elements Of Invasion Of Privacy Under Iowa Law ...... 865

    2. Proof Presented ......................................... 866

      a. Amoco's "Legitimate Objective" And The Degree Of Intrusion ......................................... 866

      b. The Degree Of Injury ................................ 867

      c. The Evidence Of Injury Here ......................... 869

      d. Ratification Requirement And Evidence Presented ..... 870

      1. Punitive Damages .............................................. 873

      1. The Purpose Of Punitive Damages Under Iowa Law .......... 873

    3. Actual Damages As A Prerequisite To Punitive Damages .... 874

    4. Malice .................................................. 878

      a. "Malice" Defined .................................... 879

      b. What Conduct Is Sufficient To Show Malice? .......... 880

      c. Sufficiency Of Evidence Of Malice In This Case ...... 881

    5. Ratification And Punitive Damages ....................... 882

    6. Was The Punitive Damage Award Excessive? ................ 882

      1. Remittitur .................................................... 889

  2. CONCLUSION .......................................................... 891

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    Challenging a jury award of $2 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages for invasion of privacy, defendant employer has filed post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law, and for new trial or remittitur. The employee's claim was based on the employer's examination of the employee's credit card records to attempt to determine whether the employee had been abusing sick leave.

    The employer makes several challenges to the jury's verdict finding an invasion of privacy asserting that there is insufficient evidence of the elements of the tort to sustain the verdict for the employee on that claim. The employer also makes several challenges to the jury's award of punitive damages based on sufficiency of evidence. Finally, the employer challenges the punitive damage award as excessive and in violation of due process. The motions require the court to consider whether the employer has preserved the errors it now complains of in its post-trial motions because the employer failed to renew a motion for judgment as a matter of law, first made at the conclusion of plaintiff's case, at the close of all evidence as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. The court must also consider, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 51, whether the employer preserved the alleged errors it now complains of in its post-trial motions in its objections to relevant jury instructions or failed to preserve error by failing to object to instructions. Despite its conclusions that errors have not been properly preserved, the court nonetheless examines the merits of each of the employer's claims by scrutinizing the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the jury's verdict. Finally, in response to the employer's post-trial assertion that the jury award of $500,000 in punitive damages was excessive, the court conducts the constitutionally required post-trial review of the punitive damage award.

    Before turning to the arguments presented here, the court briefly notes that the importance of the right of privacy has long been recognized in this country.

    Of all the rights of the citizen, few are of greater importance or more essential to [the citizen's] peace and happiness than the right of personal security, and that involves, not merely protection of [the citizen's] person from assault, but exemption of [the citizen's] private affairs, books, and papers from the inspection and scrutiny of others. Without the enjoyment of this right, all others would lose half their value.

    Interstate Commerce Comm'n v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 14 S.Ct. 1125, 38 L.Ed. 1047 (1894) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). 1 For this reason, the Fourth

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    Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the individual from unreasonable intrusions into private affairs by agents of the government:

    It cannot be too often repeated ... that the principles that embody the essence of constitutional liberty and security forbid all invasions on the part of the government and its employees of the sanctity of a [person's] home, and the privacies of [a person's] life....

    Id. In commenting on this right, Justice Holmes observed:

    Anyone who respects the spirit as well as the letter of the Fourth Amendment would be loath to believe that Congress intended to authorize one of its subordinate agencies to sweep all our traditions into the fire and to direct fishing expeditions into private papers on the possibility that they may disclose evidence of crime. We do not discuss the question whether it could do so if it tried, as nothing short of the most explicit language would induce us to attribute to Congress that intent.

    Federal Trade Comm'n v. American Tobacco Co., 264 U.S. 298, 305-06, 44 S.Ct. 336, 337, 68 L.Ed. 696 (1924) (citation omitted). For similar reasons, the vast majority of states recognize one or more forms of the common law tort action for invasion of privacy to protect individuals from invasion of their privacy by other private citizens or non-governmental entities. 2 The common-law tort remedy is intended to protect "the right of an individual to be let alone, to live a life of seclusion, to be free from unwarranted publicity." Bremmer v. Journal-Tribune Publishing Co., 247 Iowa 817, 821, 76 N.W.2d 762, 764 (1956). This lawsuit involves the form of the tort known as "intrusion upon seclusion," which has been recognized under Iowa common law. Stessman v. Am. Black Hawk Broadcasting Co., 416 N.W.2d 685, 687 (Iowa 1987); Winegard v. Larsen, 260 N.W.2d 816, 822 (Iowa 1977).

    I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION

    A. Introduction

    Plaintiff Thaddeus C. Pulla filed this action against his employer Amoco Oil Company on February 20, 1991, alleging age discrimination in the form of demotion and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and pendant state law claims, including a claim of invasion of privacy. On January 18, 1994, the parties filed a consent to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and the case was referred to me. 3

    After discovery and dispositive motions, this matter proceeded to trial before a jury on three of Pulla's claims on May 3, 1994. Those claims were the two age discrimination claims of demotion and retaliation and the invasion of privacy claim. After the conclusion of the presentation of Pulla's case on the afternoon of May 5, 1994, on the morning of May 6, 1994, Amoco moved for judgment as a matter of law on all of Pulla's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. The court reserved ruling on that motion. Strangely, Amoco did not reassert the motion for judgment as a matter of law at the conclusion of its own case at the end of the day. The court held the first of two jury instruction conferences on the record on the afternoon of May 6, 1994, and the second following the weekend break on the morning of May 9, 1994. The jury was instructed and the case was submitted to them on the morning of May 9, 1994.

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    The jury returned a verdict on the afternoon of May 9, 1994, finding in favor of Amoco and against Pulla on all claims except the invasion of privacy claim. 4 On the invasion of privacy claim, the jury awarded $1 in actual damages for past mental pain and suffering, and $1 in actual damages for future mental pain and suffering (reduced to present value). The jury also answered in the affirmative a...

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