991 F.2d 474 (8th Cir. 1993), 92-2940, Johnson v. Cowell Steel Structures, Inc.

Docket Nº:92-2940.
Citation:991 F.2d 474
Party Name:Billy R. JOHNSON and Beverly A. Johnson, Appellants, v. COWELL STEEL STRUCTURES, INC., f/k/a B.C. Steel Co., Appellee.
Case Date:April 16, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 474

991 F.2d 474 (8th Cir. 1993)

Billy R. JOHNSON and Beverly A. Johnson, Appellants,


COWELL STEEL STRUCTURES, INC., f/k/a B.C. Steel Co., Appellee.

No. 92-2940.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 16, 1993

Submitted March 19, 1993.

Page 475

David Maxwell Duree, St. Louis, MO, argued, for appellants.

Terrance Joseph Good, St. Louis, MO, argued (Terrance J. Good and Carolyn M. Kopsky, on the brief), for appellee.

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Before BOWMAN and MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judges, and KYLE, [*] District Judge.

KYLE, District Judge.

Appellants Billy R. Johnson and Beverly A. Johnson (the "Johnsons") appeal from the district court's 1 (1) entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of appellee Cowell Steel Structures, Inc. ("Cowell") on their claim for punitive damages and (2) order denying their post-trial motion for a new trial on compensatory damages. We affirm.

I. Background

From 1968 through 1988, the Johnsons operated Ace Novelty, a multi-faceted enterprise consisting of (1) vending machine routes, (2) a parts supply business for electronic games, (3) a business for repairing and servicing electronic vending machines, (4) a bingo supply business, (5) a cigarette supply business, and (6) a showroom/sales business for foosball tables, pinball machines, pool tables and jukeboxes.

In 1984, the Johnsons arranged to construct a single building from which they could operate Ace Novelty. The building that they constructed was composed of a structural steel frame and was enclosed in a metal skin. Cowell fabricated and supplied the steel members for the building's structural steel skeleton, including the welds joining the structural steel.

On December 14, 1987, certain welds connecting the structural steel frame of the building failed, causing the building to partially collapse. The Johnsons spent the next six months repairing the building. During that time, all of their businesses were either completely interrupted or interrupted to some degree. Eventually, the Johnsons were forced to sell the building and sell or terminate most of their business operations, except for the bingo supply business, which they currently operate from their home.

The Johnsons filed suit against Cowell, claiming that the building's collapse interrupted their business, thereby causing them to suffer economic losses. The Johnsons also sought punitive damages under Missouri law. Cowell admitted negligence and liability for compensatory damages, but contested the amount of those damages; it denied liability for punitive damages.

This action was tried before a jury. At the close of the plaintiff's case, and again at the close of all the evidence, Cowell moved for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a), on the Johnsons' claim for punitive damages. The district court granted Cowell's motion, concluding that Cowell's actions in making and inspecting the welds did not rise to the level of conduct necessary to submit the Johnsons' punitive damages claim to the jury. T.Tr., at 314-15.

The jury awarded the Johnsons compensatory damages in the amount of $26,250. Thereafter, the Johnsons filed motions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 and 59 for a new trial on compensatory and punitive damages, and in the alternative, a motion for additur to increase the compensatory damage award from $26,250 to $35,529. The district court denied those motions. 2

II. Discussion

A. Motion for New Trial on Compensatory Damages

A district court's order denying a motion for a new trial on the issue of damages will not be reversed absent a showing that the district court abused its discretion. 3 Warren v. Fanning, 950 F.2d

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1370, 1374 (8th Cir.1991) (quoting Champeau v. Fruehauf Corp., 814 F.2d 1271, 1274 (8th Cir.1987). The law of the forum state guides us when determining the adequacy of a jury's verdict. Vanskike v. Union Pacific. R. Co., 725 F.2d 1146, 1150 (8th Cir.1984).

The Johnsons sought compensatory damages only...

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