Badahman v. Catering St. Louis, SC 92796.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Citation395 S.W.3d 29
Docket NumberNo. SC 92796.,SC 92796.
PartiesSarah BADAHMAN, Respondent, v. CATERING ST. LOUIS, et al., Appellants.
Decision Date09 April 2013

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

David R. Bohm and Laura Gerdes Long, Danna McKitrick PC, St. Louis, for Catering St. Louis.

Gregory A. Rich, Dobson, Goldberg, Berns & Rich LLP, St. Louis, for Badahman.

ZEL M. FISCHER, Judge.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Sarah Badahman and against Catering St. Louis and its president, Mark Erker (collectively “CSL”), in the amount of $11,250 for compensatory damages and $2,000 for punitive damages. Badahman filed a motion for additur or, in the alternative, a new trial pursuant to § 537.068,1Rule 78.01, and Rule 78.02. The circuit court sustained Badahman's motion and gave the parties 30 days to accept a higher amount of compensatory damages or elect a new trial on these damages only. CSL would not agree to the enhanced compensatory damage award. The circuit court ordered a new trial on the basis that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. CSL briefed and argued a challenge to the constitutional validity of § 537.068, specifically alleging that permitting a circuit court to increase an award through additur violates the constitutional right to a trial by jury. However, because CSL elected a new jury trial on the issue of damages rather than to accept the circuit court's award of additur, the circuit court's order preserves CSL's right to a jury trial and the sole issue left to be decided in this case is whether or not the circuit court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial. CSL alleges that the circuit court abused its discretion in sustaining Badahman's motion. 2 CSL also argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial limited to the issue of damages only. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in sustaining the motion. Affirmed.

Facts

In 2008, CSL hired Badahman as a recruiter at a yearly salary of $45,000. Her job duties required her to attend job fairs, attend catering events throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, and have reliable transportation. In July 2008, Badahman, who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a child, learned that her neurologist was suspending her driver's license for a period of at least six months. She continued working at CSL for two more weeks without a driver's license, using alternative modes of transportation to carry out her duties. Badahman met with Erker to discuss whether Badahman would be able to perform her job without a driver's license. They discussed Badahman using taxis, public transportation, rides with the catering van and co-workers, and even the hiring of a private driver. At the end of the meeting, Erker terminated Badahman's employment.

Badahman was unemployed for approximately three months after her termination. She obtained a job at Gateway Healthcare as a practice manager, earning an annual salary of $27,000. Badahman then left that position to become an office manager for Dr. Rashid Dalal, M.D., in Illinois, earning an annual salary of $33,000. At the time of trial, Badahman still held that position.

In September 2009, Badahman filed this action against CSL, pursuant to the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), § 213.010 et seq., alleging CSL discriminated against her because of her disability and retaliated against her in violation of the MHRA.3 Badahman requested $44,979.72 in lost wages at trial, as well as compensation for emotional harm suffered as a result of her termination. Badahman testified that her actual damages were the difference between $45,000 per year—her projected salary at CSL—and the actual amount of the salaries she received between her termination date and trial. In support of this at trial, Badahman submitted pay stubs, tax documents, and a spreadsheet on which she calculated her damages. CSL did not challenge that Badahman had been out of work for three months or that she later accepted employment at salaries of $27,000 and $33,000. CSL argued that Badahman failed to mitigate her damages 4 and that she would not have been able to perform her duties had she continued her employment at CSL.

The jury returned a verdict against CSL and Erker, awarding Badahman $11,250 in actual damages, or the equivalent of three months of Badahman's salary at CSL. The same jury found CSL liable for punitive damages, but found Erker was not. In a bifurcated proceeding, the jury returned a verdict awarding Badahman $2,000 in punitive damages against CSL.5 A judgment was entered in accordance with the jury's verdict.

Badahman filed a motion for additur or, in the alternative, a motion for new trial on the issue of damages, pursuant to § 537.068, Rule 78.01, and Rule 78.02.6 Badahman asserted that she had presented uncontradicted evidence that her actual damages were $44,979.72 and argued that, because there was no basis for the jury awarding her approximately 25% of that amount, the award was against the weight of the evidence. Badahman requested the circuit court increase the jury award to $44,979.12 or grant her a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages. The circuit court sustained the motion. The circuit court's ruling stated that the jury's award of $11,250 was “inadequate because it is less than fair and reasonable compensation. It is surely against the weight of the evidence.” 7 The parties were granted 14 days, later amended to 30 days, to accept the higher amount of damages or elect to have a new trial on the issue of damages only. CSL would not accept the enhanced compensatory damage award. The previous judgment was set aside, and the circuit court ordered a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages only.

Section 537.068 Does Not Violate The Right to Trial by Jury

CSL alleges that § 537.068 violates the constitutional right to trial by jury. Article I, section 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution states that “the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate [.] Section 537.068 allows the circuit court to “increase the size of a jury's award if the court finds that the jury's verdict is inadequate because the amount of the verdict is less than fair and reasonable compensation for plaintiff's injuries and damages.” CSL argues that, because the right to jury trial did not include additur at the time of the adoption of the Missouri Constitution, and the statutes allowing for additur in Missouri allow the circuit court to substitute its judgment as to the proper amount of damages for that of the jury, then § 537.068 and Rule 78.10 violate art. I, sec. 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution.

“A statute is presumed to be constitutional and will not be held to be unconstitutional unless it clearly and undoubtedly contravenes the constitution; it should be enforced by the courts unless it plainly and palpably affronts fundamental law embodied in the constitution.” Blaske v. Smith & Entzeroth, Inc., 821 S.W.2d 822, 828 (Mo. banc 1991). “When the constitutionality of a statute is attacked, the burden is upon the party claiming the statute is unconstitutional to prove the statute is unconstitutional.” Id. at 828–29. “It is a well accepted canon of statutory construction that if one interpretation of a statute results in the statute being constitutional while another interpretation would cause it to be unconstitutional, the constitutional interpretation is presumed to have been intended.” Id. at 838–39.

“The right to a civil jury trial is a personal right and, therefore, it may be waived.” Malan Realty Investors, Inc. v. Harris, 953 S.W.2d 624, 626 (Mo. banc 1997). In Missouri, the circuit court cannot grant a motion for additur without also finding that grounds exist for granting a new trial. “To sustain a motion for additur, a trial court must determine good cause warrants a new trial on damages or the verdict is against the weight of the evidence.” Massman Const. Co. v. Missouri Hwy. & Transp. Com'n, 914 S.W.2d 801, 803 (Mo. banc 1996) (citing Tucci v. Moore, 875 S.W.2d 115, 116 (Mo. banc 1994)). Rule 78.01; Rule 78.02. “A motion for additur focuses on the adequacy of the verdict in terms of damages and, if sustained, has two possible outcomes, an increase in the amount of the verdict upon defendant's consent, or a new trial.” Id. “When grounds for additur exist, a trial court may grant a new trial only if defendant refuses to accept an increased verdict.” Id.

The circuit court in this case granted Badahman's motion for additur or, in the alternative, a new trial on the issue of damages. CSL had two options: it could have accepted the additur amount, thereby waiving its right to a jury trial and accepting the amount determined by the circuit court, or it would have a new jury trial. CSL refused to accept the additur. In this case, the circuit court's order resulted in nothing more or less than a new jury trial on the issue of compensatory damages. The circuit court recognized that conditional additur as authorized by § 537.068 and Rule 78 was not the same additur held to violate the right to jury trial in Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 55 S.Ct. 296, 79 L.Ed. 603 (1935). The order sustaining the motion stated:

Additur in Missouri, however, is very different than the additur found wanting in Dimick. Although § 537.068 makes no mention of giving either plaintiff or defendant an opportunity to refuse additur, Rule 78.10(b) allows any party the right to reject additur in favor of a new trial. The fault found in Dimick was that the additur was not consented to by both parties, Dimick at 486–487 . In Missouri, both parties must [ ] agree to the additur. If they do not, there is a new jury trial to assess damages. Therefore, the court rejects the contention that additur violates the Missouri Constitution.”

Appellate Standard of Review on Motions for Additur and, Alternatively, New Trial

CSL argues the circuit court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial, after CSL refused additur, because the jury's...

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