Chen v. Chen, 060120 PASUP, 1203 MDA 2019

Docket Nº:1203 MDA 2019
Opinion Judge:DUBOW, J.
Party Name:KAIFENG CHEN v. QIONG CHEN AND QIN LIANG CHEN Appellants
Judge Panel:BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., STABILE, J., and DUBOW, J.
Case Date:June 01, 2020
Court:Superior Court of Pennsylvania
 
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KAIFENG CHEN

v.

QIONG CHEN AND QIN LIANG CHEN Appellants

No. 1203 MDA 2019

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 1, 2020

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37

Appeal from the Judgment Entered September 25, 2019 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County Civil Division at No(s): 2015-CV-5089

BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., STABILE, J., and DUBOW, J.

MEMORANDUM

DUBOW, J.

Appellants, Qiong Chen and Qin Liang Chen, appeal from the Judgment entered September 25, 2019, following a jury verdict that awarded Appellee, Kaifeng Chen, $92, 000 in compensatory damages and $200, 000 in punitive damages in his claim of malicious prosecution. We discern neither prejudicial error nor abuse of discretion by the court in the trial proceedings. Accordingly, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

In April 2012, Appellee Chen worked as a sushi chef in one of Appellants' restaurants on a trial basis. Following the trial period, Appellant Mrs. Chen fired Appellee and paid him wages in cash. A dispute arose concerning the form of payment, whether taxes were withheld, and whether Appellants would provide bus fare (per prior agreement) back to New York City. Trial Ct. Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Op., 9/10/19, at 1-2.

The dispute intensified, with Appellee threatening to report Appellants to authorities. Appellant Mrs. Chen assaulted Appellee, throwing two pots and a ladle of hot oil at him; Appellee called the police. Appellant Mr. Chen arrived at the restaurant, and he too assaulted Appellee, hitting him and knocking him to the ground. Id. at 2-3.

When the police arrived, however, Appellants claimed that Appellee had assaulted them. Believing Appellants, the police took Appellee into custody at gunpoint and charged him pursuant to Appellants' claims. Id. at 3. The criminal matter proceeded to trial. In October 2014, a jury acquitted Appellee of all charges. Id. at 3-4.

In August 2015, Appellee filed a Complaint, asserting that Appellants had instituted criminal proceedings against him maliciously. Complaint, 8/24/15. A jury trial commenced in June 2019.

At trial, Appellee established expenses he incurred to defend against the criminal proceedings, as well as lost wages and other expenses, and he testified to the emotional trauma he suffered. Trial Ct. Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Op. at 3-4. Following deliberations, a jury awarded Appellee $92, 000 in compensatory damages and $200, 000 in punitive damages. Id. at 1.

Appellants timely filed Post-Trial Motions, which the trial court denied. Appellants timely appealed1 and filed a court-ordered Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) Statement. The trial court issued a responsive Opinion.

ISSUES

Despite purporting to raise thirteen distinct issues on appeal,

see Appellants' Br. at 6-9, Appellants have organized their argument into four sections. See Appellants' Br. at i-ii, 18, 28, 40, 48. Within these four sections, Appellants assert several claims-some overlapping, some distinct. See id. at 18-52. We are able to discern the following issues for our review: 1. Whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion in denying Appellants judgment notwithstanding the verdict ["JNOV"] on the claim of malicious prosecution, where Appellee failed to establish that:

a. Appellants instituted proceedings against Appellee without probable cause and

b. Appellants acted with malice; and

2. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it failed to grant Appellants a new trial, where:

a. The jury award for both compensatory and punitive damages was against the weight of the evidence;

b. The trial court failed to ensure a fair and impartial jury, permitted improper contact between a juror and a witness, and condoned misconduct by the court-appointed interpreter; and

c. The trial court abused its discretion by admitting Appellants' tax records, where such evidence was unfairly prejudicial.

See id.2

JNOV

In their first issue, Appellants assert that the trial court erred or abused its discretion in denying their Post-trial Motion seeking JNOV. Appellants' Br. at 18. According to Appellants, Appellee failed to establish either that Appellants instituted criminal proceedings against him without probable cause or that Appellants acted with malice. Id. This claim is without merit.

We review the denial of a request for JNOV for an error of law that controlled the outcome of the case or an abuse of discretion. Hutchinson v. Penske Truck Leasing Co., 876 A.2d 978, 984 (Pa. Super. 2005). In this context, an "[a]buse of discretion occurs if the trial court renders a judgment that is manifestly unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious; that fails to apply the law; or that is motivated by partiality, prejudice, bias or [ill will]." Id. (citation omitted).

When reviewing the denial of a request for JNOV, the appellate court examines the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner. Thomas Jefferson Univ. v. Wapner, 903 A.2d 565, 569 (Pa. Super. 2006) (citation omitted). Thus, "the grant of [JNOV] should only be entered in a clear case[.]" Id. (citation omitted).

There are two bases upon which a movant is entitled to JNOV: "one, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and/or two, the evidence was such that no two reasonable minds could disagree that the outcome should have been rendered in favor of the movant." Rohm and Haas Co. v. Continental Cas. Co., 781 A.2d 1172, 1176 (Pa. 2001) (citation omitted). When an appellant challenges a jury's verdict on this latter basis, we will grant relief only "when the jury's verdict is so contrary to the evidence as to shock one's sense of justice." Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. 69th St. Retail Mall, L.P., 126 A.3d 959, 967 (Pa. Super. 2015) (internal citation omitted).

In this case, Appellants suggest that the jury's verdict "is not consistent with the evidence[.]" Appellants' Br. at 28. According to Appellants, the verdict "baffles the mind", and "[t]here is no logical basis for reconciling the evidence presented at trial and the jury's verdict." Id. Thus, Appellants seek JNOV on the latter basis. See Rohm and Haas Co., 781 A.2d at 1176.

To establish a claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must establish that the defendants initiated proceedings against the plaintiff (1) without probable cause, (2) with malice, and (3) that the proceedings terminated in plaintiff's favor. Bradley v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co., 778 A.2d 707, 710 (Pa. Super. 2001). The fact-finder may infer malice from the...

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