Lala v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Cedar Rapids

Decision Date16 March 1988
Docket NumberNo. 86-1224,86-1224
Citation420 N.W.2d 804
PartiesLeo A. LALA, Jr., Appellant, v. PEOPLES BANK & TRUST COMPANY OF CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa, and Lawrence McGrath, Appellees.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Keith E. Uhl of Scalise, Scism, Sandre & Uhl, Des Moines, for appellant.

James Pickens of Pickens, Barnes & Abernathy, Cedar Rapids, for appellees.



Both parties appeal from the judgments of the district court following a jury trial upon plaintiff's claims that the defendants had negligently allowed his stamp collection to be removed from a safety deposit box in defendant's bank. The jury awarded the plaintiff both compensatory and punitive damages. The defendants' motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict was denied as to the compensatory damage award but was granted as to the punitive damage award. The defendants' motion for new trial was also denied. We affirm.

I. Background.

The plaintiff in this case is Leo A. Lala, Jr. The defendants (Bank) are Peoples Bank and Trust Company of Cedar Rapids and Lawrence McGrath, an officer of the bank. On January 17, 1978, Lala rented a safe deposit box from the defendant Bank and placed a stamp collection in the deposit box. The plaintiff was the only person authorized the right of access to the safe deposit box and he was given a key for the deposit box. On May 7, 1979, the plaintiff's wife, Donna, presented the safety deposit key to the Bank, signed the safe deposit box admission record, and she was permitted access to the deposit box. The stamp collection was then removed from the box and delivered to Othen (Otto) Sels. Donna Lala testified that she received a phone call from an "unknown, yet trusted source" that directed her to bring the safety deposit box key to the bank and meet with Sels. After the stamp collection was removed, Donna Lala closed out the safety deposit box rental and returned the key to the Bank. She testified she had no authorization from her husband to enter the safety deposit box and remove the stamp collection. It was several months later that she told him and he became aware the stamp collection had been removed from the Bank safety deposit box and delivered to Sels.

On April 30, 1981, Lala brought suit against the Bank based on the unauthorized removal of his stamps from the safety deposit box. The court bifurcated the trial and submitted first the issue of ownership of the stamp collection. The Bank claimed that Lala was not the owner of the stamp collection, but that he was holding them for Sels, a resident of West Germany. Sels had inherited a large stamp collection. Some of the stamps were liquidated, some were sent to England for safekeeping, and some were delivered to Lala. Sels testified the stamps were delivered to Lala for safekeeping, and that he, Sels, was the owner. Lala testified Sels had given the stamps to him as a gift. Sels and Lala had a long time friendship and business relationship. They had socialized together and had exchanged gifts in the past.

The jury found Lala was the owner of the stamps that had been removed from the safety deposit box on May 7, 1979. Both parties then offered additional evidence to the jury upon the negligence claim. This included evidence of the defendant bank's net worth and evidence relating to a separate lawsuit between Lala and Sels. The jury found the Bank negligent and fixed the value of the stamps at $15,000. They apportioned the negligence ninety percent to the Bank and ten percent to the plaintiff. They also awarded punitive damages of $38,500. The trial court entered judgment for the plaintiff for $13,500, and set aside the judgment for the plaintiff for punitive damages.

II. Scope of Review.

Our review is for correction of errors of law. Iowa R.App.P. 4. After the jury rendered its verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded both actual and punitive damages, the Bank moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdicts. A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict must stand on grounds raised in the motion for a directed verdict. On appeal, review by the appellate court is limited to those grounds raised in the directed verdict motion. When considering the motion, the court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is directed, in this case, the plaintiff. If, under this view of the evidence, there is substantial evidence in support of the plaintiff's claims, the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict should be denied. If there is no substantial evidence in support of the elements of the plaintiff's claim, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in defendant's favor is appropriate. Valadez v. City of Des Moines, 324 N.W.2d 475, 477-78 (Iowa 1982). The question is whether the evidence, taken in a light most favorable to the party resisting the motion and taking every legitimate inference that might be fairly or reasonably deducted therefrom, showed that the movant was entitled to a directed verdict at the close of all evidence. Suss v. Schammel, 375 N.W.2d 252, 255 (Iowa 1985).

III. Issues.

The parties raise three issues on appeal. First, did the district court err in setting aside the judgment for punitive damages? Second, did the court err in not granting a new trial because evidence of the net worth of the defendant Bank had been allowed? Third, did the court err in not granting a new trial because evidence of the amount paid by Sels in settlement of an unrelated lawsuit brought by Lala against Sels had been allowed?

Although the Bank questioned whether the plaintiff offered sufficient evidence to support his claim of ownership of the stamps and sufficient evidence of their value, these concerns were not identified as distinct issues in the Bank's brief, nor did the Bank cite authority to support its claims. Failure to state an issue or provide authority in support of that issue in a brief may be deemed waiver of that issue. Iowa R.App.P. 14(a)(3); Hubby v. State, 331 N.W.2d 690, 694 (Iowa 1983) ("random discussion of difficulties, unless assigned as an issue, will not be considered"). Because the Bank did not properly state or support these concerns, we will not consider them on appeal.

IV. Punitive Damages.

Punitive damages are awarded as punishment and as a deterrent to the wrongdoer and others. These damages are incidental to the main cause of action and are not recoverable as of right. See Pringle Tax Serv., Inc. v. Knoblauch, 282 N.W.2d 151, 154 (Iowa 1979). Punitive damages are justified when a defendant acts maliciously. See Beeck v. Aquaslide 'N' Dive Corp., 350 N.W.2d 149, 167 (Iowa 1984). Malice may be actual (express), such as personal spite, hatred, or ill will, or it may be legal (implied), such as when the defendant acts illegally or improperly with willful or reckless disregard for another's rights....

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    • United States
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    ...the Court will apply tort choice of law rules.6 The claim for punitive damages is a claim for remedy. See Lala v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co., 420 N.W.2d 804, 807 (Iowa 1988) ("Punitive damages are ... incidental to the main cause of action and are not recoverable as of right.") (citation omit......
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    • May 5, 2017 cure the error. This is what is colloquially referred to as the "fight fire with fire" theory. See Lala v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Cedar Rapids , 420 N.W.2d 804, 807–08 (Iowa 1988) (recognizing the doctrine of curative admissibility when inadmissible evidence is introduced into the r......
  • State v. Vance
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    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • February 25, 2020
    ...the plaintiff has shown neither that inadmissible testimony was offered or that prejudice resulted." (citing Lala v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co., 420 N.W.2d 804, 807-08 (Iowa 1988) )). In keeping with the overall concern for fairness, if the doctrine is deemed applicable, the inadmissible evid......
  • Bennett v. City of Redfield
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • September 20, 1989
    ...the verdict, urged upon the same grounds as the motion for directed verdict, should have been granted. Lala v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co., 420 N.W.2d 804, 806 (Iowa 1988). If there was substantial evidence to support each element of the claim, then the court properly denied the Liberty Intere......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Curative Admissibility: Fighting Fire With Fire
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 23-10, October 1994
    • Invalid date
    ...So.2d 660 (Ala. 1991); Burke v. Memorial Hospital, 558 N.E.2d 1146 (Mass.App. 1990); Lola v. Peoples Bank and Trust Co. of Cedar Rapids, 420 N.W.2d 804 (Iowa 1988); Thurman v. Pepsi Cola Bottling Co., 289 N.W.2d 141 (Minn. 1980); Winn v. Sundquist, 45 P.2d 1085 (Ore. 1971). 3. See Colorado ......

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