Montgomery Ward Co v. Duncan, No. 30

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtROBERTS
Citation311 U.S. 243,85 L.Ed. 147,61 S.Ct. 189
Docket NumberNo. 30
Decision Date09 December 1940
PartiesMONTGOMERY WARD & CO. v. DUNCAN

311 U.S. 243
61 S.Ct. 189
85 L.Ed. 147
MONTGOMERY WARD & CO.

v.

DUNCAN.

No. 30.
Argued Nov. 12, 1940.
Decided Dec. 9, 1940.

Page 244

Messrs. John A. Barr, of Chicago, Ill., and J. Merrick Moore, of Little Rock, Ark., for petitioner.

Mr. Edward H. Coulter, of Little Rock, Ark., for respondent.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we are called upon to determine the appropriate procedure under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.1

Page 245

To recover damages for personal injuries, respondent (hereinafter spoken of as plaintiff) brought action against petitioner (hereinafter spoken of as defendant), pursuant to an Arkansas statute declaring that corporations should be liable for injuries to an employe attributable to the negligence of a fellow employe. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff, while in the defendant's service, had been so injured. The answer denied the plaintiff was an employe of the defendant; denied he was injured in the manner described or by the negligence of his co-employe, and set up assumption of risk. At the close of the evidence upon the trial, the defendant moved for a directed verdict. The motion was denied and the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff on which judgment was entered. Within ten days the defendant filed its written motion in the following form:

'Comes the defendant, Montgomery Ward & Company, and files its motion praying that the jury's verdict herein and the judgment rendered and entered thereon be set aside and judgment entered herein for the defendant notwithstanding the verdict, and its motion for a new trial in the alternative, and as grounds therefor states:'

Thereunder, in heading A, it set out nine reasons in support of the motion for judgment, four of which were general, to the effect that the verdict was contrary to law, to the evidence, to the law and the evidence, and that the court erred in refusing to direct a verdict. Four challenged the sufficiency of the evidence as to negligence, as to the existence of the employment relation,

Page 246

and as to assumption of risk, to support the verdict. One dealt with the preponderance of the evidence and was therefore inappropriate in support of the motion.

Under heading B, in support of the motion for a new trial, the same reasons as were assigned for the other motion were, with an immaterial exception, repeated; and additional reasons were added to the effect that the damages were excessive; that the court erred in ruling upon evidence, and in refusing to give requested instructions.

The motion concluded thus:

'Wherefore, the defendant prays that the verdict of the jury herein, and the judgment rendered and entered thereon, be set aside, and a judgment rendered and entered herein in favor of the defendant; and defendant further prays in the alternative that in the event the Court refuses to set aside the verdict rendered for the plaintiff and the judgment in favor of the plaintiff rendered and entered on said verdict, and refuses to render and enter judgment herein in favor of the defendant notwithstanding said verdict and judgment, that the court set aside said verdict and judgment on behalf of the plaintiff and grant the defendant a new trial herein.'

The District Court rendered an opinion2 holding that there was no evidence of negligence on the part of the co-employe and that, therefore, judgment should be entered for the defendant.

The plaintiff filed a motion praying that, to limit the issues on appeal, the court's order and judgment specifically show the grounds on which relief was granted, and 'in order that the judgment of the appellate court may be final', the motion for a new trial be overruled. The court, however, merely entered a judgment for the defendant notwithstanding the verdict.

Page 247

The plaintiff filed a second motion reciting that, at a hearing upon his earlier motion, the defendant had resisted the contention that the court should rule on the motion for a new trial as that motion 'passed out of existence and consideration on the granting of its motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.' The plaintiff further recited that the court did not pass upon the plaintiff's contentions but simply entered a judgment in favor of the defendant, and renewed his prayer that the court consider the motion, modify the judgment to specify the grounds upon which relief was granted, and dispose of all issues raised by both motions. This was denied.

The plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that the District Court erred in holding the evidence insufficient to make a case for a jury. It reversed the judgment and remanded the cause with instructions to the District Court to enter judgment on the verdict in favor of the plaintiff.3 It overruled the defendant's contention that the case should be remanded with leave to the trial court to dispose of the motion for a new trial.

The importance of a decision by this court, respecting the proper practice under Rule 50(b), and a conflict of decisions,4 moved us to grant certiorari. 309 U.S. 650, 60 S.Ct. 809, 84 L.Ed. 1001.

The Circuit Court of Appeals said:

'Strictly speaking the motion did not pray for relief in the 'alternative', giving the court a choice between

Page 248

two propositions either of which he might grant in the first instance. The court was asked to rule on the motion for a new trial only 'in the event' he 'refuses to set aside the verdict * * * and judgment * * * and refuses to enter judgment herein in favor of the defendant. * * *' The court having granted the prayer of the motion as made did not err in not ruling on the motion for a new trial. The condition on which the court was asked to grant a new trial did not come into existence. The new rules are not intended to prolong litigation by permitting litigants to try cases piecemeal. Their purpose would not be accomplished if when relief is asked on condition or in the alternative the successful party could on reversal go back to the trial court and demand a ruling on his conditional or alternative proposition. The order sustaining the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict was equivalent to a denial of the motion for a new trial; and the latter motion passed out of the case upon the entry of the order.'

The defendant contends that the rule continues the existing practice respecting granting of new trials, and also regulates the procedure for rendering judgment notwithstanding a verdict; that the provision for an alternative motion for a new trial would be meaningless and nugatory if the granting of the motion for judgment operated automatically to dismiss it, since the bases of the two motions are, or may be, different, and orderly procedure requires that the court first rule on the motion for judgment, the granting of which renders unnecessary a ruling upon the motion for a new trial, which should be reserved until final disposition of the former.

The plaintiff insists that the trial court is limited to a choice of action on one motion or the other, but cannot rule upon the motion for judgment and leave that for a new trial to be disposed of only if judgment notwithstand-

Page 249

ing the verdict is denied. He further asserts, in support of the judgment below, that the uncontradicted allegations of his motion in the District Court disclose that defendant elected to stand upon its motion for judgment alone and that it cannot now repudiate the position thus taken.

We shall consider the plaintiff's contentions in inverse order.

1. While we took the case to review the Circuit Court's construction of the rule, it is true that if the defendant elected to stand on its motion for judgment and, in effect, withdrew its motion for a new trial, we do not reach the question involved in our grant of certiorari. We are, however, unable to spell out any such election or withdrawal. The motion for a new trial assigned grounds not appropriate to be considered in connection with the motion for judgment. It put forward claims that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and was excessive; that the court erred in rulings on evidence and in refusing requested instructions. An affirmative finding with respect to any of these claims would have required a new trial whereas none of them could be considered in connection with the motion for judgment.

We think that when the defendant urged upon the District Court that it should not decide the motion for a new trial because it passed out of existence and consideration on the granting of the motion for judgment, all that defendant meant was that, having granted the motion for judgment, the court had no occasion to pass upon the reasons assigned in support of the motion for a new trial. That would obviously have been true if no appeal had been taken from the District Court's action or if that action had been affirmed upon appeal.

2. We come then to the substantial question which moved us to issue the writ, namely, whether under Rule

Page 250

50(b) the District Court's grant of the motion for judgment effected an automatic denial of the alternative motion for a new trial. We hold that it did not.

The rule was...

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755 practice notes
  • Madrigal v. Allstate Ins. Co., Case No. CV 14–4242 SS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • May 19, 2016
    ...other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.' " Molski , 481 F.3d at 729 (quoting Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan , 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940) ); see also Shimko , 505 F.3d at 993 ("The trial court may grant a new trial only if the verdi......
  • King v. CVS Caremark Corp., Case No.: 1:12-CV-1715-VEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • February 23, 2016
    ...as well as “substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or instructions to the jury.” Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan , 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 194, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940) ; see also Weisgram v. Marley Co. , 528 U.S. 440, 452 n. 9, 120 S.Ct. 1011, 1020 n. 9, 145 L.Ed.......
  • United Nat'l Maint., Inc. v. San Diego Convention Ctr. Corp., Civil No.07cv2172 AJB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • September 5, 2012
    ...damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving." Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[t]he trial court may grant a new trial only if the verdict i......
  • Clayton v. Branson, No. COA04-884.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • June 7, 2005
    ...rule on both motions." Graves v. Walston, 302 N.C. 332, 339, 275 S.E.2d 485, 489 (1981) (citing Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147, 153 (1940)). Thus, the trial court correctly entered an order with respect to both of defendants' motions.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
754 cases
  • Madrigal v. Allstate Ins. Co., Case No. CV 14–4242 SS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • May 19, 2016
    ...for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.' " Molski , 481 F.3d at 729 (quoting Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan , 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940) ); see also Shimko , 505 F.3d at 993 ("The trial court may grant a new trial only if the verdict is cont......
  • King v. CVS Caremark Corp., Case No.: 1:12-CV-1715-VEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • February 23, 2016
    ...as well as “substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or instructions to the jury.” Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan , 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 194, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940) ; see also Weisgram v. Marley Co. , 528 U.S. 440, 452 n. 9, 120 S.Ct. 1011, 1020 n. 9, 145 L.Ed.2d 9......
  • United Nat'l Maint., Inc. v. San Diego Convention Ctr. Corp., Civil No.07cv2172 AJB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • September 5, 2012
    ...that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving." Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[t]he trial court may grant a new trial only if the verdict is con......
  • Clayton v. Branson, No. COA04-884.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • June 7, 2005
    ...court to rule on both motions." Graves v. Walston, 302 N.C. 332, 339, 275 S.E.2d 485, 489 (1981) (citing Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251, 61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147, 153 (1940)). Thus, the trial court correctly entered an order with respect to both of defendants' motions.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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