Vanwyk Textile Systems v. Zimmer Mach. Amer., Inc., 3:95CV483-MCK.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
Citation994 F.Supp. 350
Decision Date04 December 1997
Docket NumberNo. 3:95CV483-MCK.,3:95CV483-MCK.
PartiesVANWYK TEXTILE SYSTEMS, B.V., et al., Plaintiffs, v. ZIMMER MACHINERY AMERICA, INCORPORATED, et al., Defendants.
994 F.Supp. 350
VANWYK TEXTILE SYSTEMS, B.V., et al., Plaintiffs,
No. 3:95CV483-MCK.
United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division.
December 4, 1997.

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Irving M. Brenner, Smith, Helms, Mulliss & Moore, LLP, Charlotte, NC, for VanWyk Textile Systems, B.V.,and VanWyk America Corp., Plaintiffs and Counter-Defendants.

Mark Merritt, A. Ward McKeithen, Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, P.A., Charlotte, NC, for Zimmer Machinery America, Inc., et al., Defendant amd Counter-Claimant.


MCKNIGHT, United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the undersigned United States magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) to consider Defendant Zimmer Machinery Corporation's (Zimmer's) motions for entry of judgment as a matter of law and, alternatively, for a new trial [docs. 82-1, 82-1], and for attorneys' fees [doc. 85], and Plaintiff Vanwyk Textile Systems' (Vanwyk's) motion for entry of judgment [doc. 93]. Having carefully considered the record, briefs, and cases cited,1 the undersigned enters the following memorandum, opinion and order.


Pursuant to Rules 50(b) and 59, Fed.R.Civ. Pro., Zimmer renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law made at the close of all the evidence and, alternatively, moves for a new trial, or remittitur. For the reasons which follow, both motions will be denied.

I. Standards

A. Motion for judgment as a matter of law

A motion for judgment as a matter of law will be granted:

[I]f "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found for [the prevailing] party." Fed. R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). In making this determination the judge is not to weigh the evidence or appraise the credibility of witnesses, but must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw legitimate inferences in its favor.

Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. L & L Wings, Inc., 962 F.2d 316, 318 (4th Cir.) (alteration in original) (discussing the standard for j.n.o.v.),2 cert. denied, 506 U.S. 872, 113 S.Ct. 206, 121 L.Ed.2d 147 (1992). The court will grant the motion for judgment as a matter of law if "viewing the evidence most favorable to the party opposing the motion, a reasonable trier of fact could draw only one conclusion." Walker v. Pettit Constr. Co., 605 F.2d 128, 130 (4th Cir.1979); Winant v. Bostic, 5 F.3d 767, 774 (4th Cir.1993)(Court may only grant

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judgment as a matter of law if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and drawing every legitimate inference in the nonmovant's favor, the court "determine[s] that the only conclusion a reasonable trier of fact could draw from the evidence is in favor of the moving party.").

B. Alternate motion for new trial

Under Rule 50(b) a motion for a new trial under Rule 59 may be joined with a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. The movant may seek a new trial on any ground that would support a new trial motion under Rule 59, and the alternate motion for new trial is assessed according to the same standards that would apply if the motion were made independently under Rule 59.

[The] Rule 59 standards are well established in the Fourth Circuit:

On such a motion it is the duty of the judge to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial, if he is of the opinion that [1] the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or [2] is based upon evidence which is false, or [3] will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict.

Atlas Food Systems and Serv. v. Crane Nat. Vendors, 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir.1996).

"Courts do not grant new trials unless it is reasonably clear that prejudicial error has crept into the record or that substantial justice has not been done ..." 11 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 2803 (1995). "If, having given full respect to the jury's findings, the judge on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed, it is to be expected that he will grant a new trial." Id. "No error in either the admission or the exclusion of evidence and no error or defect in any ruling or order or in anything done or omitted by the court or by any of the parties is ground for granting a new trial ... unless refusal to take such action appears to the court inconsistent with substantial justice." Rule 61, Fed.R.Civ.Pro.

"The court is not free to set aside the verdict merely because the judge might have awarded a different amount of damages, but it may do so if the proceedings have been tainted by appeals to prejudice or if the verdict, in the light of the evidence, is so unreasonable that it would be unconscionable to permit it to stand." 11 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2807.

C. Remittitur

In Atlas Food Systems, the Fourth Circuit discussed remittitur:

[A] remittitur, used in connection with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), is the established method by which a trial judge can review a jury award for excessiveness. Remittitur is a process, dating back to 1822, by which the trial court orders a new trial unless the plaintiff accepts a reduction in an excessive jury award. ... And the permissibility of remittiturs is now settled.... Indeed, if a court finds that a jury award is excessive, it is the court's duty to require a remittitur or order a new trial.

Id. at 593.

Except in those cases in which it is apparent as a matter of law that certain identifiable sums included in the verdict should not have been there, the court may not arbitrarily reduce the amount of damages, for to do so would deprive the parties of their constitutional right to a jury.

11 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 2815.

"Remittitur is said to be proper `where no clear judicial error or pernicious influence can be identified, but where the verdict is so large as to shock the conscience of the court.'" Id., citing Abrams v. Lightolier, 841 F.Supp. 584 (D.C.N.J.1994). "... the trial judge is not called upon to say whether the amount is higher than he personally would have awarded." Dagnello v. Long Island Railroad Company, 289 F.2d 797 (2d Cir.1961). However, "... reduction only to the highest amount that the jury could properly have awarded ... is the only theory that has any reasonable claim of being

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consistent with the Seventh Amendment." Id.

II. Breach of fiduciary duty

Zimmer argues that the jury's verdict awarding Vanwyk $83,071 in damages for breach of fiduciary duty relating to Twin Rivers should be set aside on two grounds. First, Zimmer contends, any fiduciary duty Zimmer owed to Vanwyk terminated as of September 27, 1995, before anything in connection with the Twin Rivers transaction took place (i.e., there was no relationship from which any fiduciary duty could arise). Second, Zimmer contends that Vanwyk failed to prove that it would have made the sale had Zimmer not breached any fiduciary duty (i.e., no requisite causation).3

A. Termination of fiduciary duty

Vanwyk's argument is that it lost the Twin Rivers sale because of Zimmer's bad faith in the timing and manner of termination of its fiduciary relationship with Zimmer. Although there was no fiduciary duty after September 27, 1995, the Twin Rivers sale was lost, according to Vanwyk, because of breaches of fiduciary duty occurring before September 27, 1995. Thus, assigning to Vanwyk's argument the premise that the fiduciary relationship extended past the date of termination, does not address Vanwyk's point. Vanwyk's premise is that the post-termination-date proximately-caused consequence of a pre-termination-date breach of fiduciary duty can be the basis of an award of damages for breach of fiduciary duty; a corollary of the uncontroversial principle that a plaintiff is entitled to be fairly compensated for all damages to his business proximately caused by a defendant's wrongful conduct, and thus may seek monetary recompense which would placed him or her in the same position as he would have occupied had the breach not occurred.

B. Proximate cause

Guidance for assessment of the parties' respective arguments on the causation issue is provided by Charleston Area Medical Center, Incorporated v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Mutual of Ohio, Incorporated, 6 F.3d 243 (4th Cir.1993):

Although issues of causation are to be decided by the jury, whether the evidence is sufficient to create a jury issue is solely a question of law to be determined by the court.... [The federal] rule presents the question whether there is evidence on which a jury properly can base a verdict....

The question often has proved troublesome for the courts because judges are understandably loath to deny to earnest litigants their right to trial by jury. Fair and proper adjudication of disputes, however, precludes jury consideration of a party's claim unless the party produces evidence demonstrating that claim to be at least a reasonable probability rather than merely one of several equally surmisable possibilities....

This emphasis, where causation is dispositive, upon "probability," "reasonable probability," "substantial probability" rather than mere "possibility" as the proper test simply bespeaks the special danger that in a matter so generally incapable of certain proof jury decision will be on the basis of sheer speculation, ultimately tipped, in view of the impossibility of choosing rationally between...

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