motion to set aside verdict

Motion for Directed Verdict (or to Set Aside the Verdict) is an Important Trial Consideration

Posted by David Adelstein on May 21, 2016
Evidence, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Motion for Directed Verdict (or to Set Aside the Verdict) is an Important Trial Consideration

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After the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief, you, as the defendant, move for a directed verdict. (Check out this article too for more on directed verdicts.)  The court denies the motion for a directed verdict. You put on your defense and then the case is submitted to the jury. The jury returns a verdict in favor the plaintiff. You then move to set aside the verdict (also called a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict). The trial court denies your motion and enters final judgment consistent with the jury’s verdict. You appeal the trial court’s denial of the motion for directed verdict / motion to set aside the verdict.

An appellate court must review a trial court’s determination on a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict de novo and “evaluate the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing every reasonable inference flowing from the evidence in the non-moving party’s favor.” Miami-Dade Cnty. v. Eghbal, 54 So. 3d 525, 526 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011). Additionally, we must sustain a jury verdict if it is supported by competent substantial evidence. Hancock v. Schorr, 941 So. 2d 409, 412 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

Frieri v. Capital Investment Services, Inc. , 41 Fla.L.Weekly D1189a (Fla. 3d DCA 2016).  

In other words, the appellate court will evaluate the evidence in favor of the non-moving plaintiff (part that did not move for the directed verdict) drawing reasonable inferences in its favor. If there was competent substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict, the court will affirm the judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Now what if after the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief, you, as the defendant, move for a directed verdict and the trial court grants the directed verdict in your favor and against the plaintiff.   The plaintiff appeals the trial court’s granting of your motion for directed verdict.

While the standard of review for the trial court’s entry of a directed verdict is de novo, an appellate court “can affirm a directed verdict only where no proper view of the evidence could sustain a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party.Banco Espirito Santo Int’l, Ltd. v. BDO Int’l, B.V., 979 So. 2d 1030, 1032 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008) (quoting Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So. 2d 315, 329 (Fla. 2001)).

Frieri, supra.

In other words, the appellate court will evaluate the evidence to see if no proper view of the evidence, and all inferences drawn from the evidence, could support a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Thus, if the plaintiff fails to introduce any evidence substantiating its claims (or a claim) against the defendant (i.e.,to sustain a verdict in favor of the plaintiff), then the appellate court will affirm the directed verdict.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Jury Trial Considerations: Directed Verdict and the Verdict Form

Posted by David Adelstein on June 27, 2015
Appeal, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Jury Trial Considerations: Directed Verdict and the Verdict Form

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Previously, I discussed a motion for directed verdict and, then, a motion to set aside a jury’s verdict. This is an important procedural vehicle to know because a party opposing a claim generally always moves for a direct verdict. In some instances, the court reserves ruling on the directed verdict to see how the jury decides the case. If the jury enters a verdict in favor of the party moving for a directed verdict (e.g., the defendant) then the court does not need to rule on the motion for directed verdict (it becomes moot).

Recently, I wrote an article about a case involving a jury trial as to the enforcement of an oral contract. During the jury trial, the party opposing the oral contract’s enforcement–the defendant–moved for a directed verdict. The trial court reserved ruling on the motion for directed verdict to see how the jury would decide the case. The jury entered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Based on the verdict, however, the trial court granted the motion for directed verdict and entered judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling and the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and directed judgment in favor of the plaintiff consistent with the jury’s verdict.

The First District explained as it pertains to directed verdicts:

When a trial court overrides a jury’s verdict and directs entry of judgment for the non-prevailing party, our review is de novo, meaning we review the record to determine whether any view of the evidence supports the jury’s verdict…For this reason, if there are conflicts in the evidence or different reasonable inferences may be drawn from it, then the issue is a factual one that should be submitted to the jury and not be decided by the trial court as a matter of law.”

Loper v. Weather Shield Manufacturing, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D1492a (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

The case also references a special interrogatory verdict form which is a verdict form that asks the jury to answer specific questions relating to a plaintiff’s claim against a defendant and a defendant’s affirmative defenses.   In this case, a special interrogatory verdict form was submitted to the jury with carefully crafted questions. The jury answered questions on the verdict form benefitting the plaintiff that led to its verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

As an example of carefully crafted questions on a special interrogatory verdict form, the jury answered yes to the following questions pertaining to an owner’s breach of an oral contact claim against a manufacturer (again, check out the article for more facts regarding the case):

  1. Did Michael Loper [owner] and Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc. [manufacturer], enter into an oral agreement regarding the windows at the Loper home?
  1. Did at least one of the parties (Michael Loper and/or Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc.) fully perform his or its responsibilities under the oral agreement and do so within one year of that agreement?
  1. Did Michael Loper: (a) orally agree not to file a lawsuit against Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc., in exchange for replacement of all defective windows and a new ten-year warranty; (b) reasonably rely in good faith on Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc., to reduce this oral agreement to writing; and (c) reasonably rely on Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc.’s words and action to change his position to his detriment?
  1. Did Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc. breach the oral agreement?
  1. Did Michael Loper sustain damages as a result of Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc.’s breach of the oral contract?

Loper, supra.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Moving for a Directed Verdict and, then, a Motion to Set Aside the Verdict

Posted by David Adelstein on January 15, 2015
Appeal, Evidence / Comments Off on Moving for a Directed Verdict and, then, a Motion to Set Aside the Verdict

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Moving for a directed verdict is a standard procedure in a jury trial.  Simply put, after the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief (evidence supporting its claims against the defendant), the defendant moves for a directed verdict stating that even assuming all of the evidence is true and undisputed, and all inferences relating to that evidence favor the plaintiff, the plaintiff failed to prove its case as a matter of law and a jury cannot reasonably enter a verdict in favor of the plaintiff based on that evidence. See Wald v. Grainger, 64 So.3d 1201 (Fla. 2011); see also Etheredge v. Walt Disney World Co., 999 So.2d 669, 672 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (“In other words, a motion for directed verdict shall be granted only if no view of the evidence could support a verdict for the non-moving party and that the trial court therefore determines that no reasonable jury could render a verdict for that party.”)     

This is best explained by the Florida Supreme Court:

“A party moving for a directed verdict admits the truth of all facts in evidence and every reasonable conclusion or inference which can be drawn from such evidence favorable to the non-moving party. A directed verdict is proper when the evidence and all inferences from the evidence, considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party [plaintiff or party putting on evidence in support of their claim], support the movant’s case as a matter of law and there is no evidence to rebut it.

 Wald, 64 So.3d at 1205 (Fla. 2011) (citations omitted).

A defendant may move for a directed verdict after the plaintiff puts on all of its evidence.  A plaintiff can move for a directed verdict after the defendant puts on all of its evidence as to an affirmative defense.  And, a plaintiff (referred to as a counter-defendant) can move for a directed verdict after the defendant (referred to as a counter-plaintiff) puts on all of its evidence if the defendant has counter-sued the plaintiff.

A party moves for a directed verdict in accordance with Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure.  See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.480.   If the motion for directed verdict is denied, which is not uncommon, the trial continues.   But, and this is a very, very important but:

“When a motion for a directed verdict is denied or for any reason is not granted, the court is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion. Within 15 days after the return of a verdict, a party who has timely moved for a directed verdict may serve a motion to set aside the verdict and any judgment entered thereon and to enter judgment in accordance with the motion for a directed verdict [also commonly referred to as a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict]. If a verdict was not returned, a party who has timely moved for a directed verdict may serve a motion for judgment in accordance with the motion for a directed verdict within 15 days after discharge of the jury.” 

Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.480(b).  This means that if a party moves for a directed verdict and that motion is denied, the trial continues and will be submitted to the jury to render a verdict.  If the verdict favors a party (e.g., plaintiff), the opposing party (e.g., defendant) within 15 days can file a motion for the court to set aside the verdict and enter a judgment in accordance with the earlier motion for directed verdict.   This is important because if a party does NOT timely move for the court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in accordance with the directed verdict, the party will NOT have properly preserved the directed verdict for appealSee Murray v. State, 27 So.3d 781 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (defense failed to timely preserve directed verdict for appeal because it did not move the court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in accordance with the directed verdict).

(Notably, it used to be that a party needed to renew a motion for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the trial—close of all of the evidence.  Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.480 was amended in 2010 removing the requirement to renew a motion for directed verdict at the close of all of the evidence in order to preserve the right to file a motion to set aside the verdict.  Now, a party just needs to timely move for a directed verdict at the close of the opposing party’s evidence and then timely file the motion to set aside the verdict.)

Oftentimes, a party at the conclusion of a trial will move the court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict or, alternatively, move the court for a new trialSee Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.480(b).   Hence, if the court is considering granting a motion for directed verdict, it may deny the motion to see how the jury decides the evidence.  If the jury still finds in favor of a party, the judge can (if a party timely moves for a judgment not withstanding the verdict) still enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

The standard of appellate review if a trial court grants a directed verdict is de novoSee Merritt v. OLMHP, LLC, 112 So.3d 559 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013).   This is the same standard of review if a trial court grants a motion to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in accordance with the motion for direct verdict (again, also called a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict).  See Specialty Marine & Industrial Supplies, Inc. v. Venus, 66 So.3d 306 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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