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set aside the verdict

Improperly Moving to Set Aside the Verdict

Posted by David Adelstein on September 22, 2019
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Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.480 governs motions for directed verdict and motions to set aside the verdict and to enter judgment pursuant to the directed verdict:

(a) Effect. A party who moves for a directed verdict at the close of the evidence offered by the adverse party may offer evidence in the event the motion is denied without having reserved the right to do so and to the same extent as if the motion had not been made. The denial of a motion for a directed verdict shall not operate to discharge the jury. A motion for a directed verdict shall state the specific grounds therefor. The order directing a verdict is effective without any assent of the jury.

(b) Reservation of Decision on Motion. 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. 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.

(c) Joined with Motion for New Trial. A motion for a new trial may be joined with this motion or a new trial may be requested in the alternative. If a verdict was returned, the court may allow the judgment to stand or may reopen the judgment and either order a new trial or direct the entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been directed. If no verdict was returned, the court may direct the entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been directed or may order a new trial.

The recent opinion in TLO South Farms, Inc. v. Heartland Farms, Inc., 44 Fla.L.Weekly D2385a (Fla. 2d DCA 2019), demonstrates what can happen if a defendant improperly moves to set aside a verdict based on a motion for directed verdict.  

In this case, a defendant moved for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiff’s case-in-chief.  The court reserved ruling.  Due to the reservation, the defendant put on evidence to support its case.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and the defendant filed a motion per Rule 1.480(b) to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in favor of the defendant per its motion for directed verdict. The defendant, also, per Rule 1.480(c), joined the motion with an alternative motion for a new trial. 

The trial court granted the motion to set aside the verdict and also granted the alternative motion for a new trial subject to the appeal (i.e., if the appellate court reverses the order to set aside the verdict, then the alternative motion for a new trial is granted).   The Second District reversed the trial court in entirety and remanded for the trial court to reinstate the jury’s verdict.  The appellate court’s basis for reversal, discussed below, is important to know.

Setting Aside the Verdict

 

The reason supporting the reversal as to the order to set aside the verdict was because the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict per Rule 1.480(b) was based on an argument the defendant did NOT raise in its motion for directed verdict.  See TLO South Farms, supra (“[T]he trial court erred in granting the defendants’ motion to set aside the verdict and entering judgment in [defendant’s] favor on the FDUTPA [Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act] count based on their newly raised posttrial challenge to the evidence….”).  You cannot raise a new argument posttrial that was not raised in the motion for directed verdict.

Alternative Motion Granting New Trial

 

The trial court granted the alternative motion for new trial based on two issues: (i) the verdict on the Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practice’s Act’s (“FDUTPA”) claim was inconsistent with the verdict on the negligence claim and (ii) the verdict on the FDUTPA claim was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.  

Regarding the first issue, the appellate court held that the defendant waived this argument because it never objected to inconsistent verdicts on the FDUTPA and negligence counts prior to the discharge of the jury.

Regarding the second issue, the appellate court held that a “trial court may order a new trial when the jury’s verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence…[only when] the evidence is clear, obvious, and indisputable.”  TLO South Farms, supra (internal citations and quotations omitted).   The appellate court held the trial record did not support a ruling that the jury’s verdict was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

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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