The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY
Plaintiffs move for judgment, after trial, as a matter of law or in the alternative for a new trial pursuant to Rules 50(b) and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed herein, plaintiffs' motions are denied.
Following a jury trial on the limited issue of plaintiff Michael Leotis' entitlement to seaman's status under the Jones Act, the jury answered a single special interrogatory in the negative, finding that Mr. Leotis was not entitled to seaman's status. Defendant twice moved for a directed verdict: first after the close of plaintiffs' case (Tr. 175-83) and again after the close of the entire case. (Tr. 346) In each instance the court denied defendant's motion. (Tr. 183; See Tr. 346) The court also denied plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law following the close of plaintiffs' case (Tr. 183-98), but reserved decision on plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of the entire case. (Tr. 342-46) Plaintiffs now move, pursuant to Rule 50(b) F.R.Civ.P., to renew the motion for judgment as a matter of law after the adverse jury verdict or in the alternative for a new trial under Rule 59 F.R.Civ.P.
The Supreme Court in a major 1991 decision reviewed and clarified its conflicting and irreconcilable law regarding seaman status which had developed from the beginnings of the country to the present. It then established a new legal test for determining who is a seaman. In instructing the jury in this case, the court instructed the jury to apply this new legal test to the facts as they found them.
In denying defendant's motion for a directed verdict at the end of plaintiffs' case, the court ruled that there was evidence from which the jury could find that plaintiff was a seaman under the Supreme Court's new standard. The court also denied plaintiffs' motion at the end of plaintiffs' case on the ground that there was evidence from which the jury could find that plaintiff was not a seaman and on the ground that defendant was entitled to put on its case.
In McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 112 L. Ed. 2d 866, 883, 111 S. Ct. 807 (1991), the Supreme Court determined that the issue of seaman's status under the Jones Act is a mixed question of law and fact. See also Southwest Marine, Inc. v. Gizoni, U.S. , 116 L. Ed. 2d 405, 112 S. Ct. 486, 491-92 (1991). The legal issue for the district court to determine is the statutory standard. Wilander, 112 L. Ed. 2d at 883. "'Member of a crew' and 'seaman' are statutory terms" whose "interpretation is a question of law." Wilander, 112 L. Ed. 2d at 883. The Supreme Court interpreted these terms in Wilander. Wilander, 112 L. Ed. 2d at 883. The jury is left to determine the factual issue given the statutory standard. In Wilander, the Court noted that "if reasonable persons, applying the proper legal standard, could differ as to whether the employee was a 'member of a crew,' it is a question for the jury." Wilander, 112 L. Ed. 2d at 883 (citation omitted). The jury determines the factual issue of whether or not plaintiff is a seaman according to the Supreme Court's new legal test. In this case, there was sufficient evidence on both sides such that reasonable persons could differ as to plainitff's status as a Jones Act seaman. This question of fact, therefore, was tried before a jury, and a jury determined that plaintiff was not a seaman under the Jones Act.
Whenever a motion for a judgment as a matter of law made at the close of all the evidence 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 question raised by the motion. Such a motion may be renewed by service and filing not later than 10 days after entry of judgment. A motion for a new trial under Rule 59 may be joined with a renewal of the motion for judgment as a matter of law, or a new trial may be requested in the alternative. If a verdict was returned, the court may, in disposing of the renewed motion, allow the judgment to stand or may reopen the judgment and either order a new trial or direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law. . . .
The standard for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) is whether "'the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movants without considering credibility or weight, reasonably permits only a conclusion in the movants' favor.'" Jund v. Town of Hempstead, 941 F.2d 1271, 1290 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Sirota v. Solitron Devices, Inc., 673 F.2d 566, 573 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 838, 74 L. Ed. 2d 80, 103 S. Ct. 86 (1982)); Pena v. Brattleboro Retreat, 702 F.2d 322, 323 (2d Cir. 1983) (same); See also Pierce v. F.R. Tripler & Co., 955 F.2d 820, 824 (2d Cir. 1992) ("test is whether the evidence presented at trial, taken in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, was sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to arrive at the challenged verdict") (citing Schwimmer v. SONY Corp. of America, 677 F.2d 946, 951-52 (2d Cir.), cert. ...