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GILES v. RHODES

April 26, 2001

JAMES GILES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARTY RHODES, CORRECTION OFFICER, AND N. KITCHEN, CORRECTION OFFICER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Haight, Senior District Judge:

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking compensation for injuries he claims he sustained from the defendants' use of excessive force against him on July 23, 1991, while plaintiff was an inmate at Sing Sing prison. Following a jury verdict in the defendants' favor, plaintiff moves for judgment as a matter of law ("JMOL") pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) or, alternatively, for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a). For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied in its entirety.

DISCUSSION

The Court described the factual background of this case in its prior opinion resolving in limine matters, Giles v. Rhodes, 2000 WL 1425046 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2000), familiarity with which is assumed. The facts will be repeated only to the extent necessary for an understanding of the resolution of this motion.

Plaintiff moves for a JMOL or a new trial on the ground that the medical evidence — including the prison medical records, the testimony of the treating nurse and the testimony of plaintiff's medical expert — overwhelmingly demonstrates that plaintiff's injuries were caused by a beating, not by a routine take-down as defendants contend. Based on this evidence, plaintiff argues that no reasonable juror could have found for the defendants. Defendants oppose the motion on its merits and also on two procedural grounds: (1) the motion was not timely filed, and (2) plaintiff's failure to move for a JMOL at the close of evidence bars his Rule 50(b) motion.

1. Timeliness

By their express terms, motions made pursuant to Rules 50(b) and 59 (a) must be filed no later than ten days after entry of the judgment in the case. This deadline is jurisdictional; courts are entirely without power to extend it. See, e.g., Weissman v. Dawn Joy Fashions, Inc., 214 F.3d 224, 230 (2d Cir. 2000). In this case, defendants' contention that the motion was filed beyond the ten-day jurisdictional limit is unfounded. Defendants assert, without citation to the record, that the judgment was entered on the docket on October 18, 2000. If it were entered on that date, the plaintiff's motion filed on November 1, 2000 would have been one day late. Plaintiffs, however, have submitted a photocopy of the actual judgment which contains a stamp reciting that "This document was entered on the docket on 10/19/00." Using this latter date as the entry date, which the Court has no reason to doubt, and the computation guidelines set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a), I conclude that plaintiff filed his motion on the tenth day after entry of the judgment and it was therefore timely.

2. Waiver of Rule 50(b) Motion

Rule 50(b) provides in substance that a "movant may renew its request for judgment as a matter of law by filing a motion no later than 10 days after entry of judgment — and may alternatively request a new trial or join a motion for a new trial under Rule 59." In the Rule 50(b) context, the verb "renew" is critical. It indicates that a JMOL made during trial is a prerequisite to a post-trial Rule 50(b) motion. Indeed, "[t]he rule is firmly entrenched that only parties who have moved for a directed verdict may seek the benefit of a judgment n.o.v."*fn1 Oliveras v. American Export Isbrandtsen Lines, Inc., 431 F.2d 814, 816 (2d Cir. 1970). The purpose of this rule is

to avoid making a trap of the latter motion. At the time that the motion for directed verdict is permitted, it remains possible for the party against whom the motion is directed to cure the defects in proof that might otherwise preclude him from taking the case to the jury. A motion for judgment n.o.v., without prior notice of alleged deficiencies of proof, comes too late for the possibility of cure except by way of a complete new trial.

Id. (quoting 5 Moore, Federal Practice ¶ 50.08 at 2359). In keeping with this rationale, parties must state the precise grounds for the directed verdict during trial and may only move for relief under 50(b) based on the same grounds. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, 1991 Advisory Committee Notes, Subdivision (b) ("A post-trial motion for judgment can be granted only on grounds advanced in the pre-verdict motion."); Cruz v. Local Union Number 3 of the Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 34 F.3d 1148, 1155 (2d Cir. 1994) ("judgment as a matter of law is limited to those issues specifically raised in [a] prior motion for a directed verdict") (internal quotations omitted; alteration in Cruz); Wright v. Wilburn, 194 F.R.D. 54, 63 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2000) ("[t]he posttrial motion is limited to those grounds that were specifically raised in the prior motion for [judgment as a matter of law]; the movant is not permitted to add new grounds after trial.") (internal quotations omitted; alterations in Wright).

It is common ground that the plaintiff at bar failed to move for a JMOL at any time during the trial. It necessarily follows that he is foreclosed from seeking post-trial relief under Rule 50(b). See Walling v. Holman, 858 F.2d 79, 82 (2d Cir. 1988) ("Appellants are precluded from challenging the sufficiency of the evidence because they failed to move for a directed verdict at trial in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 (b)."); Wright, 194 F.R.D. at 63 (denying plaintiff's motion for JMOL because he failed to seek JMOL "at any stage of the trial proceedings"). Where a party has failed to move for a directed verdict during the trial, the procedural bar may be relaxed only "in order to prevent a manifest injustice in cases [wihere a jury's verdict is wholly without legal support." Pahuta v. Massey-Ferguson, Inc., 170 F.3d 125, 129 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotations omitted; alteration in Pahuta).

Plaintiff argues that he is not precluded from making a Rule 50(b) motion because after the jury rendered its verdict the Court informed him that he had ten days from entry of the judgment to file a Rule 50 motion. Plaintiff contends that because defendants did not object to the prospect of his filing such a motion at that time "it was agreed" that he retained the right to do so. Plaintiff's Reply Brief at 2.

This contention is devoid of merit. Plaintiff cites no authority for the proposition that the pre-verdict JMOL condition precedent to Rule 50 (b) can be waived by the Court or the opposing party. Nor, even if possible, did that occur here. The Court did not give plaintiff permission to file a Rule 50(b) motion or sanction a procedural waiver. In an abundance of caution, it simply reminded plaintiff of Rule 50's ten-day jurisdictional limit. As the Court advised:

I think it's fair although I do not think that the able and excellent counsel for the plaintiff require any instruction from me on the point, but I would simply point out, because there have been some recent Court of Appeals cases on the point, that the time limits specified in Rule 50 for the making of a motion for a judgment as a matter of law are jurisdictional in nature.
You must read the rule for yourself, but my recollection of it is that such a motion must be made within ten days of the entry of the judgment, and I cannot extend that time. . . . The ten-day period begins to run from the docketing of the judgment. . . . I just think it's fair, in view of some recent Court of Appeals decisions, ...

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