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American Underground Engineering, Inc v. City of Syracuse

October 7, 2011

AMERICAN UNDERGROUND ENGINEERING, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF SYRACUSE, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In June 2010, this Court presided over an eight-day jury trial for breach of contract between Plaintiff, the lead contractor for the construction of a parking garage in Syracuse, and Defendant, the City of Syracuse. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found that Plaintiff had proved that Defendant had breached the contract, that the breach was sufficiently material as to defeat the contract's purpose, and that Plaintiff was entitled to damages as a result of that breach. See Verdict Form at 1-2. The jury awarded Plaintiff $7,306,021.64 in quantum meruit damages.*fn1 See id. at 2.

Currently before the Court is Defendant City of Syracuse's post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), or, alternatively, for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, or, alternatively, for separate findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1). In the alternative, Defendant also moves for remittitur of damages.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Rule 50(b) standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) provides, in relevant part, that, [i]f the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment - or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged - the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59. . . . Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

When considering a Rule 50 motion, courts "'"cannot assess the weight of conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury."'" Black v. Finantra Capital, Inc., 418 F.3d 203, 209 (2d Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). In addition, courts "'must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movant and grant that party every reasonable inference that the jury might have drawn in its favor.'" Mitrione ex rel. Brittany v. Monroe, No. 1:02-CV-0526, 2010 WL 1539719, *4 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 19, 2010) (granting in part and denying in part a post-trial 50(b) motion) (quoting Merrill Lynch Interfunding, Inc. v. Argent, 155 F.3d 113, 120 (2d Cir. 1998)).

The Second Circuit has held that courts should only grant judgment as a matter of law where "'(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or (2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the movant that reasonable and fair minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [it].'" Benson v. Yaeger, No. 05-CV-784S, 2010 WL 4703419, *2 (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2010) (quoting Galdieri-Ambrosini [v. Nat'l Realty & Dev. Corp.], 136 F.3d [276,] 289 [(2d Cir. 1998)]).

B. Rule 59 standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) has a less stringent standard than Rule 50 in two significant respects: (1) courts may grant a new trial under Rule 59(a) "'even if there is substantial evidence supporting the jury's verdict,'" and (2) a trial court "'is free to weigh the evidence . . . and need not view it in the light most favorable to the verdict winner.'" Manley v. AmBase Corp., 337 F.3d 237, 244-45 (2d Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted). Nevertheless, for a district court to order a new trial under Rule 59(a), it must conclude that the jury reached a seriously erroneous result or that the jury's verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. See id. at 245 (quotation omitted).

Finally, "[w]hen a party moves for a new trial 'on the ground that the amount of damages awarded is excessive, a court may require a plaintiff to elect between remitting a specified amount of the damage award, or submitting to a new trial.'" Malmsteen v. Berdon, LLP, 595 F. Supp. 2d 299, 304 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (quotation omitted).

C. Defendant's basis for its Rule 50 and Rule 59 motions

Defendant argues that Plaintiff could not recover damages on a quantum meruit basis because Plaintiff already had a remedy in the form of contract damages. See Defendant's Memorandum at 8. Defendant further contends that, since Plaintiff, in its summary judgment motion, chose to proceed under a breach of contract theory, Plaintiff could not pursue a quantum meruit theory at the time of trial. See id. 12. Defendant reasons that, although a party may initially ...


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