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American Underground Engineering, Inc. v. City of Syracuse

August 2, 2012

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

Currently before the Court are Defendant City of Syracuse's post-trial motions for a stay of this Court's judgment against it pending appeal and for an order directing entry of an amended judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) ascribing a rate of prejudgment interest lower than nine percent, or, alternatively, for an "indicative ruling" pursuant to Rule 62.1.

II. BACKGROUND

On July 1, 2010, following an eight-day jury trial for breach of contract between Plaintiff American Underground Engineering, Inc. and Defendant City of Syracuse, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and awarded it $7,306,021.64 in quantum meruit damages. Defendant filed a post-trial motion seeking, among other things, a remittitur of the jury's award of damages. See Dkt. No. 17. In a Memorandum-Decision and Order dated October 11, 2011, the Court determined that a remittitur reducing the jury's award from $7,306,021.64 to $5,312,678.00 was justified. See Dkt. No. 143. Plaintiff elected to accept the Court's remittitur. See Dkt. No. 144.

On October 13, 2011, the Court entered judgment in Plaintiff's favor in the amount of the reduced verdict ("Judgment"). See Dkt. No. 145. Defendant filed a Notice of Appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on October 27, 2011, see Dkt. No. 146; but, on February 14, 2012, Defendant filed an unopposed motion to hold its appeal in abeyance pending this Court's ruling on its Rule 60(b) motion. The Second Circuit granted that motion. See Dkt. No. 158-2.

Currently before the Court are two post-trial motions that Defendant filed: Defendant's motion to stay enforcement of the Judgment pending the Second Circuit's determination of its appeal, see Dkt. No. 147, and Defendant's motion to alter the Judgment to include a calculation of prejudgment interest at a rate lower than nine percent, see Dkt. No. 155.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendant's motion to stay the Judgment without posting a supersedeas bond

Rule 62(d) permits a stay as of right when an appellant posts a supersedeas bond. See Frommert v. Conkright, 639 F. Supp. 2d 305, 308 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) (citations omitted). "[T]he court has no discretion to deny the stay itself, but only to fix the amount of (or to waive) the bond." Id. (citations omitted). Under certain circumstances, in its discretion, a court can grant a stay without requiring the posting of a supersedeas bond. However, courts customarily require the appellant to post a bond in cases where a stay of judgment is granted, see Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Bankers Trust Co., 769 F. Supp. 130, 131 (S.D.N.Y. 1991); and it is the moving party's burden to provide specific reasons why a court should depart from this standard, see Dotson v. City of Syracuse, No. 5:04-CV-1388, 2011 WL 817499, *23 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2011) (quotation omitted). The supersedeas bond is generally for the full amount of the judgment. See id.; see also Jimico Enters., Inc. v. Lehigh Gas Corp., No. 1:07-CV-0578, 2011 WL 4594141, *6 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2011) (citations omitted).*fn1

Although a district court can order a reduced bond, or no bond at all, in cases such as this where the judgment creditor's ability to collect on the judgment is reasonably secure,*fn2 see Texaco Inc. v. Pennzoil Co., 784 F.2d 1133, 1155 (2d Cir. 1986), rev'd on other grounds, 481 U.S. 1 (1987) (citation omitted), this case does not present sufficient unique circumstances to warrant the Court's departure from the usual requirement that a court will grant an appellant a stay only upon its posting of a supersedeas bond in the full amount of the judgment. See Pugach v. M & T Mortg. Corp., No. 2:05-cv-02498, 2008 WL 2640465, *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 3, 2008).

For these reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion for a stay of the money judgment pending appeal, but Defendant must post a supersedeas bond in the amount of $5,312,678.00 - the full amount of the Judgment - plus an additional 11% as Local Rule 67.1 of the Northern District of New York requires "to cover interest and any damage for delay as may be awarded, plus $250 to cover costs."*fn3 N.D.N.Y. L.R. 67.1; see Dotson, 2011 WL 817499, at *23.

B. Defendant's motion to amend the Judgment to include a calculation of prejudgment interest at a rate lower than nine percent New York law governs a party's right to prejudgment interest. See Lee v. Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., 592 F.2d 39, 41 n.2 (2d Cir. 1979) (citation omitted). As a preliminary matter, since the Court issued the Judgment on October 13, 2011, and Defendant thereafter filed its Notice of Appeal, the Court must determine whether it retains jurisdiction to decide the instant motion. "As distinguished from postjudgment interest, prejudgment interest is normally considered to be an element of the judgment itself, viz., relief on the merits . . . ." S. Indus. of Clover, Ltd. v. Hardick, No. 92 CIV. 5750, 1999 WL 76891, *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 8, 1999) (internal citations and footnote omitted). Unlike a "mistake arising from oversight or omission" that a court can clarify at any time pursuant to Rule 60(a), several courts have held that a district court's failure to specify the prejudgment interest rate or the date from which such interest accrues is not merely a ministerial task and renders the judgment not final, and, thus, not appealable. See Student Loan Mktg. Ass'n v. Lipman, 45 F.3d 173, 175 (7th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted); United States Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. Carrillo, 325 F.3d 1268, 1272-73 (11th Cir. 2003); Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Seven Provinces Ins. Co., Ltd., 217 F.3d 33, 37 (1st Cir. 2000). Cf. O'Neil v. Ponzi, No. 5:09-CV-0983, 2010 WL 502943, *2 n.2 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 9, 2010).

The Second Circuit has not addressed the precise issue regarding when and how a district court can amend or correct a judgment that ordered prejudgment interest but failed to fix and calculate such interest. The Court finds that Rule 60(b) provides the appropriate vehicle for doing so in this case.*fn4 In Paddington Partners v. Bouchard, 34 F.3d 1132, 1139-40 (2d Cir. 1994), where neither party moved for an award of prejudgment interest and the district court's judgments were silent regarding prejudgment interest, the Second Circuit held that "[t]he District Court had authority to amend the Judgments to add pre-decision interest under Rule 60(b)." Id. at 1142. However, since Rule 60(b) provides ...


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