United States District Court, E.D. New York
MOSTAFA R. AHSAN, Plaintiff,
STAPLES, INC., and STAPLES THE OFFICE SUPERSTORE EAST, INC., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
M. GOLD United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is plaintiff's motion for a new trial
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A).
See Docket Entry 118. For the reasons set forth in
this Memorandum and Order, plaintiff's motion is denied.
personal injury action arises out of events that took place
on September 2, 2011, in a store operated by defendant
Staples The Office Superstore East, Inc.
(“Staples”). See Compl., Docket Entry 1.
Plaintiff Mostafa R. Ahsan (“Ahsan”) claims that,
while shopping in the Staples store, he was hit by boxes that
fell from a shelf, causing him to sustain a traumatic brain
injury (“TBI”), as well as neck and shoulder
injuries. Declaration of Durga P. Bhurtel at 16-17, dated
December 21, 2016, Docket Entry 118-1; Tr.
17-20. Staples concedes that its negligence
caused one or two boxes to fall from a shelf on the date of
plaintiff's accident, but it disputes the nature and
extent of plaintiff's alleged injuries and whether its
negligence proximately caused plaintiff to sustain any
injuries at all. Defendant's Memorandum in Opposition
(“Def.'s Mem.”) at 1, Docket Entry 122;
see also Stipulation, dated April 14, 2016, Docket
Entry 80. After a six-day jury trial, the jury returned a
verdict for Staples, finding that its negligence did not
proximately cause any injury to plaintiff. See
Docket Entry 113.
now moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 59, claiming that the verdict was “contrary
to the weight of the credible evidence.”
Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support (“Pl.'s
Mem.”) at 4, Docket Entry 118-3. Plaintiff also asserts
for the first time in his reply that an exemplar of the
plastic file folders contained within the type of boxes that
fell on plaintiff was improperly received in
evidence. Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum
(“Reply Mem.”) at 7-8, Docket Entry 125. For the
reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is denied.
may grant a new trial where the “jury's verdict is
against the weight of the evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
59(a)(1)(A); Crews v. County of Nassau, 149
F.Supp.3d 287, 292 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting DLC Mgmt.
Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 133 (2d Cir.
1998)). While a court may grant a motion for a new trial
“even if there is substantial evidence supporting the
jury's verdict, ” the Second Circuit has made it
clear that such a motion may be granted only “when the
jury's verdict is egregious.” DLC Mgmt.,
163 F.3d at 134 (citation omitted). Accordingly, a motion for
a new trial should be denied “unless the trial court is
convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous
result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of
justice.” Munafo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 381
F.3d 99, 105 (2d Cir. 2004) (citations omitted);
Depascale v. Sylvania Elec. Prods., Inc., 710
F.Supp.2d 275, 285 (E.D.N.Y. 2010).
contrast to the standard applicable to a motion for judgment
as a matter of law, a court deciding whether to grant a
motion for a new trial “is free to weigh the evidence
[itself] and need not view it in the light most favorable to
the verdict winner.” Song v. Ives Labs., Inc.,
957 F.2d 1041, 1047 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting Bevevino v.
Saydjari, 574 F.3d 676, 684 (2d Cir. 1978)).
Nevertheless, “[w]here the resolution of the issues
depended on assessment of the credibility of the witnesses,
it is proper for the court to refrain from setting aside the
verdict and granting a new trial.” Metromedia Co.
v. Fugazy, 983 F.2d 350, 363 (2d Cir. 1992),
abrogated on other grounds as noted in Yung v. Lee,
432 F.3d 142 (2d Cir. 2005); see also DLC Mgmt., 163
F.3d at 134 (“[A] court should rarely disturb a
jury's evaluation of a witness's
credibility.”); Dunlap-McCuller v. Riese Org.,
980 F.2d 153, 158 (2d Cir. 1992) (“[W]e caution that
the jury is empowered and capable of evaluating a
witness's credibility, and this evaluation should rarely
as here, a party seeks a new trial based in part upon an
evidentiary ruling, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 61
provides the applicable standard. See Kogut v. County of
Nassau, 2013 WL 3820826, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 22, 2013).
Under Rule 61,
[u]nless justice requires otherwise, no error in admitting or
excluding evidence-or any other error by the court or a
party-is ground for granting a new trial, for setting aside a
verdict, or for vacating, modifying, or otherwise disturbing
a judgment or order. At every stage of the proceeding, the
court must disregard all errors and defects that do not
affect any party's substantial rights.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 61. Thus, even if evidence has been admitted
in error, a new trial may not be granted unless the error
affected a litigant's “substantial rights.”
Stowe v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 793
F.Supp.2d 549, 568 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). “[A] substantial
right has been affected only where a jury's judgment was
likely to have been ‘swayed by the error.'”
Parrish v. Sollecito, 280 F.Supp.2d 145, 165
(S.D.N.Y. 2003) (quoting Perry v. Ethan Allen, Inc.,
115 F.3d 143, 150 (2d Cir. 1997)). Relevant to the analysis
is “whether or not the evidence bears on an issue that
is plainly critical to the jury's decision” and
“whether or not the evidence was emphasized in
arguments to the jury.” Hynes v. Coughlin, 79
F.3d 285, 291 (2d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted).
Weight of the Evidence
noted above, Staples stipulated prior to trial that it was
negligent in allowing boxes to fall from a shelf. It remained
for the jury to decide, though, whether defendant's
conceded negligence proximately caused any of the injuries
claimed by plaintiff. Ultimately, the jury found that
plaintiff did not sustain any injuries that were caused by
the boxes that fell in the Staples store. Jury Verdict, Court
Ex. 1, Docket Entry 113. Plaintiff claims that, in reaching
that verdict, the jury disregarded the “overwhelming
proof of causation” presented at trial. Pl.'s Mem.
at 3. On plaintiff's Rule 59 motion, the only question
before the Court is whether the jury's verdict was
“so against the weight of the evidence as to constitute
a seriously erroneous result, or a miscarriage of
justice.” Depascale, 710 F.Supp.2d at 285
(citation and quotation marks omitted). Having presided over
the trial, and having carefully reviewed the evidence
presented, I conclude that it was not.
described in greater detail below, the jury was presented
with conflicting evidence at trial. Plaintiff and the
treating doctors he called to testify described a variety of
injuries suffered by plaintiff and attributed them to the
accident in the Staples store. Plaintiff's claims of
injury were impeached, however, with his own inconsistent
statements about how the accident occurred, his repeated
failures to provide treating physicians with complete and
accurate accounts of his pre-existing conditions, and
evidence of his post-accident activities that seemed
inconsistent with the injuries and limitations he described.
The doctors who treated plaintiff and testified on his behalf
at trial were cross-examined about plaintiff's prior
injuries and complaints and ultimately acknowledged at least
some uncertainty about the degree to which plaintiff's
injuries were caused by the accident in the Staples store.
Finally, defendant's medical experts testified that
plaintiff's medical records did not include any objective
findings indicating that plaintiff suffered traumatic, as
opposed to degenerative or age-related, injuries.
Defendant's experts also called into serious question the
theory proposed by plaintiff's expert to explain how
plaintiff sustained a brain injury as a result of the falling
boxes. The jury apparently chose to credit the testimony and
other evidence indicating that any injuries plaintiff
sustained or symptoms he suffered were caused by
circumstances other than the falling Staples boxes, and it
was reasonable and within its province to do so.
claimed in his trial testimony that he sustained injuries to
his head, neck, and left shoulder as a result of the accident
at the Staples store on September 2, 2011. Plaintiff was 56
years old at the time of the accident. Tr. 22, 291-92.
Plaintiff testified that, after the accident, he experienced
“constant pain” in these areas and that he was
prescribed pain medication as a result. Tr. 610-13, 619-23,
630, 633-34. Plaintiff also described attending physical
therapy, taking medication, and receiving multiple injections
to relieve pain in his cervical spine and left shoulder. Tr.
611-12, 614-15, 619-21, 634-37, 640-46. In December 2014,
plaintiff underwent surgery to repair a partial tear in his
left shoulder revealed by an MRI. Tr. 623-24. After the
surgery, plaintiff testified, he “had so many
pains” that he could not work or perform basic
functions like taking a shower. Tr. 629. Around the same
time, plaintiff testified, he experienced “headache[s],
dizziness[, ] . . . blurry vision[, ] [a]nd . . . double
vision, ” as well as short-term memory loss. Tr. 648,
665. In 2015, while receiving epidural injections, plaintiff
testified that he could not “twist [his] head left to
right or right to left.” Tr. 645.
plaintiff testified that, as early as 2008, well before the
accident in the Staples store, he experienced neck and
shoulder pain and a months-long headache, but that the neck
pain was usually relieved with physical therapy. Tr. 651-53.
Plaintiff also acknowledged seeing a pain management doctor
because of the discomfort he felt in his neck even before the
Staples accident. Tr. 653. With respect to the impact of the
accident on his ability to engage in various activities,
plaintiff described being an avid painter and working as a
graphic designer and testified ...