Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ninth Circuit Reverses Las Vegas Judge's Grant of Rule 50(b) Motion

On March 3, 2009, the Ninth Circuit published the opinion, Tortu v. LVMPD, reversing a decision of the U.S. District Court District of Nevada, Hon. Robert C. Jones presiding. The plaintiff sued the Las Vegas Metro Police Dept. and several Metro Police officers for unreasonable force when plaintiff was arrested at McCarren International Airport. The jury found in favor of two of the officers and found a third officer, Engle, liable to the plaintiff. Engle filed a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law and, in the alternative, a Rule 59 motion for a new trial. The court granted both motions.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, stating that Engle was not entitled to file a Rule 50(b) motion without first having filed a Rule 50(a) motion prior to submission of the case to the jury. The Court cited the plain language of the Rule and the 1991 advisory committee notes stating, "This provision retains the concept of the former rule that the post-verdict motion is a renewal of an earlier motion made at the close of evidence."

The Court also reversed the district court's grant of Engle's Rule 59 motion for a new trial. The Court concluded that the district court abused its discretion because the weight of evidence was not against the jury's verdict. Contrary to the district court's reasoning that finding for the other two officers conflicted with the jury's finding for plaintiff against Engle, the Ninth Circuit conluded only that plaintiff had not met his burden of showing excessive force by the other two officers, particularly where separate evidence as to Officer Engle was given. Moreover, the district court was not entitled to substitute its evaluation of the evidence for the jury's, simply because it would have arrived at a different verdict. Thus, the jury's verdict was not irreconcilable, and Engle could have been found liable while the other two officers were not found liable.