Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff sued Defendant under Title VII. Before trial began, the Supreme Court decided a case that gave Defendant a new affirmative defense to assert before trial. Defendant wanted to amend the pretrial order to assert this defense and was denied the ability to do so.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Before a trial begins in federal court, a party may amend a final pretrial order but only to prevent a “manifest injustice.”
An error in jury instructions will mandate reversal of a judgment only if the error is determined to have been prejudicial, based on a review of the record as a whole.View Full Point of Law
Susan Davey (Plaintiff) brought suit against Lockheed Martin Corp. (Defendant) based on claims of employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. Although the original pretrial order was filed a year and a half before trial, the parties filed a new pretrial order on August 20, 1999. Defendant moved to amend the order to assert a new affirmative defense based on the ruling of a Supreme Court case that was decided two months before. Based on the new affirmative defense of good faith compliance with Title VII, Defendant would not have to pay punitive damages. After Plaintiff objected, the district court did not allow Defendant to present evidence to support this affirmative defense. The district court believed that allowing the new affirmative defense would be prejudicial and unfair to Plaintiff, especially because Plaintiff did not have a chance to do discovery on the asserted defense. At trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff compensatory damages, damages for lost wages and attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages of $200,000 after finding in favor of Plaintiff on a retaliation claim. Defendant appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
Before a trial begins in federal court, may a party amend a final pretrial order?
Yes. A party may amend a final pretrial order before trial begins in federal court, but only to prevent a “manifest injustice.” The Court considered the timeliness of the amendment, whether granting the amendment would be prejudicial, and whether there was an ability to cure that prejudice. The Court also considered if the case would be disrupted if the amendment were granted. In addition, the Court considered if the amendment was made in bad faith. According to the Court, the amendment was not timely because the Supreme Court case was decided two months before Defendant made the request to amend. However, the Court concluded that the Defendant did not act in bad faith and that the trial itself would not be disrupted. After weighing the factors, the Court ruled the amendment should have been allowed. Therefore, the Court vacated the punitive damage award and remanded the case for a retrial on that issue.
Rule 16 under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs pretrial conferences and orders. The rationale behind pretrial orders is to make cases more efficient. If a party wants to amend a final pretrial order, the burden is on the party seeking such an amendment. If the granting of an amendment may prevent a manifest injustice, the final pretrial order may be amended.