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The Judge and the Jury, Part Two


You may well wonder what purpose is served by allowing the motion for judgment as a matter of law after the verdict (j.n.o.v.). If the standards for granting the motion before the jury deliberates (d.v.) and after (j.n.o.v.) are the same, why not simply grant the motion before the jury deliberates? This will save the jury the trouble of unnecessary deliberations and avoid the affront of having their findings disregarded.

If the decision to take the case from the jury was cut and dried, this argument would have considerable force. However, reasonable judges may differ—and often do—about whether a given case is strong enough to go to a jury. Because the decision that the evidence is too weak to go to the jury is often debatable, the judge’s entry of judgment as a matter of law before the jury deliberates (d.v.) will frequently be appealed. If the appellate court concludes that the evidence was sufficient to send the case to the jury,[2] it will reverse the judge’s entry of judgment and order a new trial. Since the jury never rendered a verdict in the first trial, this will then require a wasteful repetition of the entire trial. See scenario 1 in Figure 25-1.

 If, instead, the judge withholds decision on the sufficiency of the evidence by denying the motion for judgment as a matter of law (d.v.) at the close of the evidence, this scenario can be avoided. In most cases, where the evidence is weak enough to lead the judge to consider directing the verdict, the jury will agree that the case is too weak and return a verdict for the moving party anyway. This is the best possible result: It avoids any apparent intrusion on the right to jury trial, leads to a verdict that the judge finds supportable on the evidence, and avoids the appeal that would likely have followed if the judge had taken the case from the jury.

If, on the other hand, the jury returns a verdict for the party (usually the plaintiff) against whom the judge considered directing the verdict, the judge can still enter judgment as a matter of law (j.n.o.v.) for the other party. Here again, the party whose verdict has been taken away will frequently appeal on the ground that the evidence was strong enough to support a rational verdict in his favor. If the appeals court agrees and reverses the judge’s order for entry of judgment as a matter of law (j.n.o.v.), it can simply order judgment entered on the jury’s verdict. Thus, the need to retry the case is avoided by waiting until after the verdict to decide whether the case is jury-worthy. See scenario 2 in Figure 25-1.

[2]. Because the decision to grant a directed verdict motion is based on the conclusion that the evidence is too weak as a matter of law to support a verdict for the other party, it is reviewed de novo by the appellate court under the same standard used by the trial judge. See Moore’s §50.92 [1].

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