Brief Fact Summary.
Son of decedent brings claim against the manufacturer of the heated baseboards in his mother’s home that he alleges was the cause of the fire that killed her. Defendants argue Plaintiff’s evidence at trial should not have been admitted and appeal the trial court’s ruling that was in favor of the Plaintiff. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling in favor of the Defendant.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
An appellate court may direct judgement as a matter of law when it determines that evidence was erroneously admitted at trial and the remaining evidence does not make out a sustainable case.
Rule 50 allows the trial court to remove cases or issues from the jury's consideration when the facts are sufficiently clear that the law requires a particular result.View Full Point of Law
Bonnie Weisgram, mother of Plaintiff, was killed in a fire. Plaintiff Weisgram, decedent’s son, bring suit against Defendant Marley Co., the manufacturer of the heated baseboards that were in decedent’s home and what Plaintiff alleges was the cause of the fire. At trial, Plaintiff had three experts testify that Defendant’s heater that was in decedent’s house contained defects that caused it to overheat and catch fire. Defendant Marley Co. objected to the testimony, claiming that it was unreliable and therefore inadmissible under Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and the holding in Daubert. The trial court overruled the objection and denied both of Defendant Marley Co.’s motions for judgement as a matter of law under FRCP 50. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and Defendant Markley Co. appealed. The court of appeals reversed the decision of the trial court, finding that Plaintiff’s experts’ testimony at trial was inadmissible because it was speculative and not scientifically sound, and that without said testimony Plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to sustain a jury verdict. Plaintiff Weisgram appealed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Can an appellate court direct judgement as a matter of law when it determines that evidence was erroneously admitted at trial and the remaining evidence does not sustain the case?
Yes, an appellate court may direct judgement as a matter of law when it determines that evidence was erroneously admitted at trial and the remaining evidence does not sustain the case. The judgement of the court of appeals is affirmed.
1. Under FRCP 50 a court may render judgement as a matter of law when a party has been fully heard and there is no legally sufficient basis for a jury to find for the party on that issue.
2. Based on the Court’s holding in Neely v. Martin K. Ebay Construction Co., Inc. if the court erroneously denied a motion for judgement as a matter of law, on appeal the appellate court may enter judgement for the movant that requested judgement as a matter of law.
3. Neely found that if a trial court erroneously denied judgement as a matter of law it could either order a new trial, remand the case for the trial court to decide whether a new trial or an entry of judgement for the defendant is appropriate, or direct a judgement as a matter of law for the defendant.
4. It is appropriate in this case to direct a judgement as a matter of law for Defendant Marley Co. because the expert testimony presented by Plaintiff Weisgram was insufficient to sustain a jury verdict.
After Daubert, parties know that their expert testimony must adhere to a strict level of reliability in order to be admissible and Plaintiff Weisgram was not unfairly surprised when the appellate court applied this standard.
5. The court of appeals also did not find that this case was a close call, and their decision not to remand the case for a new trial was not an abuse of discretion.
6.The judgement of the court of appeals is affirmed.