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Sleeper v. Lilley

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

June 13, 2014

VAUGHN SLEEPER, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
DANIEL G. LILLEY, et al, Defendants

ORDER

Thomas D. Warren, Justice

Before the court are two post-trial motions by defendants Daniel G. Lilley and Daniel G. Lilley Law Offices P.A. (collectively, " the Lilley defendants"): (1) a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to M.R.Civ.P. 5O(b) and (2) a motion for a new trial and remittitur pursuant to M.R.Civ.P. 59(a).

Judgment was entered on January 6, 2014. The Lilley defendants' motions were timely filed on January 16. The first round of briefing was completed a month later, but resolution of the motions was thereafter delayed while portions of the transcript were ordered. A hearing on the motion was held on May 8, supplemental briefs were filed by May 16, and the parties have since filed further submissions based on review of the transcript excerpts that had been obtained.

Legal Principles Applicable to Defendants' Motions

On the Lilley defendants' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 5O(b), the court must determine " if any reasonable view of the evidence and those inferences that are justifiably drawn from the evidence supports the jury verdict." Russell v. Expressjet Inc ., 2011 ME 123 ¶ 10, 32 A.3d 1030, quoting Madore v. Kennebec Heights Country Club , 2007 ME 92 ¶ 5, 926 A.2d 1180. The court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the jury. The weighing of evidence, including the credibility of witnesses, is reserved to the jury. Wood v. Bell , 2006 ME 98 ¶ 12, 902 A.2d 843.

On the motion for a new trial, the Lilley defendants must establish that it is reasonably clear that prejudicial error has been committed or that substantial justice has not been done. Davis v. Currier , 1997 ME 199 ¶ 7, 704 A.2d 1207. This standard is not intended to allow a trial judge to substitute his or her view of the evidence for the decision of the jury. Chenell v. Westbrook College , 324 A.2d 735, 737 (Me. 1974). The Lilley defendants' new trial motion relies primarily on alleged errors in the admission of evidence and in the conduct of the trial that allegedly prejudiced the jury.

Arguments Raised

At the outset the court notes that lengthy portions of the legal memoranda submitted by the Lilley defendants on their post-trial motions consist of attempts to reargue the evidence. Whatever the merits of those arguments, they either were or should have been presented to the jury. Neither Rule 50(b) nor Rule 59(a) offers any relief to the extent that the jury found against the Lilley defendants on the evidence.

Moving beyond the Lilley defendants' effort to reargue the evidence, the court finds that a number of their arguments are without merit.[1] Nevertheless, the court concludes that the following issues raised by the Lilley defendants require further discussion:

(1) whether there was sufficient evidence to allow the jury to decide the claim that, absent malpractice by the Lilley defendants, the Sleepers would likely have prevailed on their tortious interference claim before the arbitrator;
(2) whether there was adequate evidence to support the damages claimed on the tortious interference claim;
(3) whether, given the court's summary judgment ruling, the Sleepers should have been allowed to proceed at trial on the claim that, absent malpractice by the Lilley defendants, the Sleepers would likely have prevailed on their IIED claim before the arbitrator;
(4) whether there was sufficient evidence to allow the jury to decide the claim that, absent malpractice by the Lilley defendants, the Sleepers would likely have prevailed on their IIED claim before the arbitrator;
(5) whether the court erroneously excluded certain evidence that the Lilley defendants wished to offer on the IIED issue and that might have been considered by the jury on both IIED and on the tortious interference issue;
(6) whether the Sleepers' estimate of the fair market value of their farm and the McCausland damage calculation worked up for purposes of the arbitration improperly influenced the jury notwithstanding the court's instruction that the jury could not consider those figures as evidence of damage;
(7) whether the court's instruction as to the weight to be given to expert testimony was erroneous;
(8) whether under Steeves v. Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson , 1998 ME 210 ¶ ¶ 17-18, 718 A.2d 186, plaintiffs should not have been entitled to a jury on the question of whether the Sleepers would have prevailed before the arbitrator and the amount of any damage award.

By way of background in considering the above subjects, it should be noted that the trial was significantly affected by scheduling issues. Counsel for both parties originally estimated that, with the jury already picked, the case could be tried to a verdict in four or five days. The case was therefore scheduled to begin on December 16. In retrospect this was an ill-advised decision given the nature and complexity of the case. As issues arose and the case bogged down, it became clear that the trial was going to run over into the Christmas week, and the parties and the court began rushing to try to get the case to the jury before the Christmas holiday.

At a certain cost, that objective was achieved.[2] However, the rush to finish the case prevented the court and the parties from taking the time that should have been allowed to consider certain issues and make an adequate record. The looming Christmas holiday contributed to ...


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