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Amplatz v. Country Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 25, 2015

Maria Amplatz, Plaintiff,
v.
Country Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL A. MAGNUSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for a New Trial and to Alter or Amend the Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

In this lawsuit, Plaintiff Maria Amplatz sought to recover from her commercial insurance carrier, Defendant Country Mutual Insurance Company, for storm damage to two rental properties.[1] The properties at issue were the Game Farm Property, located at 1150 Game Farm Circle in Minnestrista, Minnesota, and the Cherry Avenue Property, located at 3838 Cherry Avenue in Mound, Minnesota. Country did not deny Amplatz coverage for the damage, but disputed the amount of the coverage and also whether it was obligated to make payments before Amplatz made the required repairs.

The matter was tried to a jury in January 2015. Amplatz asked the jury to award her more than $320, 000, while Country estimated the amount of damage to the properties was approximately $50, 000. On January 28, 2015, the jury awarded Amplatz $76, 095.90, as the "total cost to repair or replace, with new materials of like kind and quality, the damage covered by Amplatz's insurance policy" for damage to the exterior of her properties. (Verdict Form (Docket No. 183).) The jury determined that the interior of those properties had not suffered any covered damage as a result of the storm. (Id.)

After the verdict, as the parties had stipulated (Stipulation (Docket No. 171) at ΒΆ 3), the Court determined the amounts to be deducted from the verdict for the policy's deductible, amounts Country had already paid or agreed to pay for the damage, and prejudgment interest. (Apr. 15, 2015, Order (Docket No. 200).) This Motion followed the entry of judgment.

DISCUSSION

In evaluating a motion for a new trial under Rule 59(a), "[t]he key question is whether a new trial should [be] granted to avoid a miscarriage of justice." McKnight v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 36 F.3d 1396, 1400 (8th Cir. 1984). "In determining whether or not to grant a new trial, a district judge is not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions or because judges feel that other results are more reasonable." King v. Davis, 980 F.2d 1236, 1237 (8th Cir. 1992). The "trial judge may not usurp the functions of a jury." White v. Pence, 961 F.2d 776, 780 (8th Cir. 1992). "Rather, the trial court must believe... that the verdict was so contrary to the evidence as to amount to a miscarriage of justice." Butler v. French, 83 F.3d 942, 944 (8th Cir. 1996).

Amplatz's Motion raises a host of legal and evidentiary issues, challenging this Court's rulings on pretrial discovery, motions in limine, exclusion of evidence during trial, jury instructions, and post-judgment interest. Evidentiary errors warrant a new trial only when "the cumulative effect of the errors is to substantially influence the jury's verdict." Williams v. Kansas City, 223 F.3d 749, 755 (8th Cir. 2000). Legal errors may merit a new trial if "the verdict is so contrary to the preponderance of the evidence as to imply that the jury... acted under some mistake." In re Levaquin Prods. Liab. Litig., 700 F.3d 1161, 1166 (8th Cir. 2012). Errors in pretrial discovery rulings will merit a new trial only if "the errors complained of amount to a gross abuse of discretion resulting in fundamental unfairness." Bunting v. Sea Ray, Inc., 99 F.3d 887, 890 (8th Cir. 1996). And a new trial is appropriate for erroneous jury instructions "only if the error misled the jury or had a probable effect on its verdict." Hallmark Cards, Inc. v. Murley, 703 F.3d 456, 460 (8th Cir. 2013).

A motion to alter or amend the judgment "serve[s] the limited function of correcting manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." United States v. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist., 440 F.3d 930, 934 (8th Cir. 2006). Rule 59(e) does not afford litigants with a "second bite at the apple" but rather gives them "an opportunity for relief in extraordinary circumstances." Dale and Selby Superette & Deli v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 838 F.Supp. 1346, 1348 (D. Minn. 1993) (Doty, J.).

A. Pretrial Rulings

1. Discovery

Amplatz challenges Magistrate Judge Mayeron's decision to quash a subpoena Amplatz issued to a company that was not a party to the litigation when the subpoena issued. Country subsequently hired the company, Building Envelope Consultants, as an expert, and moved to quash the subpoena. Magistrate Judge Mayeron agreed with Country that Amplatz was not entitled to subpoena post-litigation documents from the company until the expert phase of discovery, and she granted the motion to quash as to that information. Amplatz did not appeal the motion-to-quash ruling to this Court. She now contends that the quashing of the subpoena caused her substantial prejudice.

As an initial matter, it is not clear whether Amplatz has abandoned her claim with regard to this pretrial ruling. She does not address it in her reply memorandum, thus perhaps conceding that Country's arguments that she misapprehended the ruling are correct. Because the ruling is discussed in Amplatz's opening brief, ...


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