Bright Harvest Sweet Potato Company, Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Company, L.P.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER denying 344 Motion for Relief. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by (st)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
BRIGHT HARVEST SWEET POTATO
Case No. 1:13-cv-00296-BLW
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
H.J. HEINZ COMPANY, L.P.,
The Court has before it Plaintiff’s Rule 60 Motion for Relief to Include Interest in
the Judgment (Dkt. 344).
Bright Harvest asks the Court to order pre-judgment interest. Bright Harvest
concedes that its request is late, but asks the Court to grant it relief under Rule 60 for
excusable neglect. The Court need not determine whether Bright Harvest is entitled to
relief based on excusable neglect because Bright Harvest is not entitled to pre-judgment
interest under Idaho law regardless of the timing of the motion.
In Idaho, pre-judgment interest is available only when damages are liquidated or
ascertainable by mere mathematical process at the time of the breach. Bouten const. Co.
v. H.F. Magnuson Co., 992 P.2d 751, 757 (Idaho 1999); Barber v. Honorof, 780 P.2d 89,
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 1
92 (Idaho 1989); see also Champion Produce, Inc. v. Ruby Robinson Co., Inc., 342 F.3d
1016, 1020 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing I.C. § 28-22-104(1)). Here, damages were not
liquidated. Thus, the only question is whether they were mathematically ascertainable.
Applying Idaho law, the Ninth Circuit upheld the denial of prejudgment interest in
Champion Produce, which had facts very similar to this case. In support of its finding,
the Ninth Circuit referenced Idaho cases where damages were not readily and
mathematically ascertainable. For example, in Opportunity, LLC v. Osseward, 38 P.3d
1258 (Idaho 2002), damages for the breach of a real estate purchase agreement were
equal to the difference between the market value of the property and the amount due
under the promissory note. But because the market value was subject to dispute, the court
determined that the amount of damages was not subject to mathematical calculation until
judgment was entered. Id. at 1266. Likewise, in Farm Development Corp. v. Hernandez,
478 P.2d 298 (Idaho 1970), the defendant breached a contract to reimburse the plaintiff
for half the cost of applying fertilizer to a beet crop. But although the price was set out in
the contract, the court denied prejudgment interest because there was conflicting evidence
on the amount actually paid and the actual value of the product. Id. at 300.
With these cases in mind, the Ninth Circuit in Champion Produce also denied
prejudgment interest. In that case, the defendant entered into a contract to purchase
onions from the plaintiff. The plaintiff asked for prejudgment interest after the jury
awarded it over $100,000 in damages. The trial court denied prejudgment interest,
“explaining that in light of the conflicting evidence presented by both parties concerning
the contract prices and whether these prices had been modified or waived, the principal
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 2
amount of liability under the parties’ contract was not liquidated or ascertainable by mere
mathematical processes prior to trial.” Champion Produce, 342 F.3d at 1021.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the damages award was mathematically
ascertainable because the jury must have used two numbers introduced at trial to compute
the award. Id. at 1021. The Ninth Circuit rejected that argument, stating that “[t]he fact
that the damages became mathematically ascertainable after the jury decided, in light of
conflicting evidence, which numbers were relevant does not render the damages
mathematically ascertainable within the meaning of Idaho Code § 28-22-104(1).” Id. at
1021-22. (emphasis omitted). “If it were otherwise, damages would be ‘mathematically
ascertainable’ in every case in which the trier of fact ultimately determines the relevant
numbers and then calculates the award based on those numbers. This result would be
contrary to Idaho law.” Id. at 1022.
The circumstances here are similar. The damages in this case were divided into
two categories – lost fixed overhead, and lost profits. The Co-Pack Agreement did not
allow the parties to simply add up numbers to reach a final damages amount for lost fixed
overhead and lost profits. The Court is intimately familiar with the evidence and
arguments about damages in this case, and notes that these figures were disputed at trial
and subject to conflicting evidence. There was a dispute over the pounds of sweet potato
fries Heinz was obligated to purchase from Bright Harvest, whether and to what degree
self-production by Heinz was allowed, the types and amounts of expenses included in
Bright Harvest’s fixed overhead, and changes to quarterly and annual prices. In fact, the
Court has already explained in its Order denying the Rule 59 motion that the jury had to
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 3
wrestle with the conflicting evidence and arguments of the parties about damages. The
Court stated that the jury “could have reached the conclusion suggested by Bright
Harvest” or “may have reached its conclusion by way of some of the suggestions put
forth by Heinz. The Court will not try to make that determination.” Dkt. 342 at 10. Under
these circumstances, the Court finds that Bright Harvest is not entitled to pre-judgment
interest because it is not ascertainable by mere mathematical process. Accordingly, the
Court will deny the motion.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
1. Plaintiff’s Rule 60 Motion for Relief to Include Interest in the Judgment (Dkt.
344) is DENIED.
DATED: September 25, 2017
B. Lynn Winmill
United States District Court
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 4
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