Boernert v. Alpine Mountain Corporation

Filing 115

MEMORANDUM and ORDER denying 106 Defendants'Motion for Relief from Judgment Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 8/3/09 (sm, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA WOLFGANG S. BOERNERT, Plaintiff, : No. 3:06cv362 : : (Judge Munley) : v. : : PATRICK B. RESPET, M.D., and : ORTHOPAEDIC ASSOCIATES OF : ALLENTOWN, LTD., : Defendants : :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: ORDER B e fo re the court is defendants' motion for relief from judgment pursuant to F e d . R. Civ. P. 60(b). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) provides that "[o]n m o tio n and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a fin a l judgment, order or proceeding" on one of six grounds. FED. R. CIV. P. 60(b). Those grounds include "(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect;" (2 ) newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud or other misconduct by the opposing party; (4 ) a void judgment; (5) the judgment has been satisfied; or "(6) any other reason th a t justifies relief." Defendants do not specify on which of these grounds they a tte m p t to proceed. Given the grounds they raise for relief, the court assumes that d e fe n d a n ts bring their motion under Rule 60(b)(6). None of the other grounds a p p e a r to apply. T h e decision of whether to grant relief pursuant to Rule 60(b) "is within the s o u n d discretion of the court." Lasky v. Continental Products Corp., 804 F.2d 250, 2 5 6 (3d Cir. ). Such relief, however, "is available only in cases evidencing e xtra o rd in a ry circumstances." Id. (quoting Stradley v. Cortez, 518 F.2d 488, 493 (3 d Cir. 1975)). Several factors determine whether the court should grant relief u n d e r this rule, among them "[1] the general desirability that a final judgment should n o t be lightly disturbed; [2] the procedure provided by Rule 60(b) is not a substitute fo r an appeal; [3] the Rule should be liberally construed for the purpose of doing s u b s ta n tia l justice; [4] whether, although the motion is made within the maximum tim e , if any, provided by the Rule, the motion is made within a reasonable time; . . . [5 ] whether there are any intervening equities which make it inequitable to grant re lie f; [6] any other factor that is relevant to the justice of the [order] under attack." Id. A t issue here is the court's decision granting the plaintiff's post-trial motions a n d denying the defendants'. (See Doc. 103). Defendants do not explain how the R u le 60(b) factors apply to that opinion, but instead simply offer argument as to why th e ir motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial should have been g r a n te d .1 Still, grounds may exist in the case for the court to reconsider defendants' In that sense, the motion might more properly be considered a motion for reconsideration brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Such a motion would have been untimely, since the court rendered its decision on June 18, 2009 and defendants brought the instant motion on July 10, 2009. See FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e) (providing that "[a] motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 10 days after the entry of the judgment."). Even if the court were to consider plaintiff's motion a motion for reconsideration properly filed, the court would deny the motion. "The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly 2 1 a rg u m e n ts for granting them relief. In other filings, defendants complain that the c o u rt decided on their post-trial motions before receiving full briefing on the issues. (See Doc. 109). The court granted defendants' motion for leave to specify additional g ro u n d s for post-trial relief after the court reporter filed the transcript in the case. (Doc. 86). This order did not specify that defendants could also supply a brief in s u p p o rt of those additional grounds, but defendants apparently assumed that they w o u ld be so allowed. The court issued an opinion before defendants filed a brief. (See Doc. 103). To the extent that defendants seek the benefit of filing a brief, the c o u rt will consider the brief filed by the defendants in support of the instant motion a n d address the arguments therein (See Doc. 107). This brief supports the s u p p le m e n ta l grounds stated for relief provided by the defendants after the court re p o rte r filed the transcript. T h e court finds that the reasoning provided in the original decision on the p a rtie s ' post-trial motions applies, even with the benefit of the brief provided by the d e fe n d a n ts .2 The defendants cited four supplemental grounds for relief: 1) plaintiff d id not offer competent expert testimony to establish a causal connection between discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir.1985); Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). The movant must demonstrate one of three grounds for such a motion to be granted: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe, 176 F.3d at 677. Here, the defendants offer none of these grounds, but simply reargue the positions the court previously rejected. The court notes that the arguments made in the defendants' brief were made in detail in their statement of supplemental reasons for granting their post-trial motion. 3 2 th e defendant-physicians conduct and his injuries; 2) plaintiff failed to establish that the injuries his injuries were permanent or caused by Dr. Respet; 3) plaintiff's expert te s tim o n y on the permanence of his injuries was speculative and lacking in factual fo u n d a tio n ; 4) the damages awarded by the jury lacked a sufficient factual basis. T h e court addressed each of these issues in its earlier memorandum and d ire c ts the parties to that opinion for a fuller discussion of the issues here re fere n c e d . (See Doc. 103). In their brief, defendants argue that plaintiff's expert d id not offer an expert opinion that established with a reasonable degree of medical c e rta in ty that plaintiff's injuries were caused by the defendant-doctor's conduct. They point to the testimony of their own expert, who claimed that injuries like the p la in tiff's do not normally heal after surgery. Moreover, defendants argue, plaintiff's e xp e rt did not establish that the doctor deviated from the standard of care or that the d o c to r's care caused his injury. As the court explained in its earlier opinion, plaintiff's e xp e rt provided sufficient testimony to support the jury's finding that the defendant w a s negligent in his treatment. In their brief, defendants point to the testimony of th e ir own expert as evidence of the insufficiency of plaintiff's expert. The court finds th a t the jury reasonably chose to credit the testimony of plaintiff's expert. As e xp la in e d in the earlier opinion, this testimony was sufficient to support a finding of n e g l ig e n c e . In terms of plaintiffs ability to heal in the future, defendants argue that p la in tiff's expert offered insufficient testimony. The expert testified that he had 4 "p re tty strong feelings" that plaintiff would not be able to return to the activities he h a d enjoyed previously. This testimony, defendants argue, demonstrated that p la in tiff had options which may have healed his injury and that his expert only s p e c u la te d when he contended that plaintiff's injuries were permanent. The court a d d re s s e d this issue in its earlier opinion as well, finding that plaintiff's expert had te s tifie d that plaintiff's injuries were permanent, and had based this opinion on an e xa m in a tio n of the plaintiff's medical records. Defense counsel had an opportunity to present opposing expert testimony and to cross-examine this witness. The jury a p p a re n tly found that plaintiff had established that he would not be able to return to h is former work and recreational pursuits, and the court finds that sufficient evidence s u p p o rte d this finding. D e fe n d a n ts also contend that the expert testimony provided by the plaintiff did n o t support the jury's findings on damages. D e fe n d a n ts contend that plaintiff's e xp e rt offered an estimate of his future earning potential as a private pilot, though p la in tiff had never worked such a job or claimed an interest in doing so. Thus, such te s tim o n y was inherently speculative. Though the jury awarded plaintiff damages for fu tu re earnings in an amount far less than the damages the plaintiff sought based on a transfer into private aviation, defendants contend that the introduction of such e vid e n c e introduced an artificial ceiling into the jury's damages calculation and led to a n award higher than the evidence warranted. As explained in the court's earlier o p in io n , the jury reasonably considered this evidence on plaintiff's future earning 5 p o te n tia l and concluded that he was entitled to economic damages closer to the n u m b e r of his actual earnings than to a higher number based on plaintiff assuming a n e w job. Moreover, defendant introduced no evidence to demonstrate that taking a n e w job was impossible for the plaintiff. Since the court is not to disturb a jury's ve rd ic t if there was a reasonable basis for its conclusion, the court will not order a n e w trial because the jury considered and rejected a higher amount of damages than it ultimately awarded. The court therefore finds no grounds based on defendants' brief in support of th e ir supplemental grounds for post-trial relief to grant relief from its earlier judgment. The court addressed all of the arguments defendants make in their brief in that o p in io n , and the brief offers no reasons to rethink those arguments. Thus, for the re a s o n s stated herein and in its earlier opinion, the court denies defendant's motion. Accordingly: AN D NOW, to wit, this 3rd day of August 2009, the defendants' motion for re lie f from judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) (Doc. 106) is h e re b y DENIED. B Y THE COURT: s / James M. Munley JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY U n it e d States District Court 6

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