Montano v. Orange County, in affirming a substantial jury verdict about the mistreatment of a county prisoner, states several important principles about the appellate review of jury trials. This post focuses on one — the degree of specificity required of a defendant’s JMOL motion under FRCP 50(a), such that arguments in a later 50(b) motion will be seen as renewed rather than new (and thus waived).
The applicable legal standard had three elements; the county moved on the ground that the plaintiff had “no evidence of a constitutionally deficient policy, custom or practice,” going on to focus on the first element. The county later argued that the phrase “constitutionally deficient” necessarily included the other two elements, but the district court and Fifth Circuit disagreed. The purpose of the “specific grounds” requirement in Rule 50(a) is “to make the trial court aware of the movant’s position and to give the opposing party an opportunity to mend its case” – here, the County “did not clearly separate the points upon which [it] requested judgment, did not delineate which of its arguments applied to which of Plaintiffs’ claims, and blurred the lines of Plainitffs’ claims through its obtuse recitation of the case law.” No. 15-41432 (Nov. 29, 2016). Later posts will address other points made by this opinion about the review of jury verdicts.