MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL
Plaintiff Highland Manufacturing, Inc. ("Highland") brought suit against defendants Carlson Systems Corp. ("Carlson") and Tree Island Industries, Inc. ("Tree Island") alleging breach of the implied warranty of merchantability concerning 16d vinyl coated nails manufactured by Tree Island. 1 The case was tried to a jury beginning on May 15, 2001 and the jury returned its verdict on June 1, 2001 in favor of defendant Tree Island. 2 This matter is now before the Court on plaintiff's motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Because the Court concludes that the jury verdict was not against the great weight of the evidence and that a new trial is not necessary to avoid a miscarriage of justice, plaintiff's motion is denied.
Highland is a company that constructs manufactured homes. Tree Island is a nail manufacturer. For many years, Highland purchased its nails from a distributor, Carlson. Sometime in late 1995, Carlson began to supply Highland with Tree Island nails rather than Green Grabber nails, the brand that Carlson had previously supplied to Highland. 3 In its business, Highland used 16d vinyl coated nails to attach and level floor decking in its manufactured homes beneath vinyl floor covering. In 1996, Highland began to receive complaints from its customers that yellow spots were appearing on the vinyl floors of their homes. After investigating numerous complaints, Highland concluded that the yellow stains were caused by the Tree Island nails. Highland then undertook efforts to repair and replace all of the stained vinyl flooring. Highland claimed that it had incurred $287,057.74 in costs to repair and replace the stained floors and that it also suffered $289,898 in lost profits because of the staining problem. Highland later initiated this lawsuit against Tree Island claiming that Tree Island had breached its warranty of merchantability with respect to the 16d vinyl coated nails.
The case was tried to a jury beginning on May 15, 2001 and submitted to the jury on June 1, 2001, after eight days of trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Tree Island on June 1, 2001, finding that Tree Island did not breach its implied warranty of merchantability. However, the jury did conclude that Carlson breached its implied warranty of merchantability to Highland concerning the 16d coated nails and that Carlson's breach of its implied warranty of merchantability was a direct cause of Highland's damages. The jury also found that Highland was negligent in its use of the nails and that Highland's negligence was a direct cause of its damages. When asked to apportion the fault of Highland's damages, the jury found that Carlson was 70% at fault and Highland 30% at fault. However, in response to the question, "What amount of money will fairly and adequately compensate Highland for its damages?" the jury answered zero (0) for both incidental and consequential damages as well as lost profits. 4
Highland now moves for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It argues that the jury disregarded the evidence and ignored the law. It also contends that the Court erred in two evidentiary rulings and that counsel for defendant violated the "golden rule" during closing argument.
The Court may grant a new trial to all or any of the parties on all issues or on particular issues. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 59(a). The standard for granting a new trial is whether the verdict is against "the great weight of the evidence." Butler v. French, 83 F.3d 942, 944 (8th Cir. 1996). In evaluating a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a), the "key question is whether a new trial should have been granted to avoid a miscarriage of justice." McKnight v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 36 F.3d 1396, 1400 (8th Cir. 1994). A miscarriage of justice occurs when there is insufficient evidence to support the verdict. Douglas County Bank & Trust Co. v. United Financial Inc., 207 F.3d 473, 478 (8th Cir. 2000). In this case, the Court concludes that the verdict was not against the great weight of the evidence and that no miscarriage of justice occurred. As a result, plaintiff's motion for a new trial is denied.
A. The Evidence Supported the Jury Verdict
Plaintiff first argues that the evidence introduced at trial clearly established all of the elements of Highland's breach of implied warranty of merchantability claim against Tree Island. Highland contends that it proved that the Tree Island nails were used for the ordinary purpose of attaching and leveling decking to the top of floor joists and that the nails were clearly unfit for this ordinary use because they caused staining to the vinyl floor covering. Plaintiff also argues that the evidence at trial demonstrated that Tree Island breached its implied warranty of merchantability by failing to provide adequate instructions or labeling.
The Court notes at the outset, that it is the province of the jury to determine from the evidence what the facts are and then to apply the law, as given by the Court, to those facts. See, e.g., Clark v. United States, 391 F.2d 57, 60 (8th Cir. 1968); United States v. Merrival, 600 F.2d 717, 719 (8th Cir. 1979). It is not the province of the Court to undertake the job of fact-finding, either during trial or while entertaining post-trial motions. The Court will not re-weigh the evidence or second guess the factual findings of the jury.
The Court does agree with plaintiff that it introduced sufficient evidence from which the jury could have found that Tree Island breached its implied warranty of merchantability. There was evidence introduced that the Tree Island nails were used by Highland for the "general construction" purpose of leveling floor decking, an ordinary use of the nails. There was also sufficient evidence proffered from which the jury could have found that Tree Island's nails were not fit for that ordinary use because they caused staining when they came in contact with vinyl floor covering. Peterson v. Bendix Home Syst., 318 N.W.2d 50, 53 (Minn. 1982). However, simply because there was sufficient evidence proffered by plaintiff that would have supported a verdict in its favor, does not mean that the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence or that a miscarriage of justice occurred.
The burden of proof in this case was on the plaintiff, not the defendant. In reaching its verdict, the jury could simply have concluded that plaintiff did not carry its burden of proof at trial. It is plausible and likely that the jury in this case determined that the Tree Island nails were fit for their ordinary purpose; that purpose being binding wood to wood, and that the difficulty concerning the staining when the nails were used below vinyl flooring went beyond the implied warranty of merchantability. There is sufficient evidence in the record for the jury to reach such a conclusion. The jury could have chosen to credit the testimony of Tree Island's witnesses rather than that of Highland's. The jury could also have found that the ordinary use of the nails was for wood framing work rather than for flooring work. These arguments were made to the jury and are supported by testimony in the record. 5 Accordingly, the Court does not find that the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence on this particular issue.
With respect to the issue of whether Tree Island supplied adequate instructions or labeling with its nails, the evidence offered at trial is also sufficient to support the verdict. Frey v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 258 N.W.2d 782, 789 (Minn. 1977); Duford v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 833 F.2d 407, 412 (1st Cir. 1987). Again, the burden of proof was on the plaintiff. Tree Island introduced evidence and counsel argued to the jury that the Tree Island nails were not used in a way that the manufacturer reasonably anticipated. As explained above, the jury could have reasonably determined that Tree Island did not anticipate that Highland would use the nails in connection with vinyl flooring, but that the nails would be used in connection with wood framing. The jury seemed to believe that Tree Island did not have a duty to warn Highland in this case or that Tree Island satisfactorily discharged its duty. The Court cannot say that this finding is against the great weight of the evidence.
B. Evidence of No Prior Staining Complaints
Plaintiff also argues that a new trial is warranted because the Court improperly allowed Tree Island to introduce evidence that it had not previously received reports of staining problems similar to those claimed by Highland. Highland argues that Tree Island had no foundation for this evidence because it did not know how its customers used the nails. It also contends that this argument made by Tree Island caused unfair prejudice and confusion. The Court does not agree.
Plaintiff has failed to point the Court to any Minnesota or Eighth Circuit authority for the proposition that Tree Island was required to demonstrate that the absence of prior accidents occurred under "substantially similar" circumstances as those presented in this case. Instead, plaintiff directs the Court to cases from other jurisdictions. 6 In addition, the cases cited by plaintiff largely deal with negligence claims, not warranty claims. Moreover, plaintiff was given ample opportunity to cross-examine each of Tree Island's witnesses that testified concerning the lack of previous complaints. During those cross-examinations, plaintiff's counsel appropriately elicited testimony from the witnesses that Tree Island did not know the end-users of its nails and that it did not know if any other companies that constructed manufactured homes had ever used their nails. 7 The Court therefore believes that the impact of Tree Island's evidence was sufficiently countered on cross-examination, eliminating any potential prejudice to Highland. Without any Minnesota or Eighth Circuit authority that such an evidentiary ruling is improper, the Court cannot find a miscarriage of justice.
C. Expert Opinion Testimony
Highland argues that a new trial is necessary because Tree Island's expert, Allan Brown, introduced multiple new opinions at trial that were not timely disclosed. Plaintiff argues that the Court improperly allowed the testimony despite a motion in limine and numerous objections at trial. Highland contends that Brown's "new" opinions related to the fault of Carlson and were the only evidence supporting the jury's allocation of fault to Carlson. Once again, the Court does not believe that permitting the testimony of Brown amounted to a miscarriage of justice requiring a new trial.
The Court permitted Brown to testify to some limited additional opinions that were not disclosed prior to the date contained in the Court's Amended Pretrial Schedule for expert disclosures. As the Court explained during trial, plaintiff had a lengthy opportunity to depose Brown about his "new" opinions, but chose not to do so. Plaintiff had months during which to prepare for trial and cross-examination of Brown, even after it became aware of the "new" opinions. In addition, the Court sustained numerous objections made by plaintiff during Brown's testimony on the grounds that Brown was testifying about opinions that were outside the scope of his expert report. The Court attempted to limit Brown's testimony to the opinions that were in his report or closely related to his report. The Court cannot find that plaintiff was prejudiced by the testimony of Brown. Highland had an adequate opportunity to prepare for its cross-examination and plaintiff's counsel conducted a thorough and effective cross-examination. Accordingly, the Court does not believe that a new trial is required because Brown's testimony was permitted.
D. Golden Rule
Finally, plaintiff argues that a new trial is required because counsel for Tree Island violated the "golden rule" during closing argument. Highland maintains that counsel for Tree Island improperly asked the jury "how they would feel" or "what they would do" under circumstances similar to the ones in this case. Highland contends that this line of argument was improper and prejudicial. The Court does not believe that defense counsel violated the "golden rule" during closing argument. Although counsel came close to the line of inappropriate argument, he did not actually ask the jurors to put themselves in the shoes of one or more of the parties. Instead, counsel for Tree Island asked the jurors to put themselves in the shoes of a customer seeking to purchase a manufactured home. The Court finds that no prejudice resulted from this argument and that a new trial is not warranted on this basis.
The Court concludes that no new trial is required in this case. The evidence that was introduced during trial supports the jury's verdict. Further, the two disputed evidentiary issues, relating to evidence introduced about the lack of prior staining complaints and alleged "new" expert opinions, do not rise to the level of a miscarriage of justice. Finally, the Court does not find that plaintiff was prejudiced in any way by defense counsel's closing argument. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is denied.
Based upon the foregoing, the submissions of the parties, the arguments of counsel and the entire file and proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
1. Plaintiff's motion for a new trial [Docket No. 134-1] is DENIED.
2. Plaintiff's motion to stay proceedings pursuant to Rule 62(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [Docket No. 134-2] is DENIED.
1. Highland's original Complaint included additional claims against defendants, but after summary judgment, only its implied warranty of merchantability claim remained.
2. Carlson did not participate in the trial, as a settlement agreement between Highland and Carlson was reached before trial.
3. During trial, Tree Island argued that Carlson first began purchasing Tree Island nails in 1993, rather than in 1995.
4. The parties agreed that the jury should answer the damages question regardless of their answers concerning liability.
5. This theory also seems to be supported by the fact that the jury concluded that Highland was negligent in its use of the nails.
6. Plaintiff relies on the following cases to support its argument: Klonowski v. International Armament Corp., 17 F.3d 992 ( 7th Cir. 1994); Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Co. v. Newman, 243 F.2d 804 (6th Cir. 1957); Cassanova v. Paramount-Richards Theaters, Inc., 16 So. 2d 444 (La. 1944); Kurczewski v. Michigan State Highway Comm'n., 316 N.W.2d 484 (Mich. Ct. App. 1982); Grubaugh v. City of St. Johns, 266 N.W.2d 791 (Mich. Ct. App. 1978).
7. The cross-examination of these witnesses also revealed that Tree Island knew of only two manufactured home companies that used their nails - Highland and Medallion - and that each of those companies had experienced staining problems.