United States District Court, D. Colorado
VICTOR CEJKA, JAMES WALKER, STEVEN WASCHER, and JAMIE LYTLE, Plaintiffs,
VECTRUS SYSTEMS CORPORATION, f/k/a Exelis Systems Corporation, Defendant.
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S RENEWED MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
[ECF NO. 331]
Michael E. Hegarty United States Magistrate Judge.
initiated this employment action on October 30, 2015, against
their former employer, Defendant Vectrus Systems Corp.
(“Vectrus”), alleging that they suffered adverse
employment actions in retaliation for reporting to the United
States military what they believed to be conduct by Defendant
that adversely affected security at Bagram Air Force Base in
Afghanistan. This case was tried to a jury for common law
retaliatory termination (Claim I) (all Plaintiffs) and
violation of 10 U.S.C. § 2409, the Department of Defense
whistleblower statute (Claim II) (Plaintiff Walker). The jury
found for Defendant on Plaintiff Cross's claim and for
the remaining Plaintiffs under both the common law claims
(all Plaintiffs) and the statutory claim (Plaintiff Walker).
In the interim, Plaintiff Cross has settled with Defendant.
Defendant seeks a new trial arguing that the verdict is
against the weight of the evidence, prejudicial error
occurred during the trial, and substantial justice has not
been done. See ECF No. 331.
59(a)(1)(A) authorizes a court to grant a new trial
“for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore
been granted in an action at law in federal court.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). Whether to grant a motion for a new
trial is committed to the district court's discretion.
See M.D. Mark, Inc. v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 565 F.3d
753, 762 (10th Cir. 2009); see also Iowa Pac. Holdings,
LLC v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 853 F.Supp.2d
1094, 1097 (D. Colo. 2012) (describing that discretion as
“sound”). “A motion for new trial ‘is
not regarded with favor and should only be granted with great
caution.'” Iowa Pac. Holdings, 853
F.Supp.2d at 1097 (quoting United States v. Kelley,
929 F.2d 582, 586 (10th Cir. 1991)).
‘a new trial motion asserts that the jury verdict is
not supported by the evidence, the verdict must stand unless
it is clearly, decidedly, or overwhelmingly against the
weight of the evidence.'” M.D. Mark, Inc.,
565 F.3d at 762 (quoting Anaeme v. Diagnostek, Inc.,
164 F.3d 1275, 1284 (10th Cir. 1999)). Stated otherwise, the
motion should be granted only “if the evidence points
but one way and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences
supporting the party opposing the motion.” Iowa
Pac. Holdings, 853 F.Supp.2d at 1097 (quoting
Minshall v McGraw Hill Broad. Co., 323 F.3d 1273,
1279 (10th Cir. 2003)). “When reviewing an allegation
that a jury's verdict was not supported by evidence, [I]
view the record in the light most favorable to the prevailing
party.” Patton v. TIC United Corp., 77 F.3d
1235, 1242 (10th Cir. 1996).
“the verdict is against the weight of the evidence
presents a question of fact, not law.” Id.
Even so, I may not weigh the evidence, pass on the
credibility of the witnesses, or substitute my conclusions
for those of the jury. Iowa Pac. Holdings, 853
F.Supp.2d at 1097. “The jury has the exclusive function
of appraising credibility, determining the weight to be given
to the testimony, drawing inferences from the facts
established, resolving conflicts in the evidence, and
reaching ultimate conclusions of fact.” Snyder v.
City of Moab, 354 F.3d 1179, 1188 (10th Cir. 2003)
(quoting United Phosphorus, Ltd. V. Midland Fumigant,
Inc., 205 F.3d 1219, 1226 (10th Cir. 2000) (alternations
motion for new trial is based on an allegedly improper
evidentiary ruling and purported prejudicial error, the
movant must show that the evidentiary ruling was “both
clearly erroneous and so prejudicial that ‘it can be
reasonably concluded that with or without such evidence,
there would have been a contrary result.'”
Id. (quoting Hinds v. Gen. Motors Corp.,
988 F.2d 1039, 1049 (10th Cir. 1993)). “Neither an
error in the admission or exclusion of evidence nor an error
in a ruling or order of the court, nor anything done or
omitted by the court, can be grounds for granting a new trial
unless the error or defect affects the substantial rights of
the parties.” Id. (quoting Stewart v. S.
Kan. & Okla. R.R., Inc., 36 F.Supp.2d 919, 920 (D.
this jury trial created several challenges, as any
three-and-a-half-week trial is wont to do. It involved
several novel legal issues which I address far more
thoroughly in separate orders issued this date. However, in
the main, the evidentiary presentations went smoothly,
counsel were prepared and efficient, the jury was attentive,
each side had an opportunity to present their very differing
interpretations of the facts, the jury deliberated an
appropriate amount of time, and the verdict was split, with
Defendant prevailing as to one Plaintiff, and the other four
Plaintiffs prevailing and being awarded what can only be
described as moderate monetary damages. It is against this
backdrop that I address each of the contentions raised by
Defendant contends that I should not have permitted the jury
to deliberate on Plaintiffs' claims for wrongful
discharge in violation of public policy under Colorado law.
This is one of the complex legal issues that I have addressed
in a separate order, and for which I found for the
Plaintiffs. I will not repeat that analysis here.
Defendant contends that because Plaintiffs relied on a
“constructive discharge” theory in pursuing their
wrongful termination claims, and because the evidence
supports the fact that they were in fact terminated by
Defendant and did not resign, a new trial is required. Again,
I address this argument (under the very unique facts
presented in this case) in a separate order, and again, I
have found for the Plaintiffs on this issue.
Defendant contends that I should not have admitted detailed
evidence of “Plaintiffs' alleged reports to the
military-much of which was highly salacious (e.g.,
‘child pornography,' ‘human trafficking,'
‘espionage,' etc.)-and testimony from military
witnesses about its alleged investigation, the November 5,
2013 ‘raid,' and the barment of eight Vectrus
employees from Bagram.” Def.'s Mot. for New Trial
2, ECF No. 331. To provide some context, Plaintiffs were
security specialists working for Defendant (a defense
contractor) at Bagram Air Force Base (BAFB) in Afghanistan.
Plaintiffs were among those employees who screened persons
wishing to enter into BAFB. Plaintiffs contend they were
terminated for informing the military of wrongdoing
(affecting security) by Defendant, while Defendant contends
that two of the prevailing Plaintiffs were terminated for
misconduct, while the other two were terminated for lack of
initial matter, Defendant argues that it was willing to
stipulate that Plaintiffs engaged in protected whistleblowing
activity; therefore, evidence of the actual details of the
reports, as well as the military response, were irrelevant
and prejudicial. I could not disagree more. Plaintiffs'
theory was that their reports of serious misconduct by
Defendant resulted in an unprecedented event in
Defendant's corporate history: the United States military
conducting an early morning surprise “raid, ”
effectively arresting eight of Defendant's employees
including senior supervisory personnel, and immediately
removing them from the country (by flying them from