United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Y. Wang, United States Magistrate Judge.
matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Tamara
Bryant's ("Plaintiff or "Ms. Bryant")
Plaintiffs Motion for a New Trial Based on Insufficiency of
Evidence Supporting the Verdict ("the Motion" or
"the Motion for a New Trial"). [#183, filed July
10, 2018]. Ms. Bryant filed the Motion after this court
presided over a jury trial in June 2018 wherein a duly sworn
jury of eight individuals returned a complete verdict for the
Defendants in this action. Defendants Earl Byron Reams, II
and the H. Neil Reams Family LLP ("Reams
Defendants") filed their Response on August 31, 2018
[#196], and Ms. Bryant filed her Reply on October 15, 2018
[#201]. The court has determined that oral argument would not
materially assist its resolution of the Motion, and thus the
matter is now fully ripe and ready for disposition. For the
reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the
Motion for a New Trial is DENIED.
Reams Defendants own and graze cattle on Parcel 079, located
near Highway 145 south of Naturita, Colorado. [#92 at 3-4].
Parcel 079 is partially fenced by both the Colorado
Department of Transportation ("CDOT") and the Reams
Defendants, but there are unfenced areas where cows may exit
the property and wander onto other property, including the
highway. [Id. at 3]. This unfenced area is located
near natural barriers such as steep hill grades. On December
21, 2015, Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle travelling
southbound on Highway 145 when the vehicle struck a cow owned
by the Reams Defendant that had recently been hit in a
separate, unrelated automobile collision. [Id. at
1-2]. Plaintiff was gravely wounded and lost her right arm.
[Id. at 2].
originally sued CDOT along with Defendants Earl Byron Reams,
II and the H. Neil Reams Family LLLP, John William Reams, and
Trace Campbell, a rancher with a seasonal lease to graze
cattle on nearby land. [#1; #92 at 3]. Ms. Bryant asserted
two claims against CDOT: (1) premises liability pursuant to
Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115; and (2) common law
negligence. [#1]. Ms. Bryant asserted a single claim for
negligence against the Reams Defendants and John Reams, and a
claim for civil conspiracy between the Reams Defendants and
Defendant Campbell. [Id.]. A First Amended Complaint
added Wendy Campbell as a defendant as well [#28], but
Plaintiff subsequently dismissed both Campbell Defendants and
the civil conspiracy claim. [#34; #35]. The court then
permitted a Second Amended Complaint to allow Plaintiff to
pursue exemplary damages. [#56].
the close of discovery, CDOT moved for summary judgment as to
the premises liability claim but not as to the common law
negligence claim. The court sua sponte raised the
issue pursuant to Rule 56(f) and ordered the Parties to
address whether the common law negligence claim could lie
against CDOT. [#85]. At oral argument, Plaintiff conceded
that no claim for common law negligence could lie against
CDOT, [#89 at 7:2-15], and the court dismissed the claim with
prejudice. [#88]. The court subsequently granted summary
judgment in favor of Defendant John Reams and dismissed the
exemplary damages demand, [#90], leaving one claim against
CDOT for a violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115 and
one claim against the Reams Defendants for common law
25, 2018, Plaintiff and CDOT notified the court that they had
reached a settlement. [#135]. The Reams Defendants then moved
to designate CDOT as a nonparty at fault, [#136; #137], and
the court granted the Reams Defendants' motion upon
Plaintiffs filing of a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal as to
CDOT. [#150; #151]. Thus, the only issue left for trial was
the common law negligence claim against the Reams Defendants.
An eight-day jury trial commenced on June 4, 2018.
the material issues at trial were whether the cow at issue
had escaped from Parcel 079 and whether the Defendants had
used reasonable care in containing the cow from wandering
onto the highway. At the conclusion of the trial and after
the denial of Defendants' motions for verdicts as a
matter of law, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of
Defendants and against Plaintiff. [#175]. Based on the
jury's verdict, this court entered Final Judgment on June
14, 2018. [#178]. On July 10, 2018, Ms. Bryant filed this
instant Motion for New Trial, arguing that based on the
evidence presented at trial, no reasonable jury could reach
the verdict that Defendants were not negligent. [#183].
Rules of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1) provides that a court may
order a new trial after a jury has returned a verdict. Rule
50(b) provides that a party may file a renewed motion for
judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) and include
either jointly or in the alternative a request for a new
trial under Rule 59. Thus, although Plaintiff moves for a new
trial under both Rule 50(b) and Rule 59, the operative legal
standard is that for granting a new trial under Rule 59.
decision to grant a new trial is committed to the sound
discretion of the trial court. IowaPac. Holdings, LLC v.
Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 853 F.Supp.2d 1094, 1097
(D. Colo. 2012). "A motion for new trial is not regarded
with favor and should only be granted with great
caution." Id. If a new trial motion asserts
that the verdict is not supported by the evidence, the
jury's verdict must stand unless it is "clearly,
decidedly, or overwhelmingly against the weight of the
evidence." M.D. Mark, Inc. v. Kerr-McGee Corp.,
565 F.3d 753, 762 (10th Cir. 2009); see also Champion
Home Builders v. Shumate, 388 F.2d 806, 808 (10th Cir.
1967) ("[T]he jury verdict must not be preempted unless
it has no basis in fact.").
ruling on a motion for a new trial, the court considers the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party,
United Int'l Holdings, Inc. v. The Wharf (Holdings)
Ltd., 210 F.3d 1207, 1227 (10th Cir. 2000), bearing in
mind that "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). The court must not
"appraise credibility, re-weigh the evidence, draw [its]
own inferences, or resolve conflicts in the evidence."
Blissitv. Westlake Hardware, 410 Fed.Appx. 172, 173
(10th Cir. 2011).
jury in this case rendered its verdict pursuant to a special
verdict form, answering only one question: "Were the
defendants, Earl Reams or the H. Neil Reams Family LLLP,
negligent?" The jury answered no. [#175 at 1]. The
question before the court posed by Ms. Bryant's Rule 59
Motion for a New Trial is whether the jury's finding that
the Reams Defendants were not negligent is "clearly,
decidedly, or ...