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Pennington v. Integrity Communications, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

January 29, 2015

BRYAN PENNINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
INTEGRITY COMMUNICATIONS, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' post-trial motions. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will deny plaintiffs' motions.

I. Background

Plaintiffs filed a multi-count complaint against defendants Integrity Communications, Inc., Integrity Communications, LLC, Holly Rehder, and Ray Rehder (collectively, "defendants"), seeking to recover unpaid wages, liquidated damages, attorney fees, and other relief from defendants for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. ("FLSA"), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. ("ERISA"), the Missouri Minimum Wage Law, § 290.500 RSMo. et seq., and Missouri common law. The case was tried to a jury. Prior to trial, plaintiffs dismissed their claims for FLSA minimum wage law violations, FLSA retaliation regarding the discharge of plaintiff Bryan Pennington, Missouri minimum wage law violations, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment. Additionally, plaintiffs dismissed defendant Integrity Communications, LLC. The claims pending for trial included FLSA overtime and ERISA denial of health and welfare benefit. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants on all of plaintiffs' claims.

II. Legal Standard

A. Motion for New Trial

Following a jury trial resulting in an adverse judgment, a party may move for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A). Under this Rule, "[a] new trial is appropriate when the first trial, through a verdict against the weight of the evidence, an excessive damage award, or legal errors at trial, resulted in a miscarriage of justice." Gray v. Bicknell, 86 F.3d 1472, 1480 (8th Cir. 1996). This Court "is not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions or because judges feel that other results are more reasonable." King v. Davis, 980 F.2d 1236, 1237 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing White v. Pence, 961 F.2d 776, 780 (8th Cir. 1992)).

With respect to legal errors, a miscarriage of justice does not result whenever there are inaccuracies or errors at trial; instead, the party seeking a new trial must demonstrate that there was prejudicial error. Buchholz v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 120 F.3d 146, 148 (8th Cir. 1997). Errors in evidentiary rulings or in jury instructions are prejudicial only where the error likely affected the jury's verdict. See Sherman v. Winco Fireworks, Inc., 532 F.3d 709, 720 (8th Cir. 2008); Diesel Mach., Inc. v. B.R. Lee Indus., Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 833 (8th Cir. 2005). For allegations of instructional error, the court "must determine simply whether the instructions, taken as a whole and viewed in light of the evidence and applicable law, fairly and adequately submitted the issues in the case to the jury." Sherman, 532 F.3d at 720.

B. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, if "the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for [a] party on [an] issue, the court may... grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). "A jury verdict is entitled to extreme deference" and will not be set aside "unless no reasonable jury could have reached the same verdict on the evidence submitted." Craig Outdoor Advertising, Inc. v. Viacom Outdoor, Inc., 528 F.3d 1001, 1009 (8th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). The Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and must not engage in a weighing or evaluation of the evidence or consider questions of credibility." Douglas County Bank & Trust Co. v. United Fin. Inc., 207 F.3d 473, 477 (8th Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted).

III. Discussion

Plaintiffs allege that they are entitled to a new trial because (1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; and (2) the jury was misled by evidence presented by defendants that had no bearing on the ultimate determination to be made. Additionally, plaintiffs contend there were legal errors requiring a new trial including (1) instruction number 8 did not fairly and adequately represent the applicable law because it did not include language regarding the remedial purpose of the FLSA; (2) the Court failed to instruct the jury to disregard Holly Rehder's testimony referring to plaintiffs' attorneys as thieves; and (3) the Court required plaintiffs to testify a second time as to calculation of damages. In the alternative, plaintiffs allege that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the evidence does not support the jury's verdict.

A. Motion for New Trial

Plaintiffs argue that the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence because the evidence demonstrates that plaintiffs were employees, as opposed to independent contractors, under the economic realities test. "[T]he courts do not apply the traditional common law analysis to distinguish between employees, ' to whom the FLSA applies, and independent contractors, ' to whom it does not." Dole v. Amerilink Corp., 729 F.Supp. 73, 76 (E.D. Mo. 1990). "Rather, the analysis focuses on the economic reality' of the employment ...


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