United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE.
matter is before the court on Sprint's Motion for New
Trial (Dkt. 249). Sprint contends errors in the instructions
and in the admission or exclusion of evidence warrant the
granting of a new trial. For the reasons stated herein, the
court finds the motion should be denied.
provides that the court may 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).
The primary purpose of the rule is to allow for correction of
manifest errors. See Waugh v. Williams Companies, Inc.
Long Term Disability Plan, 323 F.App'x 681, 684
(10th Cir. 2009). Motions for new trial are not regarded with
favor and should be granted only with great caution.
Breen v. Pruter, F.App'x, 2017 WL 655405, *13
(10th Cir. Feb. 17, 2017). “Courts do not grant new
trials unless it is reasonably clear that prejudicial error
has crept into the record or that substantial justice has not
been done, and the burden of showing harmful error rests on
the party seeking the new trial.” 11 Fed. Prac. &
Proc. Civ. § 2803 (3d ed.).
Jury instructions on contract interpretation.
contends Jury Instruction No. 12 (along with No. 13)
“was confusing and elevated the contra
preferentum rule above primary rules of contract
construction, both in terms of analytical order and
prominence, and failed to accurately or completely embody the
relevant Kansas law of contract interpretation.” Dkt.
249 at 7. It contends the jury might have based its verdict
on the contra preferentum doctrine (construing the
document against the drafter) without first giving
appropriate weight to extrinsic evidence of the parties'
interpretations of the contract. Id. Sprint argues
the instructions were contrary to First Nat'l Bank of
Olathe v. Clark, 226 Kan. 619, 602 P.2d 1299 (1979), and
that the jury should have been instructed to consider
extrinsic evidence and then, if the agreement was still
ambiguous, to construe the agreement against the drafter.
Dkt. 249 at 9.
court sees no inconsistency with First Nat'l
Bank. The jury was told it had to determine the meaning
the parties attached to the contract terms, and that in doing
so it could consider “all of the evidence, including
the words used in the agreement, the conduct of the parties,
and the explanations offered by the parties, ” as well
as “any prior course of dealing between the parties,
customary and known practices in the telephone industry, and
whether technical terms or words of art were used that were
intended to carry a specialized meaning.” Dkt. 241 at
14. Thus, the jury would have considered the extrinsic
evidence in determining the meaning attached by the parties.
And it necessarily had to do so before it could apply
contra preferentum under the last paragraph of
Instruction No. 12. The jury was instructed to apply that
doctrine only if the parties did not have the same
understanding of the terms (Instruction No. 11), and if
Sprint failed to show that Middle Man was aware or had reason
to know of Sprint's understanding of the terms
(Instruction No. 12).
basis of Sprint's complaint is not entirely clear, but
seems to be based in part on the order of the instructions,
and the fact that the “extrinsic evidence”
instruction (No. 13) was given after the contra
preferentum instruction (No. 12). See Dkt. 249 at 11. To
the extent that is a source of complaint, it is unavailing,
as the jury was told that “[n]o single instruction or
smaller group of instructions states the law; you must
consider all the instructions as a whole.” Dkt. 241 at
2. Sprint also complains that Instruction No. 12
“directed the jury to … assume that the parties
assigned the terms a contrary meaning at the time they
entered into the contract….” Id. But
Instruction No. 11 told the jury it “must first
determine whether, at the time the agreement was made, the
parties had a common understanding” of the contract
terms. Dkt. 241 at 12. Only if the jury found the parties
attached different meanings was it instructed that it must
“next determine whether the terms should be interpreted
in accordance with the meaning attached to them by
Sprint.” Id. at 13.
also objects to the court's failure to give its proposed
instruction 14 (Dkt. 234) telling the jury that Middle
Man's interpretation had to be reasonable to be credited.
Aside from the fact the proposed instruction was not an
even-handed statement of law (it contained no requirement
that Sprint's interpretation be reasonable), Sprint makes
no showing that the failure to give this instruction was in
any way prejudicial to Sprint.
Exclusion of Rule 609 evidence.
argues the court committed prejudicial error by excluding
evidence of a prior conviction that Sprint sought to
introduce. As indicated in the court's prior order (Dkt.
232), Sprint sought to show that Brian Vazquez was convicted
in 2004 of the misdemeanor offense of obstruction of a law
enforcement officer by making false statements, which
resulted from Vazquez using his brother's name in the
course of an arrest. Vazquez was sentenced to probation and
successfully completed it. Dkt. 232 at 2. The court excluded
the evidence under Rule 609(b)(1), finding there was a danger
of unfair prejudice given the remoteness in time of the
incident and its lack of relevance to the dispute over the
Terms and Conditions of the contract. An additional
consideration was that Sprint had already made suggestions of
fraud to the jury when that was not an issue in the case.
Sprint makes no showing that this ruling was error, let alone
prejudicial error. It notes that the conviction was barely
outside the 10-year limit of Rule 609(b) and argues that
defense counsel “seized upon this fortuitous one-month
window” to argue for its exclusion. Dkt. 249 at 13.
Inasmuch as “seizing upon” this
“fortuity” is another way of saying that defense
counsel asked that the rule be applied, and in light of the
fact that the conviction was not even tangentially related to
any substantive issue in the case, Sprint has failed to show
that exclusion of the evidence was an abuse of discretion or
that it warrants a new trial.
Admission of “dispute resolution”
contends the court erroneously allowed Brian Vazquez to
testify that Sprint did not follow the dispute resolution
procedures in the Terms and Conditions. Sprint acknowledges
that the court eventually instructed the jury to disregard
this testimony, but contends the instruction came too late