Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Yeatts

122 F.2d 350 (4th Cir. 1941)



A motion to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial is a matter of federal procedure, governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 59, and not subject in any way to the rules of state practice. On such a motion, it is the duty of the judge to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial, if he is of opinion that the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or is based upon evidence which is false, or will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict. The exercise of this power is not in derogation of the right of trial by jury but is one of the historic safeguards of that right.


Plaintiff insurance company sought a declaratory judgment regarding the coverage of an insurance policy. Defendant sought recovery from the insurance company of a judgment entered against him. Plaintiff denied liability alleging that defendant's criminal conduct was expressly excluded from the policy's coverage. The question regarding whether defendant's conduct was criminal in nature was submitted to the jury. The jury found for defendant, and the trial court refused to grant plaintiff's motion for judgment non obstante veredicto and for a new trial. 


Is the granting or refusing of a new trial is a matter that is reviewable upon appeal?




It is well settled  that  the granting or refusing of a new trial is a matter resting in the sound discretion of the trial judge, and that his action thereon is not reviewable upon appeal, except in the most exceptional circumstances.  "The rule that this Court will not review the action of a federal trial court in granting or denying a motion for a new trial for error of fact has been settled by a long and unbroken line of decisions; and has been frequently applied where the ground of the motion was that the damages awarded by the jury were excessive or were inadequate. The rule precludes likewise a review of such action by a Circuit Court of Appeals. Its early formulation by this Court was influenced by the mandate of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which provided in section 22 that there should be 'no reversal in either (circuit or Supreme) court on such writ of error * * * for any error in fact.' Sometimes the rule has been rested on that part of the Seventh Amendment which provides that 'no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States than according to the rules of the common law'. More frequently the reason given for the denial of review is that the granting or refusing of a motion for a new trial is a matter within the discretion of the trial court.” Fairmont Glass Works v. Cub Fork Coal Co., 287 U.S. 474, 53 S.Ct. 254, 77 L.Ed. 439.

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