Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate if a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). In both Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 motions for summary judgment and Rule 50 motions for judgment as a matter of law, the inquiry is the same: whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit's review of a district court's Rule 50 decision is de novo, using the same standards as the district court.
Linden was operating a bulldozer to grade a steep bank in a drainage pond when the bulldozer rolled and Linden was thrown from the safety of the bulldozer's rollover protection system. The bulldozer landed on his legs, causing severe injury. Linden sued CNH and Indiana Mills & Manufacturing, Inc. (IMMI) in federal district court based on diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In his complaint, Linden alleged the CNH bulldozer incorporated an IMMI seatbelt that was defective in its manufacture, design, and warnings. Because the seatbelt was manufactured more than 10 years earlier, the district court dismissed the claims against IMMI pursuant to the Indiana statute of repose. The court granted judgment as a matter of law on the manufacturing defect claim and allowed the other claims against CNH, an Iowa company, to proceed. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict for the manufacturer on plaintiff's remaining two claims, inadequate warning and design defect. The case was appealed.
Was the judgment as a matter of law on the manufacturing defect proper?
On appeal, the court first ruled that the manufacturer's Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 motion was properly granted as to the manufacturing defect claim. Plaintiff's counsel never pointed to evidence to support the manufacturing defect theory asserted on appeal that the seatbelt buckle case was not strengthened by polycarbonate. Any error as to that particular theory of a manufacturing defect was deemed waived. Additional alleged flaws were, in fact, design defects. Plaintiff had not pointed to sufficient evidence in the record that would support his claim the product departed from its intended design and did not meet its design specifications. The court found no errors in challenged jury instructions. Although the court agreed with plaintiff that the district court erred in failing to dismiss a prospective juror for cause, the error was harmless because the juror was dismissed by way of one of plaintiff's peremptory strikes. Because plaintiff was unable to show that he was prejudiced by the trial court's refusal to dismiss the prospective juror, the jury verdict was upheld.