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Installation Services, Inc. v. Electronics Research

November 30, 2006

INSTALLATION SERVICES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELECTRONICS RESEARCH, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case was tried to a jury on two state law claims by plaintiff Installation Services, Inc. ("ISI") against defendant Electronics Research, Inc. ("ERI"), arising out of a construction project on the John Hancock building in Chicago. The jury returned a verdict for ERI on ISI's defamation claim but found for ISI on its tortious interference with prospective economic advantage claim. The jury awarded ISI $616,717 in compensatory damages. In a related action, Case No. 06 C 9, ISI filed suit against Crown Castle Broadcast USA Corp. and Shorenstein Realty Services, LP. This Court consolidated the two actions for trial purposes. Several claims in the related action were disposed of on summary judgment, see Installation Svcs., Inc. v. Crown Castle Broadcast USA Corp., Nos. 06 C 9 & 04 C 6906, 2006 WL 202422, *1 (N.D. Ill. July 13, 2006), and ISI settled with Crown Castle and Shorenstein on the claims that remained. Certain costs allegedly incurred only on the 06 C 9 case are at issue in the bill of costs filed by ISI.

At the close of the evidence, and again after the jury returned its verdict, ERI moved for entry of judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b). In the alternative, ERI now also moves for remittitur or a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. ERI also objects to certain expenses that ISI included in its bill of costs. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies ERI's motions and overrules its objections to ISI's bill of costs.

Facts

Familiarity with the facts of the case is presumed. See Installation Svcs., Inc. v. Crown Castle Broadcast USA Corp., Nos. 06 C 9 & 04 C 6906, 2006 WL 202422, *1 (N.D. Ill. July 13, 2006); Installation Svcs., Inc. v. Electronics Research, Inc., No. 04 C 6906, 2005 WL 3180129, *1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 23, 2005). Any additional facts that are relevant to the case are discussed in the legal analysis that follows.

Discussion

1. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a court to grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law if "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for th[e] party on that issue . . . ." FED. R. CIV. P. 50(a)(1). See also FED. R. CIV. P. 50(b). The Court will not overturn a "jury verdict as long as a reasonable basis exists in the record to support [it]." Haschmann v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., 151 F.3d 591, 599 (7th Cir. 1998). The Seventh Circuit has explained that a party seeking to overturn a jury verdict "assumes a Herculean burden." Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 213 F.3d 365, 372 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party that prevailed and draws reasonable inferences in its favor and may enter judgment for the moving party only if no rational jury could have found for the party that prevailed. Id.

ERI contends that ISI failed to meet its burden of proof at trial on its claim of tortious interference with prospective economic advantage. Specifically, ERI claims that ISI did not prove causation and that the jury instead relied on "speculation and sheer conjecture" to find in favor of ISI on the tortious interference claim. See Def. Reply at 2. ERI further argues that ISI's defamation claim was analytically intertwined with its tortious interference claim and that because the evidence was insufficient to support the defamation claim, the jury's verdict in favor of ISI on the tortious interference claim must be overturned. See Def. Mot. at 2.

To prove tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, a plaintiff must establish "(1) a reasonable expectancy of entering into a valid business relationship, (2) the defendant's knowledge of the expectancy, (3) an intentional and unjustified interference by the defendant that induced or caused a breach or termination of the expectancy, and (4) damage to the plaintiff resulting from the defendant's interference." Voyles v. Sandia Mortgage Corp., 196 Ill. 2d 288, 300-01, 751 N.E.2d 1126, 1133 (2001) (citations omitted). ERI contends that ISI failed to prove causation.

At trial, ISI presented the testimony of Dennis Quinn, an ironworker who worked on the Hancock project and served as the union steward for the ironworkers at the site and who later worked for ERI when it took over the job. Quinn's role as union steward was to ensure the safety of the Hancock project and that no one was breaking union rules or conditions. Quinn overheard ERI's Tom Silliman describe to CBS's Chuck deCourt in November 2001 that Silliman did not believe the work was "up to par" and that the gin pole they didn't feel was sufficient; and the rigging, they didn't think the rigging was sufficient or strong enough, and they didn't like the way it was up there. That's about it, that they didn't think it was capable of handling the job, and they didn't like the way he [Ron Romano, ISI's principal] came in there and went about doing the job. Quinn testimony at 16.*fn1 Quinn also testified that he heard Silliman explain to Mead Elliot that ERI could do the job "cheaper, faster, better. They'd work in rain, snow, wind, whatever, and they'd come up and do it in a shorter amount of time." Id. at 18.

Robert Boskovich, president and business manager of Ironworkers Local 1, also testified regarding comments he overheard Silliman make to deCourt. Boskovich stated that he overheard Silliman say to deCourt that ISI wasn't qualified and that ISI didn't have the right equipment. See Boskovich testimony at 6-9.

ISI also offered circumstantial evidence that ERI wrongly interfered with ISI's contract. On a Sunday morning, with no work crews around, deCourt asked Ernie Jones, vice president of ERI, to meet him at the Hancock building to work out the details of ERI taking over the project from ISI. ERI contends that deCourt and John Kapp, a Shorenstein employee, offered legitimate reasons for terminating ISI, relating to the time-line of the job and certain winter charges that ISI needed to add on to the contract price. ISI argues, however, that the jury was entitled to draw its own conclusions regarding causation based on its inferences from the circumstantial evidence and its assessment of the credibility of the witnesses.

For example, ISI argues that although deCourt testified about his claimed reasons for terminating ISI on the project and bringing on ERI, the jury was entitled to draw conclusions regarding the veracity of that testimony in light of the other evidence presented, such as the seemingly secretive meeting with ERI on a Sunday morning without work crews around. ISI also points to the winter contract negotiations with ERI, which ISI argues showed that its winter charge was only $136,163 but that ERI's contract price quotation was ten times higher. Pltf. Resp. at 10. ISI argues that the jury was allowed to question why, even with the great price disparity, deCourt did not resume negotiations with ISI. ISI also notes that deCourt and Kapp's explanations for terminating their ...


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