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Baron v. Chrans

December 12, 2008

THOMAS E. BARON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIS CHRANS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the following matters pending before this Court: (1) Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion to Redact Plaintiffs' Personal Financial Information from the Record (d/e 190); (2) Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, Alternatively, for New Trial (d/e 202); (3) Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the Judgment Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) to Include Prejudgment Interest (d/e 205); (4) Plaintiffs' Petition for Attorneys' Fees (d/e 207); and (5) Plaintiffs' Bill of Costs (d/e 210), and Defendant Chrans' Objection thereto (d/e 212). For the reasons set forth below, the Court rules on the Motions as follows: (1) Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion to Redact Plaintiffs' Personal Financial Information from the Record is DENIED; (2) Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, Alternatively, for New Trial is DENIED; (3) Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the Judgment Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) to Include Prejudgment Interest is ALLOWED in part; (4) Plaintiffs' Petition for Attorneys' Fees is ALLOWED in part; and (5) Defendant Chrans' Objection to Plaintiffs' Bill of Costs is SUSTAINED. The Court will address each Motion separately.

1. Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion to Redact

Plaintiffs' Personal Financial Information from the Record Plaintiffs ask the Court to redact personal financial information from the exhibits submitted at trial and from the transcripts of the trial. The request is denied. Trials are conducted in public. As such, the Court will not redact any information from the trial transcripts or from the exhibits, other than personal identifying information, such as social security numbers and bank account numbers. After a final judgment is entered, and any appeals are concluded, the parties may recover their exhibits from the Clerk.

2. Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, Alternatively, for New Trial

Defendant Chrans asks the Court to enter judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, to order a new trial. To prevail on his request for judgment as a matter of law, Chrans must demonstrate that there was no legally sufficient evidence for the jury to have found for the Plaintiffs as set forth in the verdict. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50; Alexander v. Mount Sinai Hosp. Medical Center, 484 F.3d 889, 902 (7th Cir. 2007). To prevail on the request for a new trial, Chrans must demonstrate that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive, or the trial was otherwise unfair. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e); Mid-America Tablewares, Inc. v. Mogi Trading Co., Ltd., 100 F.3d 1353, 1367 (7th Cir. 1996).

For reasons stated of record in open court, the Court previously denied Chrans' Rule 50 motion with respect to the claims on which the jury found for the Plaintiffs. Minute entry entered September 2, 2008. The Court has carefully considered Chrans' renewed motion and still determines that the evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient to support the verdict. The Rule 50 Motion is denied.

Chrans also argues that the finding of liability in the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; the compensatory damages awarded were the result of an improper compromise verdict; and the evidence was insufficient to support the award of punitive damages. The Court disagrees. The jury's verdict of liability was not against the weight of the evidence.

There was ample evidence to support the jury's determination of liability. The damage award was also supported by the evidence. The jury awarded Plaintiff Christopher Mallavarapu $1,600,000.00; Plaintiff Thomas Baron $650,000.00; and Plaintiff Robert Trask $400,000.00. The amount awarded to each Plaintiff reflected the jury's careful determination of the injury that Chrans caused each Plaintiff. The Court sees no evidence of a compromise. The evidence also supports the punitive damage award. The jury awarded each Plaintiff $500,000.00 in punitive damages, for a total of $1,500,000.00 in punitive damages. The evidence supports the finding that Chrans acted willfully, wantonly, or with actual malice. The amount of punitive damages was not excessive. The request for a new trial is denied.

3. Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the Judgment Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) to Include Prejudgment Interest

The Plaintiffs ask the Court for prejudgment interest. The Court has the discretion to award prejudgment interest in this case. Generally, prejudgment interest is appropriate to provide full compensation. The Court, however, may deny interest when it is too difficult to determine which parts of the award are eligible. Matter of Oil Spill by Amoco Cadiz Off Coast of France on March 16, 1978, 954 F.2d 1279, 1334 (7th Cir. 1992). The difficulty in this case is in determining the date from which the prejudgment interest should start to accrue. The jury awarded $1,600,000.00 to Mallavarapu, $650,000.00 to Baron, and $400,000.00 to Trask. The jury did not identify the payments on which the judgment was based. The Plaintiffs presented evidence that each contributed significant funds to the scheme at various points in time from 2001 through 2005. The Plaintiffs also signed personal guarantees totaling $1,090,000.00 each. Each paid the Bank of Springfield the sum of $1,150,000.00 on August 30, 2008, to satisfy their obligations under these personal guarantees. Transcript of Proceedings on August 20, 2008 (d/e 180), at 383. This was the last payment made by each Plaintiff. The Court determines that interest should run from this last payment.

The payment on the guarantees exceeded the award to both Baron and Trask, and represented approximately two-thirds of the award to Mallavarapu. Therefore, with respect to the compensatory award to Plaintiffs Trask and Baron, the Court awards prejudgment interest from August 30, 2008, the date that they made their payments to the Bank of Springfield. With respect to Plaintiff Mallavarapu, the Court awards prejudgment interest on $1,090,000.00 of the judgment from August 30, 2008. With respect to the remaining $510,000.00, the Court awards prejudgment interest from January 31, 2005, which was the date that Mallavarapu made a $500,000.00 contribution to buy a new airplane for the venture. Prejudgment interest from that date is appropriate for this sum. The Court agrees that 9 percent, compounded annually, is an appropriate market rate for the time period of the transaction. Defendant Chrans does not dispute the rate.

Defendant Chrans argues that his degree of personal wrongdoing was not sufficient to support an award of prejudgment interest. See Osterneck v. Ernst & Whinney, 489 U.S. 169, 176 (1989). The Court disagrees. The jury found that Chrans acted willfully, wantonly, or with actual malice. The evidence supported the determination. ...


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