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Dixie L. Baker v. Internap Network Services Corporation

April 5, 2011

DIXIE L. BAKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTERNAP NETWORK SERVICES CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Dixie Baker sued Internap Network Services Corporation, her former employer, to recover commissions she claimed she earned from the sale of content delivery network services on three accounts. After a three-day trial, a jury found for Baker and awarded her $222,184.19 in compensatory damages. Internap has moved for entry judgment as a matter of law in its favor pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. In the alternative, Internap asks the Court to amend the judgment or order a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. Baker has also moved to amend the judgment to include prejudgment interest and to tax costs against Internap. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Internap's motions and grants Baker's motions in part.

Discussion

The Court provided a summary of the relevant background facts in its previous opinion granting in part and denying in part Internap's motion for summary judgment. Baker v. Internap Network Serv. Corp., No. 09 C 875, 2010 WL 3834003 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 23, 2010). The Court thus turns to the merits of Baker and Internap's various post-trial motions.

1. Internap's Rule 50 and Rule 59 motions

Rule 50 authorizes a court to enter judgment as a matter of law if "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). Under this standard, "the question is simply whether the evidence as a whole, when combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn from that evidence, is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the plaintiff." Hall v. Forest River, Inc., 536 F.3d 615, 619 (7th Cir. 2008). Similarly, Rule 59 allows a court to order a new trial or amend a judgment if "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive, or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party." Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 610 F.3d 434, 440 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts "will set aside a verdict as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury could have rendered the verdict." Lewis v. City of Chicago Police Dep't, 590 F.3d 427, 444 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In support of its motions, Internap argues that (1) the Court improperly permitted the jury to determine whether a contract existed between the parties, and in any event the jury's finding that a contract existed was not supported by the evidence presented at trial; and (2) the jury disregarded its instructions regarding the Jack9 contract and awarded Baker damages that were not supported by the evidence.

a. The existence of an implied-in-fact contract

Internap first argues that "the issue of whether a contract existed should not have been presented to the jury to determine." Def.'s Mot. at 11. Under Illinois law, an implied-in-fact contract exists "where circumstances under common understanding show a mutual intent to contract." Foiles v. N. Greene Unit Dist. No. 3, 261 Ill. App. 3d 186, 198, 633 N.E.2d 24, 25 (1994). The existence of a contract is a question of law "when the basic facts are not in dispute." Liautaud v. Liautaud, 221 F.3d 981, 985 (7th Cir. 2000). By contrast, the existence of an implied-in-fact contract is a question for the trier of fact if there is a genuine dispute regarding the parties' actions and mutual intent. See Frey v. Belleville News-Democrat, Inc., 64 Ill. App. 3d 495, 498, 381 N.E.2d 705, 708 (1978) (recognizing that because "[a] contract implied in fact arises not by the express agreement of the parties, either verbal or written, but by their acts and conduct showing an intention to be bound," summary judgment is improper if a party "can present facts[ ] which support a finding of such a contract").

Internap acknowledges that the Court "den[ied] Internap's motion for summary judgment on this same issue." Def.'s Mot. at 7. As the Court noted in its previous opinion, the parties disputed basic facts bearing on whether an implied-in-fact contract existed, such as "whether Internap's practice of paying her according to the commission formula in every instance [except] the ones here demonstrates its intention to abide by the 2007 CDN plan." Baker, 2010 WL 3834003, at *4. These disputes persisted in the evidence as it was presented at trial. The Court reaffirms its earlier conclusion that the resolution of these disputed questions of fact was a task properly left to the jury. Cf. Frey, 64 Ill. App. 3d at 498, 381 N.E.2d at 708-09 (concluding that "evidence . . . tending to prove the existence of a contract implied in fact" should have been presented to the jury). Internap's argument that Baker's claim is actually based on a theory of express contract, the existence or non-existence of which should be a question for the court instead of the jury, also misses the mark. Baker argued throughout the case that an implied-in-fact contract existed based on the parties' course of dealing with respect to the 2007 CDN plan.

Internap also argues that "the record as a whole did not support a finding that the [2007 CDN plan] formed a contract." Def.'s Mot. at 7. To be sure, Internap's witnesses testified that the 2007 CDN plan was only part of a broader compensation plan. But other testimony and evidence supported the existence of an implied contract as Baker contended. Specifically, Baker testified that during the period of her employment at Internap she consistently received commissions according to the 2007 CDN plan and was paid such commissions one month after the month in which the sale was signed.

A reasonable jury could have credited Baker's testimony and discredited the testimony and arguments offered by Internap and, as a result, could properly find that an impliedin-fact contract existed based on the 2007 CDN plan and the parties' course of dealing.

b. The Jack9 account

Internap next argues that reversal is required because the jury disregarded its instruction on Internap's defense regarding the Jack9 account. This instruction told the jury that it should find for Internap if it concluded that (1) a term of Baker's contract with Internap allowed Internap to reduce an employee's commission on an account if that account failed, and (2) the Jack9 account failed. Internap contends that both conditions were satisfied, and therefore "there was no ...


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