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Betty D. Cook, Plaintiff v. Illinois Department of Corrections

November 14, 2011

BETTY D. COOK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

I. Introduction and Background

Now before the Court is plaintiff's motion for judgment notwithstanding verdict or in the alternative motion for new trial (Doc. 88). Defendant opposes the motion (Doc. 90). Based on the applicable law and the following, the Court denies plaintiff's motion.

Plaintiff sued her former employer alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. She claims that, starting in December 2006, the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") began to discriminate against her because of her age, 49, in violation of the ADEA. She further alleges that as a result of this alleged discrimination she was forced to retired on June 1, 2008.

On May 23, 2011, trial in this matter commenced on plaintiff's claims of age discrimination and constructive discharge. The following allegations of age discrimination were at issue: (1) whether but for her age, plaintiff would have been promoted by defendant to Correctional Counselor III; (2) whether but for her age, plaintiff would have received Correctional Counselor III pay for her counselor duties at Centralia; (3) whether but for her age, plaintiff would have been disciplined before the March 19, 2007 C.H.A.M.P.S. entry regarding inmate Cobb; (4) whether but for her age, plaintiff would have been disciplined for the April 2007 failure to make inmate contacts within 90 days; (5) whether but for her age, plaintiff would have been disciplined for the April 4, 2007 approval of the visitor list for inmate Williams; (6) whether but for her age, plaintiff would have been disciplined for the June 7, 2007 email from plaintiff to Deb Gordon in Springfield; (7) whether but for her age, the defendant denied plaintiff pay for her 2007 leave of absence. As to the constructive discharge claim the issue was whether but for her age, would plaintiff have been forced to retire in May 2008. On May 31, 2001, the jury returned verdicts on all claims in favor of IDOC and against plaintiff (Doc. 74). Judgment reflecting the same was entered that same day (Doc. 79).

II. Legal Standard

Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a district court to enter judgment against a party who has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial if "a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue." The stringent standard for a judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 is the same whether the verdict under review was for the plaintiff or the defendant, and regardless of the underlying legal issues of the case. Under Rule 50, both the district court and an appellate court must construe the facts strictly in favor of the party that prevailed at trial. See Tart v. Illinois Power Co., 366 F.3d 461, 464 (7th Cir. 2004), citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150--51, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Although the court examines the evidence to determine whether the jury's verdict was based on that evidence, the court does not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. See Waite v. Board of Trustees of Illinois Community College Dist. No. 508, 408 F.3d 339, 343 (7th Cir. 2005), citing Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097. "Once a jury has spoken, we are obliged to construe the facts in favor of the parties who prevailed under the verdict." Tate v. Executive Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 546 F.3d 528, 531 (7th Cir. 2008) (citations and quotations omitted). Considering the totality of the evidence, courts determine whether the jury was presented with a "legally sufficient amount of evidence from which it could reasonably derive its verdict." Massey v. Blue Cross--Blue Shield of

Ill., 226 F.3d 922, 924 (7th Cir. 2000).

Turning then to the standard under which the Court must evaluate a motion for a new trial, pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues ... and to any party ... after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court [.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). See also ABM Marking, Inc. v. Zanasi Fratelli, S.R.L., 353 F.3d 541, 543 (7th Cir. 2003). A court may grant a new trial if "the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive or the trial was unfair to the moving party." Miksis v. Howard, 106 F.3d 754, 757 (7th Cir. 1997). "In reviewing a motion for a new trial, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. We will not set aside the jury's verdict if there is a reasonable basis in the record which supports that verdict." Allison v. Ticor Title Ins. Co., 979 F.2d 1187, 1196 (7th Cir. 1992). Rule 61 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also may be relevant to a motion for a new trial. That rule provides:

Unless justice requires otherwise, no error in admitting or excluding evidence-or any other error by the court or a party-is ground for granting a new trial, for setting aside a verdict, or for vacating, modifying, or otherwise disturbing a judgment or order. At every stage of the proceeding, the court must disregard all errors and defects that do not affect any party's substantial rights.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. Under Rule 61, "[i]n order to receive a new trial, the defendant must show that the error was substantial enough to deny him a fair trial." Perry v. Larson, 794 F.2d 279, 285 (7th Cir. 1986). In evaluating a motion for a new trial, a court must "leav[e] issues of credibility and weight of evidence to the jury." Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Carter v. Chicago Police Officers, 165 F.3d 1071, 1079 (7th Cir. 1998)). Finally, the decision about whether to grant a motion for a new trial is within a trial court's discretion. See Neal v. Honeywell, Inc., 191 F.3d 827, 831 (7th Cir. 1999); General Foam Fabricators, Inc. v. Tenneco Chems., Inc., 695 F.2d 281, 288 (7th Cir. 1982). With the foregoing standards in mind, the Court turns to the merits of the instant motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial.

As to the Rule 50 motion, plaintiff's motion merely states the following: "Pursuant to Rule 50, Plaintiff is entitled to a judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the reason that the evidence, including all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence, points so strongly and overwhelming in favor of Plaintiff that reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment could com to only one conclusion and in this case, in favor of Plaintiff and against the Defendant. Hubbard v. Faros Fisheries, Inc., 626 F.2d 196 (1st Cir., [sic] 1980)."

Plaintiff's Rule 50 motion states nothing more and nothing less. Her motion does not point to any evidence to support her argument for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Thus, the Court need not address this argument as it is not fully developed. See United States v. Adams, 625 F.3d 371, 378 (7th Cir. 2010) (failing to develop argument in meaningful way waives argument); United States v. Elst, 579 F.3d 740, 747 (7th Cir. 2009) ("Perfunctory and undeveloped arguments as well as arguments unsupported by pertinent authority are waived."); See United States v. Hook, 471 F.3d 766, 775 (7th Cir. 2006). Thus, the Court denies plaintiff's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and now addresses plaintiff's alternative motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59.

As to the jury instructions, plaintiff makes several arguments claiming that the Court erred in instructing the jury. The Seventh Circuit gives district courts "substantial discretion with respect to the precise wording of jury instructions so long as the final result, read as a whole, completely and correctly states the law." Calhoun v. Ramsey, 408 F.3d 375, 379 (7th Cir. 2005). An erroneous jury instruction is not prejudicial unless, "considering the instructions as a whole, along with all of the evidence and arguments, ...


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