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Karnofsky v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 14, 2017

Roberta Karnofsky, Plaintiff,
v.
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial (ECF No. 151), and Plaintiff's objections to Defendant's bill of costs (ECF No. 152). For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's motion for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial is denied, and Plaintiff's objections to the bill of costs are sustained in part and overruled in part.

         BACKGROUND

         These motions are before the Court after a week-long jury trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found for the Defendant on all causes of action.[1] Plaintiff now presents five arguments in support of her demand for a new trial. First, Plaintiff asserts that the Court erred by instructing the jury that she was not totally disabled from the time of her accident. Second, Plaintiff claims that the defense verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence and thus the Court should grant a new trial under the thirteenth-juror doctrine. Third, Plaintiff argues that all evidence, argument, and testimony about the South Carolina Department of Insurance's findings should have been excluded under Federal Rules of Evidence 402 and 403. Fourth, Plaintiff contends that the Court erred by not permitting her to question Barbara Mueller about her incomplete review of the whole claim file. Finally, Plaintiff reasserts all of the grounds set forth in her motion for partial summary judgment (ECF No. 33), her motion to alter or amend the Court's order on that motion (ECF No. 60), as well as all of the grounds set forth in her motions for directed verdict at the end of her case and at the end of Defendant's case.

         Plaintiff also raises several objections to Defendant's bill of costs. First, Plaintiff claims that Defendant was not the prevailing party. Second, Plaintiff asserts that she filed this action in good faith. Third, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's costs are excessive, not properly documented, and not allowed by law.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed her motion for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial on December 2, 2016. Defendant responded on December 12, and Plaintiff replied on December 19. Plaintiff filed her objections to Defendant's bill of costs on December 5, and Defendant responded on December 12. Plaintiff has requested a hearing, but the Court concludes no hearing is necessary. See Local Civ. Rule 7.08 (D.S.C.). Accordingly, these matters are now ripe for consideration. Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (ECF No. 151)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). “In ruling on the renewed motion, the court may: (1) allow a judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict; (2) order a new trial; or (3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.” Id. Judgment as a matter of law must be entered “[i]f a reasonable jury could reach only one conclusion based on the evidence or if the verdict in favor of the non-moving party would necessarily be based upon speculation and conjecture.” Myrick v. Prime Ins. Syndicate, Inc., 395 F.3d 485, 489 (4th Cir. 2005). “If the evidence as a whole is susceptible of more than one reasonable inference, a jury issue is created and a motion for judgment as a matter of law should be denied.” Id. at 489-90. Motions for judgment as a matter of law are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 490.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff first asserts that the Court erred by instructing the jury that Karnofsky was not totally disabled from the time of her accident. Although not entirely clear, Plaintiff appears to attack both the preliminary instruction given to the jury about the Court's summary judgment ruling, as well as the Court's summary judgment decision itself. As to the latter, the Court has already denied Plaintiff's motion to reconsider its summary judgment decision, and the Court will not take that matter up again. Plaintiff's reference to Slachta v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co., 444 F.Supp.2d 544 (D.S.C. 2006), does not change the Court's analysis. As for the objection to the preliminary instruction, Plaintiff failed to contemporaneously object at the time it was given. Accordingly, any objection to the preliminary instruction has been waived. See Haywood v. Ball, 586 F.2d 996, 1000 (4th Cir. 1978) (failure to timely object to jury instructions as set forth in Rule 51of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure constitutes a waiver of any objection to those instructions).

         Second, Plaintiff claims that the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the verdict is based on erroneous jury instructions. Plaintiff contends that Defendant admitted Plaintiff was entitled to at least partial disability benefits during the ten-month period at issue. Additionally, Plaintiff claims, Defendant failed to refute her assertion that she was totally disabled during that period. Plaintiff also argues that the Court should have used her jury instruction regarding an insurer's duties when its interests conflict with the insured's. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the Court should not have given a jury instruction drawn from Cabe v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 544 N.Y.S.2d 862, 863 (N.Y.App.Div. 1989).

         On the issue of jury instructions, the Court stated at trial that it would not use Plaintiff's proposed instruction on the insurer's duty to sacrifice its interests when its interests conflict with the insured's. That proposed instruction was based on Tyger River Pine Co. v. Maryland Casualty Co., 170 S.E. 346, 348 (1933). Tyger River involved an insurer's failure to settle claims against its insured within policy limits, a scenario that does not match the facts of this case. For that reason, and out of fear of confusing the jury, the Court did not use Plaintiff's proposed instruction. The Court therefore overrules Plaintiff's objection. The Court also overrules Plaintiff's objection to the jury instruction drawn from Cabe. That instruction was included in the parties' jury instruction submission as a joint instruction. Accordingly, by originally consenting to its inclusion, Plaintiff waived any argument as to its impropriety.

         Plaintiff next objects to the Court's refusal to instruct the jury that it is entitled to consider negligence on the issue of unreasonable refusal to pay benefits. The Court declined to give that instruction to avoid confusing the jury by use of the term “negligence”-a concept that was not present anywhere else in the case. The Court simply charged ...


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