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Sill v. AVSX Technologies, LLC

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

January 26, 2018

BRYON SILL and DANIEL YARBOROUGH, Plaintiffs,
v.
AVSX TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Honorable Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on various post-trial motions filed by Plaintiffs Byron Sill and Daniel Yarborough (collectively “Plaintiffs”), and Defendant AVSX Technologies, LLC (“Defendant”). On July 31, 2017, Plaintiffs moved the court pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 54(d)(2) “to amend the judgment entered . . . against Defendant . . . by trebling the amount of the award entered for each of them and awarding [Plaintiffs] their reasonable and necessary attorney's fees.” ECF No. 65. Defendant responded in opposition on August 8, 2017, ECF No. 67, and Plaintiffs replied on August 18, 2017. ECF No. 69. On August 15, 2017, Defendant moved the court pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) for an order granting its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. ECF No. 68. Plaintiffs responded in opposition on August 29, 2017. ECF No. 70.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs sued Defendant for wages owed under the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, SC Code Ann. §§ 41-10-50 et seq. Plaintiffs allege they were entitled to unlawfully withheld “holdbacks” and “overrides” due under their employment contracts. ECF No. 1-1 at ¶¶ 17-23. The court held a trial on July 17 and 18, 2017. During presentation of the Plaintiffs' case, both Plaintiffs testified as to the wages due. Plaintiffs asserted that the proper accounting for chargebacks was the gross commission amount. Defendant asserted that the proper accounting was the gross funding amount.[1] Plaintiff Yarborough testified he was owed around $4, 200. Plaintiff Sill testified that he was owed $5, 700. Plaintiffs testified that they derived their calculations from the documents Defendant provided in discovery. On cross-examination, Plaintiffs stated that Defendant improperly calculated their chargebacks and in some instances double-counted chargebacks. At the close of Plaintiffs' case, Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that Plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence to calculate damages with a reasonable degree of certainty. ECF No. 54. The court denied Defendant's motion.

         During Defendant's presentation of its case-in-chief, Defendant introduced two exhibits, Exhibit 5 and 6, which Defendant purported to be the proper calculation of Plaintiffs' holdbacks and chargebacks. Defendant argued that the exhibits demonstrated that Plaintiffs' chargebacks exceeded their holdbacks. At the close of Defendant's case, Defendant renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law based on the insufficiency of evidence to calculate damages. ECF No. 54. The court denied Defendant's motion. The case was submitted to the jury. Among the many instructions provided to the jury, the court explained, “You may consider the contracts Plaintiffs signed with Defendant. . . . Plaintiffs' alleged unpaid wages are based on the employment contracts executed between Plaintiffs and Defendant.” ECF No. 57 at 4.

         During deliberations, the jury submitted a note to the court asking (1) “[m]ay the jury have a few calculators, ” and (2) “[i]s there a specific amount documented that the Plaintiffs say they are owed.” After consulting with the attorneys, the court submitted the following response “(1) [a] calculator will be provided” and “(2) [y]ou will have to rely on the evidence with regard to whether a specific amount has been documented.” The jury returned with a verdict shortly thereafter, and issued the following verdict:

         Plaintiff Byron Sill: $1, 379.54 Plaintiff Daniel Yarborough: $7, 147.33 ECF No. 59.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS AND ANALYSIS

         A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) provides: “[i]f the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a) [i.e., after a party has been fully heard on an issue], 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 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.

         When a jury has returned a verdict, the court may grant a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law only if, “viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party (and in support of the jury's verdict) and drawing every legitimate inference in that party's favor, the only conclusion a reasonable jury could have reached is one in favor of the moving party.” Pitrolo v. Cnty. of Buncombe, 407 Fed.Appx. 657, 659 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Int'l Ground Transp. v. Mayor & City Council of Ocean City, 475 F.3d 214, 218-19 (4th Cir. 2007)). If reasonable minds could differ, the court must affirm the jury's verdict. Id. (citing Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Cntr., Inc., 290 F.3d 638, 645 (4th Cir. 2002)).

         In drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant, the court may not weigh the evidence or assess the credibility of the witnesses. Id. (citing Dennis, 290 F.3d at 645). “A renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is not an occasion for the [c]ourt to usurp the jury's authority to weigh the evidence and gauge the credibility of witnesses.” Thompson v. Direct Impact, Co., 63 F.Supp.2d 721, 723 (E.D. Va. 1998), aff'd 188 F.3d 503 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Taylor v. Home Ins. Co., 777 F.2d 849, 854 (4th Cir. 1985)). “[T]he defendant bears a ‘heavy burden' in establishing that the evidence is insufficient to uphold the jury's verdict.” Id. (citing Price v. City of Charlotte, 93 F.3d 1241, 1249 (4th Cir. 1996)); see also Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Employee Res. Mgmt., Inc., 176 F.Supp.2d 510, 514-15 (D.S.C. 2001).

         Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Plaintiffs “failed to present sufficient evidence to allow a jury to calculate to a reasonable degree of certainty the wages owed to Plaintiffs.” ECF No. 68. It is Defendant's contention that the only explanation for the jury's damage award is that the jury relied on Defendant's evidence, which Defendant “only presented in response to the Court's denial of judgment as a matter of law at the end of Plaintiffs' case.” Id. at 6. Lastly, Defendant argues that the jury's note submitted to the court is “conclusive proof” that Plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence. Id. at 5.

         “To recover damages, the evidence must enable the jury to determine the amount of damages with reasonable certainty or accuracy.” Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. JT Walker Indus., Inc., 554 F. App'x 176, 188 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Magnolia N. Prop. Owners Assn., Inc. v. Heritage Communities, Inc., 725 S.E.2d 112, 126 (S.C. Ct. App. 2012). “While neither the existence, causation nor amount of damages can be left to conjecture, guess or speculation, proof with mathematical certainty of the amount of loss or damages is not required.” Whise ...


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