C. Practice Points
1. Opposition to Defendant’s Rule 50 Motion
- Always object to a Rule 50(a) motion that does not specify the factual and legal basis for the proposed judgment as a matter of law (JMOL).
- When the motion is renewed after the verdict under Rule 50(b), object if the grounds proposed differ in any material way from the grounds previously offered. It is settled law that “where a party did not object to a movant’s Rule 50(b) motion specifically on the grounds that the issue was waived by an inadequate Rule 50(a) motion, the party’s right to object on that basis is itself waived.” Williams v. Runyon, 130 F.3d 568, 572 (3d Cir. 1997) (collecting cases).
2. Rule 50(a)
- The motion must specify the judgment sought and the law and facts on which the moving party is entitled to the judgment. This is mandatory. Failure to state the specific grounds relied on is in itself a sufficient basis for denial of the motion.
- A court can consider a motion for JMOL made at the close of the opponent’s case and a similar motion made at the close of all the evidence together to determine whether specific grounds were made sufficiently clear.
- Statement of one ground precludes a party from later claiming the motion should have been granted on a different ground.
- While it is preferable that the motion be in writing, this is not mandatory under the rule, so an oral motion based on the record can suffice.
- The court will not err if it denies a motion for JMOL that does not state the grounds sufficiently and the moving party cannot complain about the denial on appeal.
- If the court grants a motion for JMOL that does not state the ground sufficiently, and the opposing party did not object to the lack of grounds in the trial court, the opposing party may not raise this point in the appellate court.
- A trial court should usually submit a case to the jury even if it thinks the evidence insufficient because then if it grants JMOL on a renewed motion after the verdict and the appellate court holds that the trial court was in error in its appraisal of the evidence, the appellate court can reverse and order judgment on the verdict of the jury without the need for a new trial.
- The grounds for JMOL in the Rule 50(a) and (b) motions must be identical. If an inconsistency in verdicts arises as a result of jury instructions and the jury’s answers, that gives rise to a basis for a postverdict motion for a new trial or for further deliberation by the jury under Rule 49(b), not for a renewed motion for JMOL.
3. Rule 50(b) -- Renewed Motion for JMOL After the Verdict
- A postverdict motion cannot be made unless a previous motion for JMOL was made by the moving party at the close of all the evidence.
- If the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support the verdict but no motion for JMOL was made under Rule 50(a), even though the court cannot grant a Rule 50(b) motion, it can set aside the verdict and order a new trial.
- The renewed motion must state the grounds on which it is made and it cannot assert a ground that was not included in the earlier motion.
- The standard is precisely the same as for the presubmission motion.
- The party who moved for JMOL at the close of all the evidence under Rule 50(a) may make the renewed post-verdict motion under Rule 50(b) within ten days after entry of judgment or, if a verdict was not returned, within 10 days after the jury has been discharged. This time period cannot be enlarged by the court or by stipulation of the parties, and an untimely motion cannot be considered.