B. Rule 50 Practice:
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
1. The Rule
- Rule 50(a) provides for a motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) which may be made at any time before submission of the case to the jury. This was previously known as a motion for a directed verdict. It allows the trial court to determine whether there is any question of fact to go to the jury and whether any finding other than the one requested would be erroneous as a matter of law.
- Rule 50(b) allows the court to reserve decision on the question of law until after the case has been submitted to the jury and it has reached a verdict or is unable to agree. If the court decides the initial motion should have been granted, it may set aside the verdict of the jury and enter judgment as a matter of law. This was previously known as judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Rule 50(b) also allows a motion for a new trial under Rule 59 to be joined in the alternative with a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.
- The 1993 amendment to Rule 50 makes clear that JMOL may be entered against both plaintiffs and defendants and with respect to issues or defenses that may not be wholly dispositive of an entire claim or defense.
- If the party with the burden of proof has established the elements of its case by testimony that the jury is not at liberty to disbelieve, JMOL in that party’s favor may be granted on motion. However, entering JMOL for the party bearing the burden of proof on an issue is generally viewed as an extreme step, to be taken only “when the evidence favoring the claimant is so one-sided as to be of overwhelming effect.” EEOC v. Massey Yardley Chrysler Plymouth, Inc., 117 F.3d 1244, 1250 (11th Cir. 1997); see Grey v. First Nat’l Bank in Dallas, 393 F.2d 371 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 961 (1968); 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 2535, at 325-29 (1995).
2. Standard of Sufficiency
- The question of whether the evidence is sufficient to create an issue of fact is a question of law and is the same regardless of whether the motion is being considered before or after submission to the jury.
- The standard for evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence under Rule 50 is the same as the standard for reviewing a motion for summary judgment as well. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986). But even where a court has denied a motion for summary judgment it can still enter judgment as a matter of law.
- The court may not weigh the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its judgment of the facts for that of the jury. It must view the evidence most favorably to the party against whom the motion is made and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence.
- The court must review all of the evidence in the record, not just the evidence favorable to the nonmoving party, Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 149-51 (2000); however, “it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe.” Id. at 151.
- Thus, “the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that ‘evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.’” Id. (quoting 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2529, at 300 (2d ed. 1995)).
- The analysis is the same in the trial court and on appeal.