Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Muller v. Country Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 20, 2017

STEPHEN MULLER and RENAMULLER, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTRY MUTUAL INSURANCE CO. Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before me on Defendant Country Mutual Insurance Co.'s ("Country Mutual") Motion for a New Trial and Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [259], For the reasons below, I DENY Country Mutual's Motions.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a fire in 2012, in which the Mullers' house, business (machine shop), and 1967 Mustang were all damaged. After investigation, Country Mutual denied the Mullers' claim, concluding that Mullers had intentionally started the fire. The Mullers brought suit in August 2014 and sought recovery for breach of express contract.[1] [ 1 ].

         Their claims culminated in an eight-day jury trial in June 2017. Prior to trial, the Mullers successfully moved to exclude evidence that they had been involved in four previous fires at a house, motorhome, and commercial property in 1972, 1994, 2003 or 2004, and 2006, The jury found for the Mullers on their breach of contract claim and awarded damages for $1, 082, 500. [246]. These damages include $186, 000 in damages related to structures, $570, 000 in damages related to business property, $256, 000 in damages related to personal property, $25, 000 in damages related to business income, and $45, 000 in damages related to automobiles. [246].

         Country Mutual now moves for a new trial and for renewed judgment as a matter of law regarding replacement cost of personal property. [259]. Country Mutual argues a new trial is warranted because: (1) it discovered new evidence that would have changed the outcome of the trial; (2) the Court erred by admitting evidence that the Mullers were not charged with a crime; (3) the Court erred by instructing the jury that the Mullers were not charged with a crime and by not instructing the jury on the definition of reasonable doubt; (4) the Court erred by not admitting the Mullers' prior fires; (5) the Court erred by denying Country MutuaPs motion in limine regarding evidence of replacement cost value; (6) the Court erred by not granting judgment as a matter of law that personal automotive parts were not covered by the policy; and (7) the cumulative errors denied Country Mutual a fair trial. [259]. Country Mutual also renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law regarding replacement cost of personal property. [259].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         "The court may, on motion, grant a new trial... 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). "Historically recognized grounds include, but are not limited to, claims 'that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.'" Molski v. MJ. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940)). The court may grant a motion for a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence. Defs, of Wildlife v. Bernal, 204 F.3d 920, 929 (9th Cir. 2000). "[T]he district court, in considering a Rule 59 motion for new trial, is not required to view the trial evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Instead, the district court can weigh the evidence and assess the credibility of the witnesses." Experience Hendrix L.L.C. v. Hendrixlicensing.com Ltd, 762 F.3d 829, 842 (9th Cir. 2014).

         When addressing a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, the Court must "uphold the jury's award if there was any 'legally sufficient basis' to support it." Id. (quoting Costa v. Desert Palace, Inc., 299 F.3d 838, 859 (9th Cir. 2002)). "In making that determination, the district court considers all of the evidence in the record, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party . ..; the court may not make any credibility determinations or reweigh the evidence." Id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. New Trial on the Basis of Newly Discovered Evidence.

         Country Mutual first argues the Court should grant a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence. [259] at 4-6. After the trial, Stephen Muller's sister, Jeanette Allured, contacted Country Mutual and claimed she had information showing the Mullers set several prior fires intentionally. [259] at 4-6. In a statement and an interview with Country Mutual, Ms. Allured alleged: (1) in 1994, Stephen Muller told her that he intentionally set the 1994 fire; (2) Stephen Muller had also told her that he intentionally set the 1972 house fire; (3) Stephen Muller's ex-wife, Lupe Cameron, told Ms. Allured that she saw Rena Muller on the day of the 2003 or 2004 shop fire at the site of the fire, despite the fact the Mullers said they were out of town that day; and (4) Stephen Muller's daughter, Yvette Schneider, told Ms. Allured that she thought her father tried to over-explain his innocence in the 2006 garage fire by sharing detailed information about the type of car that caught on fire. Allured Decl. [260] at 1-5.

         To succeed on its motion, Country Mutual "must establish that (1) the evidence was discovered after trial, (2) the exercise of due diligence would not have resulted in the evidence being discovered at an earlier stage and (3) the newly discovered evidence is of such magnitude that production of it earlier would likely have changed the outcome of the case." Defs. of Wildlife, 204 F.3d at 929. Because the Mullers do not dispute that Ms. Allured's statements are "newly discovered, " I focus on the remaining two factors.

         a. Whether Country Mutual exercised due diligence

         Country Mutual argues it could not have discovered Ms. Allured, Lupe Cameron, or Ms. Schneider through the exercise of due diligence. Country Mutual's main arguments are that Ms. Allured did not come up in a background check of Stephen Muller, that Mr. Muller was not forthcoming about his daughter's name or place of residence in a deposition, that Country Mutual's investigator did not find anyone related to the Mullers in California, and that the insurance companies tied to the prior fires had no information, [259] at 7-10. The Mullers argue that Country Mutual never asked Stephen Muller about his siblings or followed up on the information he gave about his children in depositions. Response [275] at 6-13, "The application for a new trial will be denied where it appears that the degree of activity or diligence which led to the discovery of the evidence after the trial would have produced it had it been exercised prior thereto." United States y. Bransen, 142 F.2d 232, 235 (9th Cir. 1944). In Lavino v. Jamison, 230 F.2d 909 (9th Cir. 1956), the Ninth Circuit concluded that the failure to locate a witness was excusable based in part on conduct by the non-moving party. There, the appellants had relied on the appellee's statements that they did not know of the witness's whereabouts nor did they believe he would appear at trial as a witness. Id. at 912. Similarly, in Chang v. City of Albany, 150 F.R.D. 456 (N.D.N.Y.1993), the court concluded that the plaintiff exercised due diligence in finding witnesses to his arrest. The court noted there was some evidence the defendants knew of the existence of key witnesses discovered post-trial by the plaintiff. Id. at 460. The Chang court also concluded, "[t]his is simply a case where the witnesses were unknown to the parties and the pending action unknown to the potential witnesses." Id. But in Jay Edwards, Inc. v. New England Toyota Distributor, Inc., 708 F.2d 814 (1st Cir. 1983), the court concluded that a losing party had failed to show due diligence because the "new evidence" consisted of computer printouts that former employees had in their possession prior to trial. Id. at 824-25. The court noted, "[w]e cannot be impressed by the diligence of a party that fails to uncover evidence during four years of discovery that it manages to retrieve four weeks after losing the lawsuit." Id. at 825.

         Unlike in Jay Edwards, Inc., there is no evidence Country Mutual knew of Ms. Allured's existence or knowledge prior to trial. See708 F.2d 814. And Country Mutual had little reason to seek out individuals from the Mullers' past, particularly those without ties to the 2012 fires. On the other hand, unlike in Lavino and Chang, there is no evidence the Mullers hid Ms. Allured's existence or otherwise misled Country Mutual. See Lavino,230 F.2d 909; Chang,150 F.R.D. 456, And Country Mutual could have asked the Mullers about siblings or other individuals who knew them at the time of the prior fires. Without a showing ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.