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Thorne v. Member Select Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

January 23, 2017

DAVID THORNE, Plaintiff,
v.
MEMBER SELECT INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MARTIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [DE 134], filed by Defendant on July 5, 2016. Defendant asks the Court to vacate the jury's verdict and enter judgment in its favor under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50. On July 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed a response, and on August 5, 2016, Defendant filed a replied.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 23, 2014, upon consent of the parties, the case was reassigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         On June 6, 2016, this case proceeded to trial before a jury. On June 7, 2016, at the close of Plaintiff's evidence, Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, and Plaintiff responded to that motion. On June 8, 2016, in the interest of allowing the case to proceed to the jury and without ruling on the merits, the Court denied Defendant's motion and instructed Defendant to renew its motion within 28 days after the entry of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b).

         On June 9, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff's favor, awarding $87, 000 in damages. Judgment was entered that same day. On July 5, 2016, within Rule 50(b)'s 28-day time- frame, Defendant filed this renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law.

         FACTS

         This case involves a dispute over whether Defendant, an insurance company, should have paid Plaintiff's claim for a fire at Plaintiff's house. The parties agree that the following facts were proven at trial.

         Plaintiff owned a house in Griffith, Indiana (the “Property”). Plaintiff's brother paid $86, 000 for the home in 1998, and Plaintiff later purchased the Property in 2002 for $75, 000.00. About two years after purchasing the Property, Plaintiff refinanced his mortgage, which had been paid down to $67, 000, adding a line of credit worth $20, 000 secured by the house.

         Plaintiff slept mostly at his warehouse in Valparaiso, Indiana, rather than at the Property. Gas and electricity to the Property had been disconnected because of non-payment, and Plaintiff had not been to the house for over three weeks before it caught fire on February 24, 2008.

         STANDARD

         The parties cite Indiana state law for the judgment as a matter of law standard. However, even in diversity cases such as this, federal standards apply to the procedural determination of whether a verdict is supported by sufficient evidence. See Walter v. Bruhn, 40 Fed.Appx. 244, 246 (7th Cir. 2002).[1] Under federal law, a Court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law if “there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for [the non-moving] party on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a); Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 149- 51 (2000). “Judgment as a matter of law is proper only if a reasonable person could not find that the evidence supports a decision for a party on each essential element of the case, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant” and making all reasonable inferences permitted by the evidence. Campbell v. Peters, 256 F.3d 695, 699 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); Susan Wakeen Doll Co., Inc. v. Ashton Drake Galleries, 272 F.3d 441, 449 (7th Cir. 2001).

         ANALYSIS

         Defendant moves for judgment as a matter of law on two grounds. First, Defendant argues there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that Plaintiff was entitled to insurance coverage for the fire under Defendant's policy. Second, Defendant argues that even if there was enough evidence to support liability, there ...


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