United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
JACQUELINE S. HOMANN, Trustee, Plaintiff,
NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the Motion for New Trial on
Mutual Mistake of Fact and Damages and Memorandum in Support
[DE 132] filed by the plaintiff, Jacqueline S. Homann, on May
23, 2018. For the following reasons, the motion is
Sparks initiated this matter against the defendant, Norfolk
Southern Railway Company, on February 10, 2014. Bankruptcy
trustee, Jacqueline Homann, was substituted as the plaintiff
pursuant to this court's order. In 2009, Sparks was
injured while working for Norfolk as a locomotive engineer.
Sparks has alleged that he injured his neck when his
locomotive cab seatback collapsed, causing him to fall
backward. He settled his injury claim with Norfolk in 2010
but contends that his injuries were far more extensive than
he realized at the time. Thus, Homann has argued that Sparks
and Norfolk entered into a release under a mutual mistake of
fact as to the nature and extent of Sparks' injuries from
the seatback collapse.
moved for summary judgment on November 9, 2015. The court, in
its Order on November 15, 2016, determined that genuine
issues of material fact prevented the entry of summary
judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, including
but not limited to whether the parties made a mutual mistake
of fact regarding the nature and extent of Sparks'
injuries when the release was executed.
March 6, 2018, this matter was reassigned pursuant to General
Order 2018-2 to Magistrate Judge Andrew P. Rodovich. The
matter proceeded to trial on April 23, 2018. Prior to the
completion of the trial, Homann stated her objections on the
record to the jury instructions. She objected that the
court's instruction improperly stated that the burden of
proof on the mutual mistake of fact issue required
“clear and convincing” evidence. The court denied
her objection and instructed the jury that “[t]o set
aside the release based on mutual mistake of fact, the
plaintiff must prove, by clear and convincing evidence . .
.” [Court's Instruction No. 17]. The jury trial was
completed on April 25, 2018. The jury found as follows: (1)
Norfolk's violation of the Locomotive Inspection Act
caused or contributed to Sparks' injuries; and (2) the
release was not entered into based on mutual mistake. The
jury did not reach the question of Sparks' damages.
has filed the instant motion requesting the court to set
aside the jury verdict on the issues of mutual mistake of
fact and damages and grant a new trial on those issues alone.
Homann contends that she is entitled to a new trial on the
issues of mutual mistake of fact and damages due to a jury
instruction error and the resulting inconsistent verdict.
Norfolk filed a response in opposition on June 6, 2018, and
Homann filed a reply on June 13, 2018.
Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A) allows the court
to grant a new jury trial on all or some of the issues
“for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore
been granted in an action at law in federal court.” A
motion for a new trial must be filed no later than 28 days
after the entry of judgment. Federal Rule of Civil
district court has discretion in fashioning jury instructions
that accurately state the law and do not confuse the jury.
Schobert v. Illinois Dept. of Transp., 304 F.3d 725,
729 (7th Cir. 2002). Jury instructions need not be an
“idealized set of perfect jury instructions, ”
but they must be correct legal statements. Schobert,
304 F.3d at 730. A reviewing court will not reverse a jury
verdict unless an instruction is “so misleading that a
party was prejudiced.” Schobert, 304 F.3d at
law governs the validity of a release in any Federal
Employers' Liability Act (FELA) action. Maynard v.
Durham & S. Ry., 365 U.S. 160, 161, 81 S.Ct. 561,
562, 5 L.Ed.2d 486 (1961) (citing Dice v. Akron, Canton
& Youngstown R. Co., 342 U.S. 359, 361, 72 S.Ct.
312, 314, 96 L.Ed. 398 (1952)). The party who attacks a
release under federal law bears the burden of establishing
the purported release's invalidity. Callen v.
Pennsylvania R.R., 332 U.S. 625, 68 S.Ct. 296, 92 L.Ed.
242 (1948). The party attacking the release may meet this
burden by showing that the release was not supported by
adequate consideration, that he was defrauded, or that he and
the other party to the release acted under a mutual mistake
of fact as to the settlement. See Maynard, 365 U.S.
at 163; Callen, 332 U.S. at 630.
has argued that the jury instructions improperly misstated
the law regarding mutual mistake of fact and thereby
prejudiced Homann. Homann alleged that Sparks and Norfolk
were mutually mistaken regarding the nature and extent of
Sparks' injuries when they entered into the release. On
the issue of mutual mistake, the court instructed the jury
that, “[t]o set aside the release based on mutual
mistake of fact, the plaintiff must prove, by clear and
convincing evidence . . .” [Court's Instruction No.
17]. Thus, Homann asserts that the standard of “clear
and convincing evidence” is inconsistent with
Congressional intent and longstanding court interpretation of
Callen v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 162 F.2d 832, 835 (3d
Cir. 1947), the court determined that the level of proof
necessary to set aside a release in an FELA action was clear,
unequivocal and convincing evidence. Callen was
affirmed by the Supreme Court, Callen v. Pennsylvania R.
Co., 332 U.S. 625, 68 S.Ct. 296, 92 L.Ed. 242 (1948),
but the issue regarding the burden of proof was not formally
passed upon by the Supreme Court. Justices Black and Douglas
joined in the dissent advocating that such cases should be
governed by the Admiralty Rule, requiring that the defendant
employer has the burden of proving that the validity of the
release. Callen, 332 U.S. at 631.
in Dice v. Akron, Canton & Youngstown R. Co.,342 U.S. 359, 72 S.Ct. 312, 96 L.Ed. 398 (1952), the Supreme
Court held that a challenge to the validity of a release
under FELA raises a federal question to be determined by
federal, rather than state, law. Again, the issue regarding
the avoidance of a release applying the rule of clear,
unequivocal and convincing evidence was not formally passed
upon by the Supreme Court. Justice Frankfurter, who had been
part of the majority in Callen, wrote a separate
concurrence for reversal but dissented from the Supreme
Court's opinion. Justice Frankfurter, along with Justices
Reed, Jackson, and Burton, indicated that the case should be
returned for further proceedings “on ...