United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
GERALDINE L. VANDEVENDER, Administrator of the Estate of DEL RAY BAIRD, deceased, and JACQUELINE ANN BAIRD, deceased, RALPH D. JONES, JR., NORWOOD R. JONES, and LISA J. PATE, Co-Executors for the Estate of ELIZABETH J. JONES, deceased, and JOYCE K. HARRISON, Administrator of the Estate of BETTIE MAE KEE, deceased, and Estate of SAMUEL KEE, SR., deceased, Plaintiffs,
BLUE RIDGE OF RALEIGH, LLC d/b/a BLUE RIDGE HEALTH CARE CENTER, CARE VIRGINIA MANAGEMENT, LLC d/b/a CAREVIRGINIA, and CARE ONE, LLC d/b/a CAREONE, Defendants.
TERENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for
interest on judgment, [DE 286], defendants' motion for
judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages,
[DE 289], and defendants' motion for judgment as a matter
of law as to Elizabeth Jones' medical malpractice claim,
[DE 290]. The matters have been fully briefed and are ripe
for disposition. For the following reasons, plaintiffs'
motion is granted, defendants' motion as to punitive
damages is granted, and defendants' motion as to
Elizabeth Jones is denied.
of this medical malpractice and wrongful death action was
conducted before the undersigned from February 13, 2017, to
February 16, 2017 in Elizabeth City, NC. At the close of
the plaintiffs' case in chief, defendants made an oral
motion for directed verdict as to all of the plaintiffs'
claims pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. This motion was denied by oral order on February
15, 2017. Defendants renewed their motion at the close of
their case in chief, which the Court held in abeyance pending
the jury's rendering of a verdict. At the close of trial,
the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs for
medical malpractice, awarding the plaintiffs compensatory and
March 2, 2016, plaintiffs filed a motion for interest on the
judgment under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. On March 16, defendants filed separate motions for
judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rules 50 and 59 as to
the issues of punitive damages and the medical malpractice
claim of Elizabeth Jones.
Plaintiffs' Motion for Interest on Judgment
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a
motion may be filed to alter or amend a judgment within 28
days after the entry of the judgment. "While the Rule
itself provides no standard for when a district court may
grant such a motion, courts interpreting Rule 59(e) have
recognized three grounds for amending an earlier judgment:
(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law;
(2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or
(3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest
injustice." Hutchinson v. Staton, 994 F.2d
1076, 1081 (4th Cir. 1993). "Thus, Rule 59(e), in
essence, gives the district court a chance to correct its own
mistake if it believes one has been made." Zinkand
v. Brown, 478 F.3d 634, 637 (4th Cir. 2007).
North Carolina law, interest on compensatory damages accrues
from the date the action is filed, interest on punitive
damages accrues from the date of the judgment, and no
interest accrues for costs. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 24-5
and 24-1. In their complaint, plaintiffs requested interest
on the judgment from the date this suit was instituted.
However, the Court did not address such relief in its
judgment, and such an omission was an inadvertent oversight.
Accordingly, plaintiffs motion will be granted and the
judgment will be amended to include such relief.
Defendants' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law on The
Issue of Punitive Damages
filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that
plaintiffs failed, as a matter of law, to establish that any
of the defendants could be found by a reasonable jury to be
liable for punitive damages under North Carolina law. Rule 50
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a party
who has moved for judgment as a matter of law at trial may,
within twenty-eight days of the entry of judgment, renew such
motion. In deciding a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter
of law after trial, the Court is constrained to determine,
without weighing the evidence or considering the credibility
of the witnesses, whether substantial evidence supports the
jury's findings. Konkel v. Bob Evans Farms,
Inc., 165 F.3d 275, 279 (4th Cir. 1999). After drawing
all inferences and viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party, the Court may grant a Rule
50 motion only if it "determines that the only
conclusion a reasonable trier of fact could draw from the
evidence is in favor of the moving party." Figg v.
Schroeder, 312 F.3d 625, 635 (4th Cir. 2002) (quotation
omitted). The question for the Court is not whether there is
no evidence supporting the party against whom the motion is
directed, but rather whether there is evidence upon which the
jury might reasonably find a verdict for that party.
See 9B C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal
Practice & Procedure, § 2524 (3d ed.). In
reviewing such a motion, the Court must consider the
substantive evidentiary burden of . proof that would apply at
trial to the nonmovant's claims. Id.
a diversity action, and so state law governs the issue of
punitive damages. Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc., v.
Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278 (1989) ("In
a diversity action, or in any other lawsuit where state law
provides the basis of the decision, the propriety of an award
of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the
factors the jury may consider in determining their amount,
are questions of state law."). Thus, the Court must look
to North Carolina law to determine the factors giving rise to
an award of punitive damages and the amount that may be
awarded. Defender Indus., Inc., v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins.
Co., 938 F.2d 502, 504-05 (4th Cir. 1991) ("In a
diversity case, state substantive law governs the
circumstances justifying an award and the amount of punitive
North Carolina law, punitive damages are distinct from and
serve a different purpose than compensatory damages.
"Punitive damages are never awarded as compensation.
They are awarded above and beyond actual damages, as a
punishment for the defendant's intentional wrong."
Overnite Transp. Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters,
125 S.E.2d 277, 286 ( N.C. 1962). "Punitive damages may
be awarded, in an appropriate case ... to punish a defendant
for egregiously wrongful acts and to deter the defendant and
others from committing similar wrongful acts." N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 1D-1; see also Rhyne v. K-Mart Corp.,
594 S.E.2d 1, 7 ( N.C. 2004). "Punitive damages are not
awarded merely because of a personal injury inflicted, nor
are they measured by the extent of the injury. They are
awarded because of the outrageous nature of the
wrongdoer's conduct." Meeks v. Crawford,
160 N.C.App. 708 (2003) (unpublished).
contend that judgment as a matter of law in their favor is
merited on plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages
because plaintiffs failed to prove the type of conduct
necessary to recover punitive damages. In order to prevail on
a claim for punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove by clear
and convincing evidence that one or more of the following
aggravating factors was present and proximately caused the
injury at issue: (1) fraud, (2) malice, or (3) willful or
wanton conduct. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-15.
"Malice" is defined by statute as "a sense of
personal ill will toward the claimant that activated or
incited the defendant to perform the act or undertake the
conduct that result in harm to the claimant." N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 1D-5(5). "Willful or wanton conduct"
is defined as "the conscious and intentional disregard
of and indifference to the rights and safety of others, which
the defendant knows or should know is reasonably likely to
result in injury, damage, or other harm." N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 1D-5(7). The statute specifically provides that
"willful or wanton conduct" means more than gross
negligence. Id. "An act is willful when there
is deliberate purpose not to discharge a duty, assumed by
contract or imposed by law, necessary for the safety of the
person or property of another." Lashlee v. White