United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
TERESA ANN HENSLEY, Administrator of the Estate of David Lee Hensley, HAILEY HENSLEY, and RACHELLE FERGUSON, Plaintiffs,
SARALYNN PRICE, Administrator of the Estate of MICHAEL SCOTT PRICE, and KEITH ALLEN BEASLEY, individually, Defendants.
REIDINGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiffs'
“Motion Pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure for a Judgment Not Withstanding the Verdict
or in the Alternitive [sic] for a New Trial, Rule
50(b)” [Doc. 110].
Michael Price and Keith Beasley (collectively, the
“Defendants”), both employees of the Haywood County,
North Carolina, Sheriff's Department, shot and killed
David Hensley (“the decedent”) outside his home
on the morning of August 9, 2012. The Plaintiffs - the
decedent's widow and his two daughters -- brought suit
against the Defendants in both their individual and official
capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and North Carolina
law. After the Defendants' motion for qualified immunity
was denied [see Doc. 57], this case proceeded to a
jury trial. On September 20, 2018, the jury returned a
special verdict, finding that the Defendants' actions
were objectively reasonable. [Doc. 107]. Based on the
jury's factual findings, the Court entered a Judgment in
favor of the Defendants with respect to all the
Plaintiffs' claims. [Doc. 108].
Plaintiffs now move for a judgment notwithstanding the
verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial. [Doc. 110]. The
Defendants oppose the Plaintiffs' motion. [Doc. 112].
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a party
may move for judgment as a matter of law if the non-moving
party “has been fully heard on an issue during a jury
trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not
have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the
[non-moving] party on that issue….” Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(a)(1). A motion for judgment as a matter of law may be
made at any time prior to the submission of the case to the
jury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). A party may file a renewed
motion for judgment as a matter of law within 28 days after
the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).
party's failure to move for judgment as a matter of law
at trial generally precludes any post-verdict motion under
Rule 50(b). See Price v. City of Charlotte, 93 F.3d
1241, 1249 (4th Cir. 1996) (“[A] Rule 50(a) motion is a
prerequisite to a Rule 50(b) motion because the [moving
party] must apprise the district court of the alleged
insufficiency of [the non-moving party's] suit before the
case is submitted to the jury.”); Gilreath v.
Cumberland Cty. Bd. of Educ., 304 F.R.D. 481, 483 (E.D.
N.C. 2015) (“Generally, a plaintiff cannot renew a Rule
50 motion that was never made.”), aff'd,
627 Fed.Appx. 271 (4th Cir. 2016). Absent a showing of plain
error or manifest injustice, the Court will not review the
sufficiency of the evidence under Rule 50(b) “because
implicit in the [Plaintiffs'] failure to move for
judgment as a matter of law is the belief that the evidence
created a jury issue, and the [Plaintiffs] should not be
permitted on appeal to impute error to the trial judge for
sharing that view.” Price, 93 F.3d at 1249
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
the Plaintiffs never moved for relief under Rule 50(a) prior
to submission of the case to the jury. Thus, they are
precluded from asserting a Rule 50(b) motion at this stage of
the proceedings unless they can demonstrate that plain error
or manifest injustice would result if the sufficiency of the
evidence were not reviewed. The Plaintiffs' argument
fails in both respects. The Plaintiffs concede that both
Defendants testified that the decedent pointed a gun at
Deputy Beasley at the time of the shooting. That evidence
alone is sufficient to support the jury's verdict and to
defeat the Plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of
law. In the broader context of all the evidence, the decedent
first pointed his gun at Deputy Beasley when the decedent
initially exited the home; the decedent then hit his daughter
Rachelle in the head with the gun when his daughters tried to
take the gun away from him; thereafter the decedent pointed
his long-nose revolver at Beasley a second time from a close
distance, which resulted in the decedent being shot. In
short, there was ample evidence presented to support the
jury's conclusion that the Defendants' use of deadly
force was objectively reasonable under the totality of the
these reasons, the Plaintiffs' motion for a judgment as a
matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure is denied.
Rule 59 Motion
Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court
may set aside a verdict and grant a new trial if the Court is
of the opinion that the verdict (1) “is against the
clear weight of the evidence”; (2) “is based upon
evidence which is false”; or (3) “will result in
a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be
substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a
verdict.” Atlas Food Sys. and Servs., Inc. v. Crane
Nat'l Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir.
1996) (quoting Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Yeatts,
122 F.2d 350, 352-53 (4th Cir. 1941)); Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)
(stating that court may set aside jury verdict “for any
reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in
an action at law in federal court”). In reviewing a
motion for new trial, the Court is permitted to weigh the
evidence and consider the credibility of the witnesses.
Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301
(4th Cir. 1998). The decision to grant or deny a new trial is
a matter within the Court's sound discretion. See
the Plaintiffs' Motion is not a model of clarity, the
Plaintiffs appear to contend that a new trial is warranted
because the jury's verdict was against the clear weight
of the evidence and was based upon ...