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Atwell v. Westgate Resorts, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 28, 2019

HEATHER ATWELL, HEATHER ATWELL as Trustee of ATWELL FAMILY TRUST, HEATHER ATWELL as Administrator of the Estate of David Atwell, and RESORT PROPERTIES OF AMERICA, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
WESTGATE RESORTS, INC., WESTGATE RESORTS LTD, CENTRAL FLORIDA INVESTMENTS, INC., WESTGATE LAS VEGAS RESORT LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RICHARD F. BOULWARE, II, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court are Plaintiffs’ Motion for Judgment, ECF No. 144, and Defendants’ Motion for Judgment, ECF No. 145, and Motion for New Trial, ECF No. 146.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Defendants removed this action to federal court on November 15, 2015. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs filed the Amended Complaint which serves as the operative complaint in this action on November 18, 2016. ECF No. 49. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on April 21, 2017. ECF No. 60. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the same day. ECF No. 64. A hearing on those motions was held on March 21, 2018. ECF No. 81. Both motions were denied. ECF No. 82. A jury trial was held on October 9-11, 2018 and October 15, 2018. ECF Nos. 127, 128, 131, 132. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiffs Heather Atwell as Administrator of the Estate of David Atwell and Resort Properties of America, Inc. (RPA) against Defendants Westgate Las Vegas Resort, LLC and Central Florida Investments, Inc. on both quantum meruit and fraud claims. ECF No. 135. Both parties filed the instant respective Motions for Judgment on November 5, 2018, and Defendants also filed the instant Motion for New Trial on that day. Both parties responded on November 26, 2018. ECF Nos. 147-49. Both parties replied on December 10, 2018. ECF Nos. 150-51.

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Heather Atwell, Heather Atwell as Trustee of Atwell Family Trust, Heather Atwell as Administrator of the Estate of David Atwell, and Resort Properties of America, Inc. filed suit against Westgate Resorts Inc., Westgate Resorts LTD., Central Florida Investments, Inc., and Westgate Las Vegas Resort, LLC on November 18, 2016. ECF No. 49. Plaintiffs alleged Westgate contracted with Plaintiffs to provide real estate brokerage services in Clark County and that Plaintiffs contacted owners of several properties, including the Las Vegas Hotel (LVH), but that Plaintiffs were denied a commission for their efforts on the sale of the LVH. Id. at 5-10. Plaintiffs further alleged that Defendants fraudulently misrepresented an interest in buying another property, the Riviera, in an effort to turn Plaintiffs’ attention away from the LVH sale, and that Plaintiffs relied on that misrepresentation. Id. at 16-17.

         At the close of arguments at trial, the Court dismissed all claims against all Defendants except Central Florida Investments, Inc. and Westgate Las Vegas Resort, LLC. ECF No. 131. Plaintiffs also stipulated to the dismissal of the claims of Heather Atwell, individually. Id. Thus, the remaining Plaintiffs were Heather Atwell both as Administrator of the Estate of David Atwell and as Trustee of the Atwell Family Trust, and RPA. The remaining two claims asserted against Defendants Central Florida Investments, Inc. and Westgate Las Vegas Resort, LLC were quantum meruit and fraud. Id. The jury found in favor of both Plaintiffs against both Defendants, and awarded $375, 000 to each Plaintiff from each Defendant, for a total of $1.5 million on the quantum meruit claim. ECF No. 135. The jury also found in favor of both Plaintiffs against both Defendants for the fraud claim, and awarded $250, 000 to each Plaintiff from each Defendant, for a total of $1 million. Id.

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Rule 58

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58 governs entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 58. It states, inter alia, that “[s]ubject to Rule 54(b) and unless the court orders otherwise, the clerk must, without awaiting the court’s direction, promptly prepare, sign, and enter the judgment when: (A) the jury returns a general verdict . . . .” Id. at 58(b). “A party may request that judgment be set out in a separate document as required by Rule 58(a).” Id. at 58(d).

         B. Rules 50(b) and 59(a)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) permits a party to move for judgment as a matter of law “at any time before the case is submitted to the jury” “[i]f a 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 party on that issue.” Rule 50(b) allows a party to renew that motion if not granted “no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment” and include “an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59 . . . . In ruling on the renewed motion, the court may: (1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict; (2) order a new trial; or (3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.”

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), a new trial may be granted in an action in which there has been a trial by jury “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” “The grant of a new trial is ‘confided almost entirely to the exercise of discretion on the part of the trial court.’” Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 186 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36 (1980)).

         Because “Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion for a new trial may be granted . . . . [courts] are thus bound by those grounds that have been historically recognized.” Zhang v. Am. Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003). Such historical grounds include 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[.]” Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940); see also Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Prods., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000). “[E]rroneous jury instructions, as well as the failure to give adequate instructions, are also bases for a new trial.” Murphy, 914 F.2d at 187.

         The trial court “is not limited to the grounds a party asserts to justify a new trial, but may sua sponte raise its own concerns about the . . . verdict. Ultimately, the district court can grant a new trial under Rule 59 on any ground necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” Experience Hendrix ...


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