United States District Court, D. Nebraska
BUCK'S, INC., A NEBRASKA CORPORATION, Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant,
QUIKTRIP CORPORATION, AN OKLAHOMA CORPORATION, Defendant and Counterclaimant.
M. Gerrard United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on plaintiff Buck's,
Inc.'s motion for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(b) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 (filing 110). Buck's motion
will be denied.
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in this diversity
case, the Court applies "the appropriate state
sufficiency standard where the issue has not been raised by
the parties and the state and federal standards are
similar." Michigan Millers Mut. Ins. Co. v. Asoyia,
Inc., 793 F.3d 872, 877-78 (8th Cir. 2015). Both state
and federal law demand substantial evidence to support the
jury's verdict and requires the Court to view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party,
drawing all reasonable inferences to its benefit. See,
id.; Frank v. Lockwood, 749 N.W.2d 443, 449 (Neb. 2008).
The standard for granting a motion for new trial is higher
still. Michigan Millers, 793 F.3d at 878. The key question is
whether a new trial is necessary to prevent a miscarriage of
justice. Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Grp., Inc., 827
F.3d 804, 807 (8th Cir. 2016).
Buck's renews its Rule 50 motion "seeking a judgment
as a matter of law against QuikTrip on QuikTrip's
affirmative defense of justification." Filing 110 at 1.
But that argument misconstrues both the law and the jury
instructions. As the plaintiff asserting a claim of tortious
interference with a business expectancy, it was Buck's
burden to prove an unjustified intentional act of
interference on the part of QuikTrip. Sulu v.
Magana, 879 N.W.2d 674, 681 (Neb. 2016). And the jury
was instructed to that effect. Filing 96 at 9-10.
the Court finds no merit to Buck's argument that it was
entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to
justification "because there was no underlying contract
upon which QuikTrip could base the filing of the Lien."
Filing 111 at 2. No one was suing QuikTrip for breach of
contract, so the issue was not whether Jim Murray and
QuikTrip had a contract: it was whether QuikTrip could
reasonably have believed it had a legal right warranting its
notice of equitable interest. The evidence was sufficient to
submit that issue to the jury.
even if Buck's had been entitled to judgment as a matter
of law on that issue, any error was harmless: the jury found
that Buck's failed to meet its burden of proof on a
different element of its prima facie case. Filing 101 at 2-3.
Whether or not QuikTrip's actions were justified was not
part of the jury's decision. See filing 101.
Buck's argues that "[t]he jury's verdict was
against the great weight of the evidence." Filing 110 at
1. Buck's contends that
there is no explanation for how the jury-who found a valid
business expectancy-could find that QuikTrip did not
interfere. There was no evidence or argument to support an
alternate theory for why Murray did not sell the Property to
Buck's. The only testimony on the topic was from Jim
Murray who testified that, but for the Equitable Lien, he
would have entered into the agreement [with Buck's].
111 at 4-5.
Murray also testified that he believed Exhibit 23, after
being signed by QuikTrip, was an enforceable agreement. See
filing 106 at 5-6. Murray admitted that he was trying to
"play QuikTrip against Bucky's and Bucky's
against QuikTrip to get more money." Filing 106 at 17.
True, Murray did testify that if QuikTrip had not filed its
notice of equitable interest, he "believe[d]" the
property would have been sold to Buck's. Filing 114 at
68. But the jury was not required to credit that belief. And
it was clear from Murray's testimony that neither the
notice of equitable interest nor the existence of a signed
draft that he believed to be enforceable prevented him from
continuing to negotiate with both Buck's and QuikTrip.
See filing 106. The jury could easily have found from the
evidence that Murray's failure to sell the property to
Buck's was the result of his negotiating tactics, not any
intervening act of QuikTrip, and that the reason Murray
eventually sold the property to QuikTrip instead of
Buck's was simply that QuikTrip made the most attractive
offer. The jury's verdict is supported by substantial
Buck's reiterates its argument that the Court should not
have instructed the jury on principles of contract law,
because "it was improper to allow the jury to determine
the validity of the purported contract upon which QuikTrip
relied when it filed the Lien." Filing 111 at 5. But,
Buck's does not accurately characterize what the jury was
asked to do, which was not to determine the validity of the
contract-rather, it was to determine whether QuikTrip acted
in good faith when it filed its notice of equitable interest.
And that was an appropriate question for the jury, as the
Court has previously explained on the record.
beyond that, Buck's is incorrect in arguing that
"the unsupported jury verdict was likely the result of
an improper jury instruction." Filing 111 at 5. The
jury's verdict conclusively establishes otherwise.
Whether QuikTrip could have reasonably relied on the validity
of Exhibit 23 was relevant only to whether its alleged act of
interference-the notice of equitable interest-was
"unjustified." And the jury was instructed that the
principles of contract law with which it was provided were
"[t]o assist [them] in determining whether any of
QuikTrip's acts were 'unjustified, ' and whether
QuikTrip acted in good faith . . . ." Filing 96 at 12.
The jury was reminded that "the issue is whether
QuikTrip acted in good faith, with a reasonable belief that
it had a legally protected interest." Filing 96 at 12.
And the ...