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Strickland v. Broome

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

February 20, 2019

ELIZABETH L. STRICKLAND, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
AMY ALYECE BROOME DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         For the reasons below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [100] and denies Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration [103].

         I. Background

         The Court provided the factual background of this case in a previous opinion. Strickland v. Broome, No. 2:16-CV-124-KS-MTP, 2017 WL 4707032, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Oct. 19, 2017). On July 24, 2018, the case went to trial. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant as to Plaintiffs' legal claim of conversion, while the Court rendered a bench ruling in favor of Plaintiffs as to their equitable claim of unjust enrichment.

         After the Court entered Final Judgments [89, 90] as to each claim, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or New Trial [100] as to their conversion claim, and Defendant filed a Motion for Reconsideration [103] of the Court's ruling on the unjust enrichment claim.

         About a week after the parties' filed their motions, Defendant's counsel filed a Motion to Withdraw [108], representing that Defendant had fired him. The Court granted [109] the motion and gave Defendant thirty days to either notify the Court of her intention to proceed pro se or to hire a new attorney. The Court suspended briefing on the pending motions indefinitely.

         On September 10, 2018, Defendant's former counsel filed her Suggestion of Bankruptcy [110]. The Court did not enter an order staying the case, but it took no further action on the parties' post-judgment motions pending resolution of the bankruptcy.

         On January 4, 2019, the Court ordered the parties to file written status reports as to Defendant's bankruptcy proceeding. Plaintiffs responded [114], notifying the Court that the Bankruptcy Court had lifted the automatic stay for the purposes of this Court ruling on the parties' post-judgment motions, and for any party to appeal any judgment or order entered in this proceeding.

         The Court ordered the parties to file briefs [115] on the pending motions. Plaintiffs filed a response [118] in opposition to Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration [103]. Defendant has not responded to Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or New Trial [100]. Therefore, the motions are ripe.

         II. Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [100]

         First, Plaintiffs argue that the Court should enter judgment as a matter of law in their favor on the conversion claim because no reasonable jury could return a verdict for Defendant in light of the evidence presented at trial. Rule 50(b) provides: “If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No. later than 28 days after the entry of judgment . . . the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

         “A motion for judgment as a matter of law in a case tried by a jury . . . is a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict.” Carley v. Crest Pumping Techs., LLC, 890 F.3d 575, 578 (5th Cir. 2018). “JMOL should be granted when . . . there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for a party . . . .” Montano v. Orange County, Tex., 842 F.3d 865, 873 (5th Cir. 2016). The Court must determine “whether the evidence has such quality that reasonable and fair-minded persons would reach the same conclusion.” Polanco v. City of Austin, Tex., 78 F.3d 968, 973 (5th Cir. 1996). The Court is “especially deferential” to the jury's verdict. Carley, 890 F.3d at 578. “[A]ll reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmovant, with the credibility of witnesses and weight of the evidence being within the sole province of the jury.” Montano, 842 F.3d at 874.

         According to the evidence at trial, it was undisputed that Defendant intentionally requested that USAA pay her the life insurance proceeds. According to Exhibit P-4, USAA's documents related to the life insurance policy and claim, Defendant executed a “Claimant's Statement” and “Life Insurance Claim Settlement Request” on September 9, 2013, and USAA wired the payment of $339, 518.49 to her account on or around September 10, 2013. Plaintiffs did not consent to the payment, and they were harmed insofar as they did not receive the life insurance benefits. Moreover, Defendant caused the harm because she submitted the payment request. All of these facts were wholly undisputed at trial.

         Therefore, the only element of the conversion claim reasonably in dispute was whether Plaintiffs had an interest in or right to the life insurance proceeds. According to USAA's files, Steve Broome requested that USAA change the beneficiary on his life insurance policy to the Plaintiff, The Elizabeth Lance Broome Revocable Trust, in July 2004. USAA complied with the request and attached a Change of Beneficiary Endorsement to the policy. However, the record contains no written ...


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