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Craten v. Foster Poultry Farms Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 18, 2018

James Craten, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Foster Poultry Farms Incorporated, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DOUGLAS L. RAYES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Foster Poultry Farms Incorporated's (“Foster Farms”) Motion for Judgment as Matter of Law Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) (Doc. 315), which is fully briefed (Docs. 363, 366). For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         In 2013, then 17 month-old Plaintiff N.C. contracted salmonellosis and subsequently experienced severe complications. N.C. 's parents, Plaintiffs James and Amanda Craten, brought this action in December 2015, alleging that N.C. 's illness was caused by raw chicken processed by Foster Farms. The Cratens' amended complaint asserted negligence, strict liability, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability claims. (Doc. 223.)

         On March 31, 2017, Foster Farms moved for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 137.) Foster Farms argued that the Cratens' claims failed as a matter of law because: (1) the Cratens could not prove causation, which is necessary element of all their claims; and (2) the Cratens' claims are preempted by the Poultry Products Inspect Act (“PPIA”). Alternatively, Foster Farms argued that partial summary judgment should be entered on the Cratens' breach of implied warranty and strict liability claims because Foster Farms' chicken was safe for its intended use and the warning labels Foster Farms utilized are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (“USDA-FSIS”).

         On January 19, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part Foster Farms' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 245.) On the question of causation, the Court concluded that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Cratens, there was sufficient circumstantial and expert witness evidence to permit a jury to infer that N.C. contracted his illness from Foster Farms chicken. On the question of preemption, the Court concluded that the PPIA preempted the Cratens' claims predicated on allegedly inadequate warnings and labels, but that the Cratens' negligence claim was not preempted to the extent it was predicated on duties that parallel federal law. Finally, the Court agreed with Foster Farms that, under Arizona law, the Cratens could not sustain strict liability or breach of implied warranty claims because Salmonella bacteria are killed through proper cooking and, therefore, Foster Farms chicken is safe when used as intended.

         The parties thereafter proceeded to an eleven-day jury trial on the Cratens' negligence claim. On February 23, 2018, the eighth day of trial, Foster Farms notified the Court that it intended to file a written motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a). The Court informed the parties that it intended to give the Cratens adequate time to respond to the motion. Foster Farms filed its Rule 50(a) motion the following day. (Doc. 315.)

         In the meantime, the parties continued with trial. On March 1, 2018, the jury entered a verdict finding Foster Farms to be 30% at fault for N.C. 's injuries, and assigning the remaining 70% of fault to the Cratens themselves. (Doc. 345.)

         A week later, the Cratens filed their response to Foster Farms' Rule 50(a) motion. (Doc. 363.) Foster Farms thereafter filed its written reply (Doc. 366), and the Court took the matter under advisement.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 50(a) permits the court to grant judgment as a matter of law if a party has been fully heard on an issue and the court finds that “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue[.]” Where, as here, “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The Rule 50 standard is the same as the standard for granting a motion for summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-52 (1986). Thus, when considering a Rule 50 motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorably to the nonmoving party, “draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, and it may not make creditability determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). “The test applied is whether the evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict.” Josephs v. Pac. Bell, 443 F.3d 1050, 1062 (9th Cir. 2006).

         III. Discussion

         In its Rule 50 motion, Foster Farms reasserts its position that the Cratens have insufficient evidence that N.C. 's illness was caused by exposure to Foster Farms' products, and that the Cratens' negligence claim is preempted by the PPIA. (Doc. 363.) The Court rejected these arguments when first raised in the context of Foster Farms' motion for summary judgment. Having carefully considered the briefing on Foster Farms' Rule 50 motion, the Court finds no reason to conclude differently now.

         A. ...


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