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Frederick v. Frederick

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 29, 2019

Jill S. Frederick, Plaintiff,
v.
Irma O. Frederick, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Honorable John J. Tuchi United States District Judge

         At trial in this matter, after the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Plaintiff and Defendant both orally moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 for judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff so moved on her claim for declaratory judgment (Docs. 133, 136), and the Court denied that motion as moot after trial. (Doc. 137.)

         Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on each of Plaintiff's three theories for invalidation of the July 2016 beneficiary designation associated with James Frederick's IRA-incapacity, undue influence, and fraud-as well as Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages on the fraud claim, and later in a supplement to the motion, Plaintiff's claim for compensatory damages on the fraud claim. (Docs. 133, 135.) The Court denied Defendant's Rule 50 motion as to Plaintiff's claim for invalidation under an incapacity theory, which was Count I of the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 133.) After the jury rendered its verdict, Defendant renewed all aspects of her motion upon which the Court had not yet ruled, pursuant to Rule 50(b).

         The Court took the remaining components of Defendant's Rule 50 motion under advisement. Thereafter the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff on each of her three theories of invalidation of the beneficiary designation and awarded Plaintiff compensatory damages of $178, 000. (Doc. 146.) Because the jury found for Defendant on Plaintiff's punitive damages claim (id.), the Court will deny as moot that component of Defendant's Rule 50 motion. The Court now addresses the three remaining components of Defendant's Rule 50 motion.

         The Court will deny Defendant's motion with respect to Plaintiff's claim for invalidation of the beneficiary designation under both an undue influence theory (Count II) and a fraud theory (Count III). The jury heard sufficient evidence during the Plaintiff's case-in-chief from which a finder of fact rationally could conclude that 1) each of the elements of undue influence was met by a preponderance of the evidence, according to the instructions the Court gave on elements under that theory of invalidation; and 2) each of the elements of fraud was met by clear and convincing evidence, according to the instructions the Court gave on elements under that theory of invalidation. Thus, the Court will enter judgment for Plaintiff on her claims for equitable relief in Counts I, II, III, and V of the Amended Complaint, in the form of invalidation of the July 22, 2016 Schwab IRA beneficiary designation form and a declaration that the July 22, 2016 form is invalid and thus void.

         The Court will grant Defendant's Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, however, as to Plaintiff's claim for compensatory damages on her invalidation claim under a theory of fraud in Count III. Judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) or, if after the jury has returned a verdict, judgment notwithstanding that verdict, is proper “when the evidence permits only one conclusion as to the verdict.” Kay v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 548 F.2d 1370, 1372 (9th Cir. 1977); see also Smith v. County of Riverside, 2019 WL 988689 at *3 (C.D. Cal. January 24, 2019) (quoting Kay). In deciding whether this standard has been met, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non- moving party-here, Plaintiff-and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Josephs v. Pac. Bell, 443 F.3d 1050, 1062 (9th Cir. 2005).

         At trial, the Court instructed the jury as follows regarding a possible award of compensatory damages associated with Count III:

Damages means the amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate the plaintiff for any injury you find was caused by the defendant that is separate and apart from the changes in IRA beneficiary designation. You should consider the following:
1. The nature and extent of the injuries to plaintiff, if any, beyond the change in percentage of beneficiary designation;
2. The mental, physical, or emotional pain and suffering experienced, if any and that with reasonable probability will be experienced in the future;
3. The reasonable value of necessary medical care, treatment, and services received to the present time for such injuries, if any;
4. The reasonable value of necessary medical care, treatment, and services that with reasonable probability will be required in the future for such injuries, if any;
5. The reasonable value of necessary services other than medical to address such issues, if any, required up to the present time; and
6. The reasonable value of necessary services other than medical to address such issues, if any, that with reasonable probability ...

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