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Heling v. Creditors Collection Service Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 23, 2017

LORI HELING, Plaintiff,



         1. INTRODUCTION

         On October 24 and 25, 2016, a jury trial was held in this matter. (Docket #60). On October 25, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Lori Heling (“Heling”). (Docket #58). At the close of Heling's evidence, and at the close of all the evidence, the defendant Creditor's Collection Service, Inc. (“CCS”) preserved motions for directed verdict. The Court deferred ruling on those motions until after the jury returned a verdict. (Docket #60). After receiving the verdict, the Court informed the parties that the motions were now active and set a briefing schedule. Id. On November 4, 2016, CCS filed motions for judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 50(a) and (b) and for a new trial under FRCP 59(a)(1). (Docket #59). Heling submitted her response on November 14, 2016. (Docket #61). CCS offered a reply on November 18, 2016. (Docket #62). The motions are fully briefed, and for the reasons explained below, they will be denied.


         FRCP 50(a) allows a party to move for judgment on a particular claim when 1) “a party has been fully heard on [the claim] during a jury trial, ” and 2) “the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [non-moving] party on that [claim.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). FRCP 50(b) is simply a method to renew a FRCP 50(a) motion. Id. 50(b). The Seventh Circuit instructs that

[i]n deciding a Rule 50 motion, the court construes the evidence strictly in favor of the party who prevailed before the jury and examines the evidence only to determine whether the jury's verdict could reasonably be based on that evidence. The court does not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Although the court reviews the entire record, the court must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury [was] not required to believe.

Passananti v. Cook Cnty., 689 F.3d 655, 659 (7th Cir. 2012) (citations and quotations omitted).[1]

         FRCP 59 permits a party to seek a new trial “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). In clearer terms, this means that “[a] new trial is appropriate if the jury's verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence or if the trial was in some way unfair to the moving party.” Venson v. Altamirano, 749 F.3d 641, 656 (7th Cir. 2014). For alleged instructional errors, “[a] jury's answers to flawed special verdict questions should stand if the answers can be reconciled with the evidence and with one another in any reasonable way, Medcom Holding [Co. v. Baxter Travenol Labs., Inc.], 106 F.3d [1388, 1401-02 (7th Cir. 1997)], but that standard allows for judgment and discretion.” Vojdani v. Pharmsan Labs, Inc., 741 F.3d 777, 781-82 (7th Cir. 2013).


         Neither party's briefing cited a transcript of the trial, nor did they provide one to the Court. Thus, the Court is left to decide the motion based on its own recollection of the evidence and that of the parties as presented in their briefs. Nevertheless, the facts relevant to this Order are limited and so they will be discussed as necessary along with the Court's analysis. CCS challenges the jury's answers to Special Verdict Questions Nos. 1, 3, and 4 (the jury found in its favor on Question No. 2).

         3.1Special Verdict Question No. 3

         CCS's first argument is that Heling did not carry her burden to show that it failed to send the October 17, 2014 letter (the “Letter”). (Docket #59 at 7-9). This burden was established by the Court's ruling on summary judgment. (Docket #43 at 12-15). The parties have presented arguments as to the issue which the Court declined to reach in that summary judgment ruling, namely whether Section 1692g(a) mandates that the required notice be sent to a consumer. See (Docket #61 at 3-8; Docket #62 at 1-5).

         As with summary judgment, the Court need not reach the issue here. Viewing the evidence strictly in favor of Heling, and determining only whether the jury's verdict could be based on that evidence, the verdict must stand. Heling adequately undermined CCS's exhibits and the testimony of its employees such that the jury could have reasonably disbelieved all of that evidence and found that the Letter was not sent. The Court addresses each piece of evidence in turn.

         First, CCS offered Exhibit 11, which was purportedly a copy of the Letter. The fact that CCS obtained that piece of paper and brought it to trial has no bearing on whether any letter, identical or otherwise, was actually sent on October 17, 2014. Similarly, CCS presented testimony that the Letter was printed automatically by its computer system upon receipt of Heling's debt for collection. ...

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