The American jury trial process can be, to put it simply, an arduous one. Sometimes it feels like there are so many steps in the process that you will never be through dealing with it, even if you achieve the result you were hoping for. When it comes to litigation, it is always a good idea to temper expectations regarding the time and energy you may have to invest in your case to see it through to the end. Because even if a jury awards you a victory, and you think the trial is over, you’re probably not out of the woods yet. RRS partner Clark Richards explains why.
Winning Isn’t the End
What a lot of people don’t know about the trial process is how much work is put into a case before it ever sees the inside of a courtroom. You and your attorney may have spent upwards of a year or two in discovery and pretrial proceedings, and then a jury voir dire, two weeks in trial with opening statements, courtroom testimony, a jury charge conference, and closing arguments. And then finally, the jury comes back with a verdict in your favor. You experience a wonderful moment of catharsis as you realize your arguments have been validated. You might even think the whole ordeal is over now that you’ve won. Unfortunately, that does not mean the case is over. There are several motions to be filed and actions required by the court before the trial court proceedings can truly come to an end.
At the very least, the judge will need to enter a judgment. This typically takes several weeks and sometimes even longer. In addition, there are a variety of other issues that may require post-trial briefing and motion. It’s possible that there may be conflicting jury answers. Jury instructions are usually successfully designed to avoid this, but sometimes jurors ignore the instructions or there might be an unanticipated conflict between two different questions.
Motions vs. Motions: After the Trial
If this happens, the court may need the parties to submit briefings or motions on how to resolve the conflict when entering the judgment. If the claims permit the awarding of attorneys’ fees, this issue is sometimes reserved for post-trial proceedings. The jury may enter an award of fees, but in many cases, the ultimate decision on reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees is reserved for the trial judge’s decision. If that’s the case, the parties will usually submit evidence and briefing for the court’s decision on what, if any, attorneys’ fees should be included in the judgment. Some cases involve a request for an injunction in addition to, or instead of, damages.
For example, for a ‘misappropriation of trade secrets’ claim, the claimant will usually request a permanent injunction prohibiting further use or disclosure of the trade secret. The jury may be asked some questions about such a claim, such as whether or not there really is a trade secret or if the defendant misappropriated it. However, the decision to issue an injunction is up to the trial judge as an equitable remedy.
A JNOV Could Erase the Joy of Victory
In such a case, the parties will typically submit post-trial briefing regarding how the injunction should be framed in the judgment. A JNOV – or ‘judgment notwithstanding the verdict’ – is a motion asking the court to set aside the jury’s verdict and grant the losing party a judgment. A motion to disregard a jury finding is a similar request, which asks that the court disregard a particular part of the jury’s decision. For example, if one party claims that there was legally insufficient evidence (deemed ‘less than a scintilla’) that supports a necessary element of a claim, then the claim fails as a matter of law.
Alternatively, if the evidence conclusively establishes that there’s an affirmative defense – such as the expiration of the statute of limitations, for example – then the court might grant a JNOV against the party that prevailed in the jury verdict. A JNOV might even be filed after the court enters its judgment, although some practitioners prefer to file a JNOV before judgment, so that the court is alerted to the issue when it enters judgment.
Starting All Over Again?
After the judgment, it is common for the losing party to file a motion for a new trial if the verdict is mixed. Both parties might file partial motions for a new trial. Typically, this motion argues that the evidence was factually insufficient to support the verdict, which means that the filing party believes there might’ve been a scintilla of evidence, but the weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly against the verdict, and the court should reject the decision and order the case be tried again. This motion for a new trial is required to preserve certain arguments for appeal and also serves to extend the deadline to file an appeal. Therefore, these motions are often filed as a matter of routine. If the trial judge does not make an express ruling on the motion for a new trial, it is automatically overruled by operation of law 75 days after the judgment.
So while it is possible that a jury verdict may effectively put an end to a lawsuit, there are a number of post-trial events that will need to take place before the trial court proceedings are formally terminated. Litigation requires patience: trial judges work hard to move their cases to completion but are typically burdened by a large and demanding workload. Post-trial motions and briefings are designed to ensure that the judgment of the court is accurate and conforms to the law and to the facts. If you have questions or need advice when it comes to facing possible litigation, Richards Rodriguez & Skeith’s Business Litigation team may be able to help you! Contact us today to discuss!