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Mt. Hawley Insurance Co. v. Tactic Security Enforcement, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

July 20, 2018

MT. HAWLEY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
TACTIC SECURITY ENFORCEMENT, INC., CARLOS RODRIGUEZ and SUSAN BIANCO, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PAUL G. BYRON UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court without oral argument on the following:

1. Defendant Tactic Security Enforcement, Inc.'s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Alternatively for a New Trial (Doc. 178), filed May 25, 2018;
2. Plaintiff Mt. Hawley Insurance Company's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Alternatively for a New Trial (Doc. 186), filed June 15, 2018;
3. Defendant Tactic's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment and/or Motion for Relief from Judgment (Doc. 177), filed May 25, 2018; and
4. Plaintiff Mt. Hawley's Response Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Alter or Amend (Doc. 187), filed June 15, 2018.

         With briefing complete, the matter is ripe. Upon consideration, the renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is due to be denied, and the motion to amend judgment is due to be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This suit centers on a disputed Commercial General Liability Policy (the “Policy”) issued by Plaintiff Mt. Hawley Insurance Company (“Mt. Hawley”) to Defendant Tactic Security Enforcement, Inc. (“Tactic”) for the period of May 15, 2015, through May 15, 2016. (Doc. 54-4). The Policy provided coverage to Tactic for “bodily injury” and “property damage, ” but excluded coverage for “‘bodily injury,' ‘property damage[, ]' or ‘personal and advertising injury' arising out of . . . [a]ny and all operations involving bars, taverns, lounges, gentlemen's clubs[, ] and nightclubs” (hereinafter the “Exclusion”).[1] (Id. at pp. 5, 30).

         During the pendency of this suit, Mt. Hawley was defending Tactic in two state court suits-brought by Carlos Rodrigues and David Torres, Jr.'s estate, respectively- under a reservation of rights. (Docs. 54-1, 54-2). The suits arise from shooting incidents that took place at Que Rico Casa Del Mofongo (“Que Rico”), an establishment where Tactic was providing security services at the time of each incident. (Docs. 54-1, 54-2).

         Mt. Hawley brought suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Policy barred insurance coverage for the claims asserted in the state court actions by virtue of the Exclusion. (Doc. 54). Mt. Hawley alleged that the claims in the state court actions seek recovery for bodily injury “arising out of . . . operations involving bars, taverns, lounges, . . . and nightclubs, ” triggering the Exclusion. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35).

         After a trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that at the time of both incidents, Que Rico-where Tactic was providing security services-was operating as a bar, tavern, lounge, gentlemen's club, or nightclub, triggering the Exclusion. Tactic now renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), and alternatively moves for a new trial. (Doc. 178). Tactic also moves to amend the judgment entered in favor of Mt. Hawley following the trial. (Doc. 177).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and for New Trial

         Upon the return of a jury verdict, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) allows any party to renew a motion for judgment as a matter of law previously made at trial under Rule 50(a). Judgment as a matter of law should only be granted if no objectively reasonable jury, based on the evidence and inferences adduced at trial and through the exercise of impartial judgment, could reach the verdict reached. Brown v. Ala. Dep't of Transp., 597 F.3d 1160, 1173 (11th Cir. 2010); Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1526 (11th Cir. 1997). Stated differently, the party moving for judgment as a matter of law must show that the trial evidence “is so overwhelmingly [in its favor] that a reasonable jury could not arrive at a contrary verdict.” Middlebrooks v. Hillcrest Foods, Inc., 256 F.3d 1241, 1246 (11th Cir. 2001). However, where there is substantial evidenc e in the trial record that would allow reasonable minds to reach different conclusions, judgment as a matter of law is inappropriate. Mee Indus. v. Dow Chem. Co., 608 F.3d 1202, 1211 (11th Cir. 2010).

         In considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the district court must review the record and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Brown, 597 F.3d at 1173. Importantly, the district court must not make credibility determinations or weigh evidence, as these are quintessential functions reserved for the jury. Id.

         A district court may grant a new trial for a variety of reasons, including when the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence, the damages awarded by the jury are excessive, the court erred in admitting or excluding evidence or instructing the jury on the law, or other circumstances resulted in a patently unfair trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59; Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940). Whatever its reason, “a district court may, in its discretion, grant a new trial ‘if in [the court's] opinion, the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence . . . or will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence'” which would preclude the entry of judgment as a matter of law. McGinnis v. Am. Home Mortg. Servicing, Inc., 817 F.3d 1241, 1254 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Hewitt v. B.F. Goodrich Co., 732 F.2d 1554, 1556 (11th Cir. 1984)). Unlike a motion for judgment as a matter of law made pursuant to Rule 50, the court “is free to weigh the evidence” in assessing whether to grant a new trial under Rule 59. Id. (quoting Rabun v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 678 F.2d 1053, 1060 (11th Cir. 1982)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Tactic's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law advances three arguments. First, Tactic asserts that its operations involved a parking lot, not a bar, tavern, lounge, gentlemen's club, or nightclub. (Doc. 178, p. 10). Second, Tactic contends that the Exclusion was ambiguous because it did not define bar, tavern, lounge, or nightclub, and after construing the Exclusion in Tactic's favor as required by Florida law, the evidence only permits a finding that Tactic's operations did not involve a bar, tavern, lounge, or nightclub. (Id. at pp. 10-14). Third, Tactic argues that the evidence produced at trial “was plainly insufficient . . . for the jury to have concluded that on November 8, 2015, Que Rico was a ‘bar, tavern, lounge, nightclub, or gentlemen's club.'” (Id. at pp. 14-16).

         1. Parkin ...


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