United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. MAZZANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc.'s
Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Dkt. #73)
and, alternatively, Motion for New Trial (Dkt.
#74).Having considered the motions and the
relevant pleadings, the Court finds that Defendant's
renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law should be
granted in part and denied in part and Defendant's motion
for new trial should be denied as moot.
is a corporation that operates gyms. Plaintiff Susan Jung was
a member of Defendant's gym located in Lewisville, Texas.
On May 3, 2017, Plaintiff arrived at the gym and placed her
belongings in a locker. In the locker, Plaintiff discovered
and removed a set of keys. Plaintiff sealed her belongings in
the locker with a lock and returned the keys to
Defendant's employee-Zach Turner-at the front desk.
Plaintiff then exercised in the gym.
Plaintiff's workout, another gym member returned to the
gym searching for the keys left inside Plaintiff's
locker. Although Plaintiff previously returned the keys to
the front desk, Zach Turner directed another employee to cut
Plaintiff's lock from Plaintiff's locker to search
for the keys. After failing to find the keys inside the
locker, Defendant's employees left Plaintiffs cut lock
hanging on the locker:
#4 ¶ 8; Dkt. #24-5 at p. 14).
Plaintiff returned to her locker and discovered the cut lock,
she went to the front desk to ask why Defendant's
employees cut the lock. After an explanation, Plaintiff
retrieved her belongings from the locker and discovered that
her wallet-containing her driver's license, debit and
credit cards, and other items-was missing. Plaintiff called
the police who generated a report on the incident.
filed suit against Defendant on October 4, 2017 (Dkt. #4).
Plaintiff alleged invasion of privacy, negligence, and gross
negligence claims against Defendant, and Plaintiff sought
actual, mental anguish, emotional distress, and exemplary
damages (Dkt. #4 ¶¶12-13). Defendant removed the
case to this Court on November 3, 2017 (Dkt. #1). On October
17, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part a
motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant (Dkt. #28).
Specifically, the Court granted summary judgment on
Plaintiffs negligence claim pursuant to a valid and
enforceable negligence release found in Plaintiff's
membership agreement (Dkt. #28 at pp. 5-12, 16). The Court
denied Defendant's request for summary judgment on
Plaintiff's remaining claims (Dkt. #28 at p. 16).
Jury Trial and Verdict
March 18 and 19, 2019, the parties tried the remaining claims
to a jury (Dkt. #62; Dkt. #63). At the end of the trial, the
jury returned a verdict finding:
of Privacy Questions
Defendant intentionally intruded on Plaintiff's solitude,
seclusion, or private affairs in a manner that would be
highly offensive to a reasonable person (Dkt. #68, Question
Defendant did not act with malice-giving rise to exemplary
damages-when it intruded on Plaintiff's solitude,
seclusion or private affairs or concerns (Dkt. #68, Question
Defendant's negligence proximately caused the loss of
Plaintiff's property from the gym locker (Dkt. #68,
loss of Plaintiff's property resulted from gross
negligence attributable to Defendant (Dkt. #68, Question 4).
jury awarded Plaintiff $200.00 for the market value of
Plaintiff's lost property (Dkt. #68, Question 5).
jury awarded no damages for the alleged mental anguish
suffered by Plaintiff due to Defendant's actions (Dkt.
#68, Question 6).
jury awarded Plaintiff $35, 000.00 in exemplary damages
resulting from Defendant's gross negligence (Dkt. #68,
April 5, 2019, the Court entered judgment on the jury's
verdict (Dkt. #72). On May 3, 2019, Defendant filed the
motions at issue (Dkt. #73; Dkt. #74). On May 14, 2019,
Plaintiff filed a joint response to Defendant's motions
(Dkt. #75). On May 21, 2019, Defendant filed replies in
support of its motions (Dkt. #76; Dkt. #77). Consequently,
Defendant's motions are ripe for review.
party's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law
following a jury verdict, the Court should properly ask
whether “the state of proof is such that reasonable and
impartial minds could reach the conclusion the jury expressed
in its verdict.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b); see also Am.
Home Assurance Co. v. United Space All., 378 F.3d 482,
487 (5th Cir. 2004). The decision to grant such a motion lies
not within a court's discretion, but is rather
“‘a conclusion of law based upon a finding that
there is insufficient evidence to create a fact question for
the jury.'” Conkling v. Turner, 18 F.3d
1285, 1300 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting In re Letterman Bros.
Energy Sec. Litig., 799 F.2d 967, 972 (5th Cir. 1986).
Under Fifth Circuit law, a court should be “especially
deferential” to a jury's verdict and must not
reverse the jury's findings unless substantial evidence
does not support the findings. Baisden v. I'm Ready
Prods., Inc., 693 F.3d 491, 499 (5th Cir. 2012).
“Substantial evidence is defined as evidence of such
quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded men in the
exercise of impartial judgment might reach different
conclusions.” Threlkeld v. Total Petroleum,
Inc., 211 F.3d 887, 891 (5th Cir. 2000). A motion for
judgment as a matter of law must be denied “unless the
facts and inferences point so strongly and overwhelming in
the movant's favor that reasonable jurors could not reach
a contrary conclusion.” Baisden, 693 F.3d at
498 (citation omitted). However, “[t]here must be more
than a mere scintilla of evidence in the record to prevent
judgment as a matter of law in favor of the movant.”
Arismendez v. Nightingale Home Health Care, Inc.,
493 F.3d 602, 606 (5th Cir. 2007).
evaluating a motion for judgment as a matter of law, a court
must “draw all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the verdict and cannot substitute other
inferences that [the court] might regard as more
reasonable.” E.E.O.C. v. Boh Bros. Constr.
Co., 731 F.3d 444, 451 (5th Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted). However, “[c]redibility determinations, the
weighing of evidence, and the drawing of legitimate
inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a
judge.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). “[T]he court
should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant
as well as that ‘evidence supporting the moving party
that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the
extent that the evidence comes from disinterested
witnesses.”' Id. at 151 (citation
Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of
moves for judgment as a matter of law asking the Court to set
aside the exemplary and actual damages awards contending: (a)
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.005(a)
precludes an award of exemplary damages; (b) the gross
negligence found by the jury cannot be imputed on Defendant;
(c) Plaintiff did not prove the objective or subjective
components of her gross negligence claim; and (d) the
Court's summary judgment order precludes the award of
actual damages (Dkt. #73 pp. 1-2). The Court addresses each
argument in turn.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §
first contends that Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code
§ 41.005(a) prevents the Court from awarding exemplary
damages (Dkt. #73 at pp. 2-8). Section 41.005(a) provides,
“In an action arising from harm resulting from an
assault, theft, or other criminal act, a court may not award