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Sepe v. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 7, 2015

THERESA SEPE, Plaintiff,
v.
RED ROBIN GOURMET BURGERS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN J. McCONNELL, Jr., District Judge.

A jury determined after three days of testimony and evidence that Defendant Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. ("Red Robin") was not liable to Plaintiff Theresa Sepe for her injuries resulting from a fall at its restaurant in Warwick, Rhode Island. Ms. Sepe moves for a new trial, alleging that defense counsel made arguably improper arguments in his closing statement and a document was admitted in full without proper redaction. (ECF No. 40.) Because the Court finds that these grounds do not warrant a new trial, Ms. Sepe's motion is DENIED.

I. FACTS AND BACKGROUND

Ms. Sepe alleged that she fell at Red Robin on July 29, 2011, slipping on an unknown substance on the floor. After completing an incident report with the restaurant manager, Ms. Sepe went to a nearby urgent care facility, where she was examined, x-rayed, and diagnosed with a probable right hip fracture and contusions to her knees. Following her visit, Ms. Sepe received treatment for her injuries from several different physicians, incurring medical expenses and other damages.

At trial, Ms. Sepe presented evidence that a hazardous condition caused the fall, and that Red Robin had breached its duty to exercise reasonable care to her by allowing such a hazardous condition to exist. The jury decided in favor of Red Robin and judgment entered. (ECF No. 35.) Ms. Sepe now makes this motion for a new trial.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A "court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues... after a jury 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). The Court's authority is limited, with deference given to the jury's determination of fact, and application of the law to the facts.

A district court may order a new trial "only if the verdict is against the law, against the weight of the credible evidence, or tantamount to a miscarriage of justice.'" Crowe v. Marchand, 506 F.3d 13, 19 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Casillas-Diaz v. Palau, 463 F.3d 77, 81 (1st Cir. 2006)). Judicial interference with a jury verdict is warranted only where the verdict represents "a blatant miscarriage of justice.'" Acevedo-Garcia v. Monroig, 351 F.3d 547, 565 (1st Cir. 2003) (quoting Sanchez v. P.R. Oil Co., 37 F.3d 712, 717 (1st Cir. 1994)). "It is the jury, not the court, which is the fact-finding body. It weighs the contradictory evidence and inferences, judges the credibility of witnesses, receives expert instructions, and draws the ultimate conclusions as to the facts. The very essence of its function is to select from among conflicting inferences and conclusions that which it considers most reasonable." Tennant v. Peoria & P. U. Ry. Co., 321 U.S. 29, 35 (1944). The Court "cannot displace a jury's verdict merely because he disagrees with it" or because "a contrary verdict may have been equally... supportable." Ahern v. Scholz, 85 F.3d 774, 780 (1st Cir. 1996) (internal citation omitted). In other words, a district court judge does not sit as a thirteenth juror who may set aside a verdict simply because that court would have reached a different conclusion. United States v. Rothrock, 806 F.2d 318, 322 (1st Cir. 1986).

III. ANALYSIS

Ms. Sepe raises two issues in her motion. First, she argues that defense counsel made improper and prejudicial comments during his closing argument. Ms. Sepe proffers that defense counsel intended to introduce purely emotional elements into the jurors' minds, and that the jurors ultimately carried the emotion into deliberations, thus prejudicing Ms. Sepe. Second, Ms. Sepe argues that an exhibit was admitted without being redacted in accordance with this Court's ruling on her pre-trial motion in limine.

A. Closing argument

Ms. Sepe takes issue with three remarks from Red Robin's closing argument in her motion:

1. "Now, we've all seen comics on TV when they want to simulate a fall, they go up and land on their back. I've never seen anybody slip and fall onto their knees. The only way that could happen is if you lose balance." (ECF No. 40-2 at 6);
2. "The interesting thing about this note is that, you know, this was all conjured up after the fact to ...

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