EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.
On June 6, 2016, following the conclusion of a six-day jury trial and the rendering of a jury verdict, the Court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff Tax Matrix Technologies, LLC ("Tax Matrix") and against Defendant Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. ("Wegmans") in the amount of $351,551.86. Tax Matrix now seeks a new trial on damages, or, in the alternative, to mold the verdict to apply pre-judgment interest. Wegmans opposes the motion for a new trial on damages on both procedural and substantive grounds. Wegmans does not oppose the alternative motion to mold the verdict to apply interest, but it disputes the proper amount of that interest. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Tax Matrix's motion for a new trial on damages but grant in part and deny in part its motion to mold the verdict to apply pre-judgment interest.
The dispute in this case arose out of a business relationship between Tax Matrix, a tax consulting firm, and Wegmans, a regional supermarket chain. Pursuant to a written contingency fee arrangement (the "Letter Agreement"), Tax Matrix was to provide certain tax consulting services to Wegmans. The lawsuit concerned Tax Matrix's defense of Wegmans during an audit by the State of Maryland that commenced in October 2011 and closed in July 2013 (the "Maryland audit"). The issue before the Court was whether the work performed by Tax Matrix in connection with the Maryland audit fell within the scope of work contemplated by the Letter Agreement, or whether some other, unwritten fee arrangement applied.
Tax Matrix brought state law claims against Wegmans for breach of contract or, in the alternative, unjust enrichment. Wegmans, in exchange, filed counterclaims against Tax Matrix for breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. Both parties moved for summary judgment.
The Court ultimately concluded that the Letter Agreement was fairly susceptible to different reasonable interpretations as to whether it governed Tax Matrix's services in connection with the Maryland audit, and accordingly, the Court (1) denied summary judgment to Tax Matrix on Tax Matrix's breach of contract claim; (2) denied summary judgment to Wegmans on Tax Matrix's breach of contract claim; and (3) granted summary judgment in favor of Tax Matrix on all of Wegmans' counterclaims.
II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Motion for New Trial on Damages
After a jury trial, a court "may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues—and to any party—. . . 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). In diversity cases in which state law "governs the claims for relief," state law also "suppl[ies] the test for federal-court review of the size of the verdict."
Under Pennsylvania law, which supplies the applicable standard for use in making a Rule 59(a) determination in this case, "[a] trial court may only grant a new trial when the jury's verdict is so contrary to the evidence that it `shocks one's sense of justice.'"
Award of Pre-Judgment Interest
28 U.S.C. § 1961(a) provides, in relevant part, that "[i]nterest shall be allowed on any money judgment in a civil case recovered in a district court. . . . Such interest shall be calculated from the date of the entry of the judgment, at a rate equal to the weekly average 1-year constant maturity Treasury yield, as published by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, for the calendar week preceding the date of the judgment." 28 U.S.C. § 1961(a). "Under Pennsylvania law, the award of prejudgment interest in a contract action is not discretionary; it is a legal right to which a prevailing party is entitled."
III. MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL ON DAMAGES
Tax Matrix moves for a new trial on damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 on the basis that "(a) the amount of the verdict was against the weight of the evidence presented at trial; (b) the amount of the verdict was substantially less than was unquestionably proven by Plaintiff's uncontradicted and undisputed evidence; (c) statements made by counsel for Defendant in his opening statement were not supported by evidence submitted at trial; (d) arguments made by counsel for Defendant in his closing argument on damages were based on facts not in evidence; and (e) any and all other bases/reasons. . . ." Mot. New Trial Damages ¶ 4, ECF No. 125.
In Tax Matrix's view, the jury had only one reasonable method by which to calculate damages. Tax Matrix argues that, because the jury found in the first phase of the trial that "the Letter Agreement in fact applied to Tax Matrix's reductive work on the Maryland Audit, the only remaining question for the jury in Phase 2 of the trial was: What was the appropriate starting point for calculating Tax Matrix's 25% contingency fee?" Mem. Supporting Mot. New Trial Damages at 3, ECF No. 135. According to Tax Matrix, "[t]his should have been a simple answer based on a mechanical application of the Letter Agreement" based on the following rationale:
Tax Matrix theorizes that, "[r]unning contrary to the weight of the evidence presented at trial, the jury's verdict was no doubt the product of unfair prejudice. . . ."
Tax Matrix concludes that, because the jury arrived at a result that was not the full amount of the $1.37 million invoice, "it is clear that the jury's damage award was plucked out of thin air."
After attacking Tax Matrix's motion on procedural grounds,
In addition to Mr. Feathers' testimony, Wegmans cites the testimony of another witness, Melissa Myers, the Tax Matrix employee who worked on the Maryland audit and "concede[d] that the reduction achieved by applying the error factor and correcting the arithmetical error was not her doing, but that of Maryland's auditors."
With regard to Tax Matrix's argument concerning Exhibit D-7, Wegmans responds that it referred to this exhibit not during the damages phase of the trial, but instead during the liability phase—and "Tax Matrix's speculation that a reference to this exhibit in Phase 1 had an impact on the damages awarded in Phase 2 is no grounds for a new trial."
In its surreply brief, Wegmans summarizes its argument as follows:
Surreply Mem. at 3, ECF No. 138-1 (citations omitted).
The Court finds this argument persuasive and will deny Tax Matrix's motion for a new trial on damages. The Court does not agree with Tax Matrix that the jury's calculation "bears `no reasonable relation' to the uncontroverted facts proven at trial." Mem. Supporting Mot. New Trial Damages at 11 (quoting
IV. MOTION TO MOLD VERDICT TO APPLY PRE-JUDGMENT INTEREST
In the alternative to its motion for a new trial on damages, Tax Matrix seeks to have the Court mold the verdict to apply pre-judgment interest. Tax Matrix argues that "since the Letter Agreement obligated Wegmans to pay the Invoice within ten days of receipt and the Invoice was received by Wegmans on August 5, 2013, prejudgment interest at 6% per annum should be awarded from August 16, 2013." Mem. Supporting Mot. New Trial Damages at 14. As of the date of Tax Matrix's filing, this amount was "$60,326.30, and the per diem rate is $57.79." Mot. New Trial Damages ¶ 5.
Wegmans "does not dispute that Tax Matrix is entitled to pre-judgment interest under Pennsylvania law, and post-judgment interest at the federal rate." Resp. Opp. Mot. New Trial Damages at 13. Wegmans argues, however, that "Tax Matrix's request to mold the judgment to include interest asks for too much."
The parties agree not only that Tax Matrix is entitled to interest, but they also agree on a per diem rate of $57.79 and a start date of August 16, 2013 for application of that rate. The Court will therefore grant Tax Matrix's motion to mold the verdict. The application of this rate will be limited, however, to the date that judgment was entered.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will deny Tax Matrix's motion for a new trial on damages but grant in part and deny in part its motion to mold the verdict to apply pre-judgment interest. Under Pennsylvania law, Tax Matrix is entitled to a 6% interest rate from the date on which payment was due (
Tax Matrix replies that
In its surreply, Wegmans acknowledges that "a weight of the evidence argument is not waived by the failure to timely file a Rule 50 motion," but argues that Tax Matrix has mounted "a sufficiency of the evidence challenge, not a weight of the evidence challenge." Surreply Mem. at 1-2, ECF No. 138-1.
The Court need not decide whether Tax Matrix's argument is based on the weight versus the sufficiency of the evidence, because, even assuming that Tax Matrix did not waive its right to request a new trial on damages, the Court finds, for the reasons detailed in this memorandum, that Tax Matrix's argument for a new trial on damages has no merit.